The Stream & The Torrent


The Curious Case of Jan Torrentius and the Followers of the Rosy Cross: Vol.1
By Brian Howell

Photo by Zagava

Photo by Zagava

Les Éditions de L’Oubli MMXIV

Previous ‘Les Éditions de L’Oubli’ in the modern age are shown here.

Previous reviews of all my purchased Zagava – Ex Occidente books are linked from here.

I shall report on my experience of this book in the comment stream below as and when I happen to read it.

It is a highly luxurious book, with 160 pages. “Limited to 86 numbered copies for sale, plus extra copies, which are reserved for private distribution.” Mine is numbered 25.


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9 responses to “The Stream & The Torrent

  1. Vandike and I
    Pages 9 – 23

    “…no more than you can remove a layer of paint from the one above without destroying the whole.”

    Although this is not my normal practice in fiction reviews but — based on my past experience in reading this author’s exquisitely crafted novel about Vermeer, The Dance of Geometry — I suggest you google ‘Jan Torrentius’ just to get a flavour for optimum returns. Not too much googling, though, but just the bare minimum to centre your callow self in the era and ethos.
    These first passages in the book do not disappoint the hopes of any reader of that earlier novel, the prose style imaging and characterisation being as if from a camera obscura created by the inner dome of a vast cathedral but with finely meticulous results and any eroticism being sufficient to make you blush with embarrassment or blood pressure.

  2. Pages 23 – 41
    I am truly astonished by this text so far, the holding fast of its passing images, Jan’s first person backstory, the conspiracies, the collusive couple with whom Jan constructs both finely vesselised art as well as sweatily entrancing the female half, the alchemy of painting, the cruel appropriation of animal eyes, devices such as camera obscura and torture instruments, the name-dropping of historical figures, your trying to hold fast to all these images real and fictional and magickal through the Howelling eye. All my real-time reviews are based on my first reading of any book. My stream of consciousness has already turned to torrent. This book is something special. I will read it, indeed relish reading it, real-time reviewing it at first vesselised sight, as you will, callow though you be, even if you mete out the days to try slow its torrent, or will it let you? Think Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell?

  3. Ex Anglia reversus
    Pages 43 – 62

    “…a newly formed gap between two teeth and which could, equally, like that gap, be a source of pleasure or frustration.”
    I am now seriously trapped by this book, but I still intend to try stem its torrent. Now, we have the engaging penned view of Jan Torrentius by a historical third party, and the language and hints continue to accrete as to his nature, as a salon painting competition impends (still to be resolved), a competition or artistic duel stemming from a most intriguing demonstration of a street view by camera obscura, all imbued with a sense of magick, tricksy silences, comings and goings, amid a tangible 17th century historical ambiance plus a real poem by one of my favourite poets, Donne. And wordplays upon stream and torrent, brook and flood.

    • Intermission
      I have re-read Brian Howell’s MOBILE, PHONE in ‘Nemonymous Three’ (2003)
      “…you know, that bit of bone right at the base of your spine that makes you feel queasy when you touch it? I felt cheated. I bent their arms and legs here and there, until finally they came off. But when I tried to put them back, they wouldn’t fit.”

  4. A photo today from where I am writing this review

    A chance photo taken today in the room where I am writing this review

    Pages 62 – 86
    “…and I felt myself very much in the presence of History.”
    …or History embracing me, with all its truth and reality as well its reflected contrivance via eyes that are not mine, primary sources notwithstanding.
    This book is astonishing, really, in its ability to divert linear truth by curtains over doorways (cf my view of ‘Tristram Shandy’) as well as by mirrors or camera obscura, with digressions that, we are told, are destined to return to the stream’s source however much they torrent off course. And the painting competition plot machinations do in fact move on and act as a structure upon which a vision of historical time and metaphysical conceit are magically poured or meticulously brushstroked or wildly daubed. A great fiction book is a sort of diversionary instrument – forming digressions from the otherwise inevitable audit-trail of your life – a device to distil truth from paradox upon each and every occasion in your life you happen to read such a book. This book promises to be an optimum version of such a cunning contraption, I feel.

  5. Pages 86 – 106
    “But each has achieved this without seeing his rival’s work.”
    I was not disappointed by the outcome of this section of the book, tantalisingly in spite or because of reaching a sort of vanishing-point, after considerations of still-life palimpsests, a skull and other objects, ‘imaginary triangle’, having bearing upon my gestalt real-time reviewing techniques since 2008 including my theories on reader triangulation, plus my considerations of literary plagiarism and, above all, my own past view of Holbein’s painted skull called ‘The Preterite and the Preinternet’
    So, yes, I am not only ‘not disappointed’ by the painting competition’s outcome, but also decidedly inspired by its uniqueness and by its on-going mechanics of characterisation as part of a modernistic ‘happening’ filtered through 17th century sensibilities. A filter working both ways between now (a ‘now’ with this book first published in 2014 by luxurious sleight of hand) and then (a ‘then’ whereby, say, Donne still lives and writes poems even while I write this).

  6. Cornelis Drubelsius Alcmariensis
    Pages 107 – 127

    “Let me explain. He was there the day I showed my ‘perpetuum mobile’,…”
    Which made me think, in tune with the comma as device in “Mobile, Phone”, that the alchemy of painting in this book could travel by sound as well as by light? Meanwhile, on a saner note, this is the start of the third and final section of this book, a new narrative angle coordinating truth in this fiction from a new point on the globe of 17th century civilisation, forming the aforementioned ‘triangulation’. Yet, I believe this book is Volume One of triangulating Torrentius and who knows yet what might be further triangulated of him within whatever hologram of sight and sound the yet unpublished next volume may already hold? A stream and torrent, as in all riparian matters, are surely sound as well as sight, but each does not exist as the same structure of object to see or hear from one moment to another. Text, when mimed or mouthed upon reading it, is surrogate sound, I suggest.
    This book is full of contraptions, contrivances, devices, and you need to hold fast to yourself as reader to avoid becoming their puppet or doll. For example, I had to shake off the sound of the bubbling devices of experiment in the Alec Guinness film about a Man in a White Suit when now learning of the properties of colours and how Torrentius operates them.
    “…I began to wonder where the reality of the objects we were viewing gave way to their images and, indeed, where the images took over from the objects.”

  7. Pages 127 – 159
    “But I had not anticipated those unnerving sounds, then the sudden quiet, and the feeling of pressure on our ears.”
    This book remains more sight than sound, but one cannot discount the Royal conspiracy that involves, I infer, codes relating to the Rosy Cross via Music, the sounds in the ears when in an underwater rabbit-eye vesselised craft using the riparian Thames as stream or torrent under the narrative bridge …. and (Toyn)bees as music. A book of place as well as time, with London, Prague, Amsterdam forming well-historicised genii loci… a legerdemain ‘mobile quality’ with exquisitely crisp but tessellated prose, and a political historomancy of a plot in which Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell might once have been implicated as I earlier predicted – and a device for the hatching of eggs without hens, a book within a book as a hen and egg conundrum, with a promised creation of a double yolk that is probably even more legerdemain de L’OUBLI than this one! A Book of Tricksy Philosophical Aesthetics. A prestidigitator’s booth or cabinet to enter, but beware, by just opening its door you will never know if you’ve entered it, but if you have entered it, you will never know whether you have left it.

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