Tag Archives: Allyson Bird

Bull-Running For Girls

I learnt from Allyson Bird yesterday on Facebook that this book is now being published for the American market by JournalStone. Well deserved.

She also kindly linked to my original real-time review of it: HERE

This was originally published on my blog-city blog in 2009 (a blog server that subsequently went out of business). That was why it was reposted in 2010. Two of the links from the Weirdmonger comments in that reposting are archived here:

http://web.archive.org/web/20091023011036/http://weirdmonger.blog-city.com/bull_running_for_girls_wins_award.htm

http://web.archive.org/web/20091023011057/http://weirdmonger.blog-city.com/ellen_datlows_honourable_mentions.htm

The original real-time review was posted soon after the book was published and prior to it winning the BFS award.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The Master in Café Morphine

My scanning of huge dust jacket in necessarily two sections  – and my apologies for not managing its exact contiguity. (Its artwork is by Santiago Caruso).

===================

I’m due shortly to start below on this page another of my gradual real-time reviews, turning leitmotifs into a gestalt.

And it is of ‘The Master in Café Morphine’A Homage to Mikhail Bulgakov – Edited by Dan T. Ghetu (Ex Occidente Press MMXI). A contributor’s copy of the book.

There is no guarantee how long it will take to complete this review, whether days or years. Indeed, this is said with the knowledge that a busy Season is afoot and many people have calls upon my time. So I do not wish any of you interested in this review to keep returning to this page and finding nothing added. However, I do not know how to resolve this problem ….

CAVEAT: Spoilers are not intended but there may be inadvertent ones. You may wish (i) to take that risk and read my review before or during your own reading of the book, or (ii) to wait until you have finished reading it. In either case, I hope it gives a useful or interesting perspective.

All my real-time reviews are linked from here: http://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/

All my Ex Occidente Press (Passport Levant) real-time reviews here: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2010/09/24/ex-occidente-press-real-time-reviews/

I am pleased to see this publisher (Dan Ghetu of Ex Occidente Press) is still prolific in publishing great books, contrary to what I was led to understand and as publicly anticipated by the publisher himself a few months ago. I hope the logistics of book delivery and authorial care have improved from what I was also led to believe publicly from various third parties some time ago. I’ve never needed to complain in respect of myself, I hasten to add.

Authors featured in this Anthology: Mark Valentine, Jonathan Wood, Stephen J. Clark, Colin Insole, Michael Cisco, Rhys Hughes, Adam Golaski, D.P. Watt, Adam S. Cantwell, Charles Schneider, Allyson Bird, Justin Isis, Nina Allan, Me, R.B. Russell, Eric Stener Carlson, Reggie Oliver, John Howard, Mark Beech, Albert Power, George Berguño.

I am told that two other stories,  A Certain Power by Mark Valentine and The Horned Tongue by Stephen J. Clark, were both exclusively written for this Bulgakov
homage anthology and that they have been excluded because they have appeared in other Ex Occidente books. Therefore, I shall be considering both these stories at the end of my review to judge whether this book’s gestalt would have been affected.

=======================

At first glance – a massively gorgeous book, restricted to 100 copies, portrait format, red mock-cyrrilic lettering for some titles/headings/quotes, 370 pages, stiff pages, stiff textured dust-jacket, frontispiece (by whom?), and a design on heavy-duty board-cover within dust-jacket (a design by C.C. Askew of the Eternal Sekret Society?)

The quote at the beginning of the book seems of our time – with today’s UK politics – and in many more ways than one:

“The séance is over!
Maestro! Hack out a march!” – Mikhail Bulgakov

=========================

Nine Exhibits – by Mark Valentime

“Mikhail Afanasyevich’s stove was one of the most well-read in Russia. It consumed many pages of his work.”

I couldn’t stop laughing at that, so I won’t resist risking a spoiler by making that my quote of the day for this review.  But, having said that, there is something even funnier here about a cat’s dream that I won’t quote by spoiling. But, then again, should a homage to Bulgakov be treated so lightly?  Only if death is inevitable, I’d say. And stories episodically maxim-al. (20 Jul 11)

============================

This book, as a book, is something you need to keep handling and looking at – an obsessive plaything, the playful dust-jacket design spiking itself, less than playfully, somewhere into an area that is the ‘Hollow Earth’ within you, that brings me to…

Beloved Chaos that Comes by Night – by Jonathan Wood

“To be alone in London, is truly to know loneliness from within a glass jar, where silent leeches come and go and journey across one’s face for evermore, marking out one’s allotted time in piteous slime.”

I recall reading Jonathan Wood in the late eighties or early nineties in the small press, with huge distantly-paragraphed blocks of Proustian-stretching prose – and I was captivated. Equally, here. This substantial story is the mutantly symbiotic tale of two cities, or two countries (England and Russia), a first-person singular protagonal actor turned involuntary playwright then terrorist tramp…  A fiction describing its own urban landscape as a writer’s block ironically filled with words… I shall need to let the story percolate in this book’s future context, as if it is due to be groomed beyond any moral compass, forced into words it did not intend to mean what they did mean, forced, too, into becoming a literary suicide-bomb for the yet unread stories to conceal about their hollow ‘persons’? (20 Jul 11 – three hours later)

==============================

Behemoth’s Carnival – by Stephen J. Clark

“Yet these were the elect of the melancholy come to hear the old cat speak.”

With the ‘Meow!’ (from a previous Ex Occidente Book – Amerika – by Karim Ghahwagi – another Bulgakov homage?) ringing in my ear and recalling the implied Nine Lives of the Valentine story above – I enjoyed this Hadean / Avernal vignette or maxim-al fable  or anthropomorphic (anti-)religious tract in code or a new fish and loaves parable or mischievous mummery… (21 Jul 11)

=================================

The Princess of Phoenicia – by Colin Insole

“That afternoon I sought solace and consolation in ‘The Hall of the Whispering Puppets’.”

‘Solace and consolation’ as in a Schubertian Grand Duo of history and legend – or Author and Reader. Reality and Truth, each not necessarily the same thing at all. Pontius Pilate and Christ.  You know, when you sense, as I do, that you are one of the very first readers of this story, let ‘alone’ one of its first public reviewers, you feel indeed alone with it, tantamount to the first reader and reviewer, tussling and grappling (in that Grand Duo) with portents and elements of Russian History, the stolen Madonna, her (blood-permeable?) jewels  and many other symptoms of belief (logical and superstitious in solace and consolation), a belief in undercurrents that politically explain or poetically ‘sing’ (by a lost balladeer) of the duo of conflict and tragedy from 1904 towards a large part of the 20th century through the eyes of blended tales within a tale: and I think I counted the tales properly: nine. If not nine in truth, certainly in reality. The extra odd one being the tale that contains the four duos.  But one author and, perhaps, only one reader – steeped ‘in soul’ and in time’s lonely, sometimes unscryable, audit-trail of truth and reality. This work makes the ‘synchronised shards of random truth and fiction’ passé. Meanwhile, the story’s  duo of style and language is exquisite. (21 Jul 11 – three hours later)

======================

The Cadaver Is You – by Michael Cisco

“As is reported to be the case in Hades, everything was washed out.”

In tune with our reaction to the previous story, in this artful Tarr & Fether provocation of ‘truth and reality’ we begin again ‘tussling and grappling’ with what we read and about whom – in an inverse sort of canine anthropomorphism – where we learn later that we are indeed struggling for meaning via another layer of characters with whom we feel we should empathise and sympathise while they read what we have just read as if we are now saner and less absurd and somehow less false than those about whom we had been reading.  The more of us there are the more brain size we control. So we shall wait for more readers to read what we have just read. For ‘we’, please read ‘I’ – until ‘you’ join me from where you are or hopefully from whom you are rather than from what you are or have become – or will become via scrying the astrology of  1712. (21 Jul 11 – another 2 hours later)

============================

The Darkest White – by Rhys Hughes

Chapter 0: Prelude / Chapter I: The Magnifying Glass

“There are many places in the world where east meets west, but Sukhumi is one where the north overlaps with the south so precisely that nothing comes of any attempt to detach them.”

Similarly, here is where the essence of Rhys-Hughesian fictionatronics that we all love seems, so far, to meet a relatively sane literary treatment of politics / history … but the best of both worlds rather than a straight blend. Indeed, this novellarette’s title is one of genius given the context of this book.  And, as I have publicly remarked before in my real-time reviews, many 20th century East European literary stories start in a cafe and here is no exception (the Cafe Morphine of the book’s title by the sound of it); the story-within-that-story also starts in a cafe, too!  We are promised that an object-in-hand will be explained by the inner story’s end, an inner story wherein we have another object, too, being sold as the three Zander brothers release experimentation mini-King Kongs (my expression, not the story’s) from cages while civil war encroaches and fleeing’s itch ensues – mixed with a “perverted economic basis” that reminds me of today’s news headlines of the mutantly simian attempts to call a default not a default in a more modern Europe…  An enthralling start to the novellarette. (22 Jul 11)

Chapter II: The Wisdom of Sticks / Chapter III: The Departing Treasure

“They showed him how to feign appeasement and how to give the impression of yielding while remaining in control.”

There is always much wisdom beneath the puns and wordplay of Rhys Hughes, and here the wisdom shines forth without such disguise as well as with it.  The numerology of not only economics but history.  And the ricochet of Ottoman and Armenian, White and Red…  The brothers – prior to arriving in Baku – make a creative form of Musketeer oath with each other – to be alone and/or together, an alternating current of strength and weakness. (22 Jul 11 – two hours later)

Chapter IV: The Scimitar / Chapter V: An Impulsive Decision

“Magnates had bribed the coalition authorities;…”

Now voyaging – towards a toxic lake, as it turns out, retrocausally – from Baku to a place with its own name’s redolent oriental aura: Bukhara – the brothers face various coalitions or ‘duos’, of sense and nonsense, true religion and false religion, blended pairs of reincarnatory existences – and the fraternal trio threatens to become a duo by dint of ditch or haha (my expression, not the story’s)  or by dint of that unhealthy lake’s premonition of one brother devoting his destiny to doom in the hope it isn’t doom at all but paired with or infiltrated by its opposite: fortune.  (Little does he know, I sense, that ‘fortune’, despite its positive aura, can be bad as well as good. Like ‘Bukhara’?). (22 Jul 11 – another 90 minutes later)

Chapter VI: On the Terrible Lake

“Nothing is what I hope to find.”

Nothing = this book’s earlier “Hollow Earth”. The single brother in devotion to his own Salt Lake City of the soul, in tune with mending by breaking and breaking by mending (akin to what I call the erstwhile ‘Musketeer’ oath) by dint of a multi-religion ‘nirvana’?  This is strong literature. White and red in tooth and claw. “The perfection would thus be imposed retroactively.” (22 Jul 11 – another 45 minutes later)

Chapter VII: The City of Defiance / Chapter VIII: The Bleeding Ears

“Those squares of the mystic chessboard known as nights and days passed with an impeccable shift.”

I truly admire this fiction as I experience the broad sweep conveyed of landscape / geography, historical perspective / knowledge, spiritual madness / sanity, as we follow the two remaining brothers (together, apart, together again), and eventually rumours of the ‘ice and salt’  lost brother, all three brothers perhaps providing some form of ‘Holy Trinity’ of the human condition: paradoxically together yet apart. (22 Jul 11 – another hour later)

Chapter IX: The Map /Chapter ∞ : Redemption

“They had reached the other café.”

In view of all the foregoing, this provides a shockingly perfect ending, for which you will need to read this novellarette to experience for yourself, to crystallise the ‘we’ from my ‘I’. Crystallise as in salt or snow under the magnifying-glass? Suffice to say Jonathan Wood’s erstwhile “Hollow Earth” was not a million miles away. Nor the anthropomorphism of King Kong? Or all that may be my subterfuge to detract from spoilers or Bolsheviks. (22 Jul 11 – another 45 minutes later)

============================

A Country Doctor – by Adam Golaski

“Briefly, I was distracted by the shape of a snowflake that reminded me of a poem:…”

A doctor called to and from variously-aged women, a girl patient, her maid, a previous girl patient’s donated embroidered-blanket to keep him warm on the urgent sleigh’s journey, yet another waiting for him to return – a Thomas Hardy, DH Lawrence, Anton Chekhov incident that haunts the stiff pages of this book, one of which pages might be used to funnel or chase dreams of forgetfulness in powder form…the sharpest funnel of all being the one that can deliver dreams of forgetfulness melted or distilled from the Winter of our souls by directly penetrating the skin with such a page’s words made fluid.  A book that is laden with more than just morphine.  A variation on a theme that allows this review to drain a story: thus to reveal an emotional essence that might otherwise escape, not unread, but unfelt. (22 Jul 11 -another 3 hours later)

==========================

Archaic Artificial Suns – by D.P. Watt

“The line stretched around the street, into the distance as far as he could see. No doubt to the very gates of Hades.”

One of those stories that, in hindsight, will become a major reading event. ‘Queuing Behind Crazy People’ syndrome (some people labelled like lists in a Zoo), morphine queuing in the vein along the “tearing paper” that this book itself as a physical object conspires against but paradoxically encourages, Mikhail himself faced with a cruel theatrically Shakespearean charade-bouffe that takes on a dramatic, political, emotional, comic, cosmic truth via the two-way filter of a tapestried proscenium balcony-entrance, if not the last balcony or entrance of all. Towards or from the “galaxies of emptiness” that are the entrancing or entranced eyes that absorb these words like drugs. Then “kaboom!” like the Baboon of Nothing from ‘The Darkest White’. Itself awaiting another bearish buffoonery to follow. Exeunt Omnes. (23 Jul 11)

==============================

Only for the Crossed-Out – by Adam S. Cantwell

“What could a tree’s devilish complexity mean to an ordered and just mind,…”

Well, you simply knew I was going to LOVE this story, [especially after editing and publishing the HA of HA!  This seems some sort of culmination of that spirit – albeit an exterior force – but, via the Cantwell-wrought spirit of our friend Mikhail, a welcome unexpected synergy with this other book]. It tells of a library censor (and includes a library policeman!) – the paradoxes of fashion affecting textual censorship in both creativity and spirit, retrocausal as well as linear – the books themselves igniting into their own form of prehensile, ink-veined anthropomorphism as they fall upon our censor down the chute – the ultimate book for dangerous heaviness and hybrid power no doubt being the very one in which I’ve just been reading this story!  I’ve often talked, over the years, about classical music being akin to fiction injected straight into the vein.  This story (if not the whole book) is the first occasion where I’ve genuinely discovered the ‘matter’ of fiction injected straight into the vein.  [And I’m glad I’ve encountered this story before my own fiction of self enters the baffle-less master-artery of death.] (23 Jul 11 – four hours later)

=====================

The Fearful and Wonderful Phantasm of Time – by Charles Schneider

“A Great Demon, clearly one of Satan’s right-hand minions, was spotted in an expensive restaurant in Novgorod.

I was in Novgorod last year – but I visited a church there (for its iconostasis), not a restaurant.  This is a Blakean, Joe-Pulverian ‘synchronised shards of random truth & fiction’ disguised as stream-of-conscious – prose-poeticising the scatology of eschatology (and vice versa) – with many literary references and oxymorons. Brick by brick, like the censor’s library, aforementioned. “…Hell and Heaven are not to be found in an old book. They exist where the past and future intersect with geographical locations.” — “Each day I pack and send my treasured books away, to be stored in Dreamland.” — “…I saw a hinge at the base of the enshrined statue’s glass dome, as if it could revolve and display another statue after the polluted dusk arrived.” — “Hell is but Heaven for another Hell, and Another!” — “The Centropoli of Hades.” — “…garish massive faux toenails which the gold-chained simians truck about oh so proudly in,…” (23 Jul 11 – another hour later)

=====================

The Black Swan of Odessa – by Allyson Bird

“Fiction does not feed my body.”

A cleverly intriguing story involving co-writers in a scrawny flat and their understudy of a ballerina neighbour who seems to bring truth to their one published work. As I read, I thought to myself, I am going to remark how there are many evocative ‘touches of detail’ (I used that phrase to myself) – and when you read it, you will know what I mean – but then the concept ‘detail’ later took on an unexpected importance. One of them “adored detail“, but was it God or the Devil in it? Like the detail that floats into the last paragraph…  A perfect, spooky ending, but, wonderfully, I don’t quite know why it is is quite so perfect, quite so spooky.

“…if Larisa’s dancing was anything like the control of her narrative she must have danced herself off the stage and into the audience at least once in her life.” (23 Jul 11 – another 90 minutes later)

=======================

The Heart of a Man – by Justin Isis

“Kolesnikov, ensconced for years in the office of the Mir journal, had long been famous for his negative reviews.”

A story I need to read again (review, literally) – Hegel, meta-fictionary existences, Eyes Wide Shut rites-of-passage – and anthropomorphism explained by a human heart being placed within an animal  – reviewing books making them what you say they are, bad books good, good books bad, everything is its opposite, a reality-creation rolled out as meta-meta-meta…-fictions , more Bulgacoffian cafés, fiction (when demetaed – not demented – to its bottom bone) as the only reality, illicit love-affairs nodded through as part of an over-riding plot of fates one ultimately wants to come to fruition – and this story is not worth reading. It stinks.  For, read it and sink into nothingness, namelessness. “Within each apparent unity is a corresponding duality, and vice versa.” The Schubertiad of a  Grand Duo again (four hands on one piano or two pairs of hands on two pianos)? The ultimate negativity. This story will need re-reading forever, so for God’s sake resist even reading it once! “- he’s considering writing reviews and publishing them under your name. Would you agree to that?” (23 Jul 11 – another three hours later)

===========================

Chaconne – by Nina Allan

“His chair had been gutted, slit straight up the back and disembowelled. The person that did this had presumably been looking for valuables,…”

Unquestionably a major story and, I guess, it is one of Bulgakov’s heart-and-souls of this book, if not possibly (as remains to be seen) the core one to fill the “Hollow Earth” of our receptiveness – and a Bulgakov virgin when this book began all those stiff pages ago would no longer be such a virgin having read to this point in the book, and even this Bulgakov virgin reader would by now have lithely shape-shifted from a snow-uncrystallised cat and “hunkered down” (as if during one of its nine lives?) at the book’s ‘feet’ into something akin to the Behemoth or Old Scratch.  This story – irrespective of all that – was certain to appeal to me. When I see the word Chaconne, I think of Britten’s String Quartet No 2 that has a Chaconne based on Purcell. Here, meanwhile, what I said earlier about classical music being fiction injected straight into the vein, really comes home to roost with a bird’s furled wings.  Brahms, Scriabin, Beethoveen’s’Hammerklavier’ &c. &c. – this story seriously drips with music and its prehensile notation, while contrasting with the destruction of pianos, human limbs, even whole bodies, as we follow Alena – a pianist and composer – retrocausally dealing with Europe’s diaspora of people and cities pre- and post the War, and with her lost lover, lost sister, and diverse forms of physical sex on the brink of being made music. Is this story the book’s gestalt? Or do I have to journey further to realise that this was just another way-station of leitmotifs? If the latter, it is a substantial one, honed to stylistic perfection. I can’t praise it enough. [I can now replace the black swanbird’s chair, its back resewn.] (24 Jul 11)

=====================

The Tsarina’s Wintercoat – by me

“…tentacular monsters who, in the same way as human beings, had insect-pests with which to contend – “

Written some years ago in its original form, I’ll leave others to comment on this vignellarette.  I’ll only mention it again if it has some bearing on the book’s eventual gestalt. As it does already, perhaps, when relating the following quote to Rhys Hughes’ earlier ‘Holy Trinity’ variation: “From behind the derelict station house, I approached the solitary threesome (guessing that such a few could sometimes feel more solitary than being truly alone as one).” (24 Jul 11 – two hours later)

===============================

The Exquisite Process of Gala Gladkov – by R.B. Russell

“I was carving some panels that were to form the backs of a set of chairs…”

– interrupting which ostensibly incidental work was the arrival of the carpenter’s old but neglected friend – and amid hints of political differences regarding the still living memory of history and politics concerning the Russian Revolution between those of whom this friend now tells the carpenter in an intriguing Fable of Retrocausality, concerning turning back fates as well as clocks vis-a-vis the friend’s love / marital life. The story within the overall story (the latter artfully ‘carved’ by R.B. Russell to contain it), in this way, is like putting fictional things inside something non-fictional (i.e. inside an object like a real chair or a real heavy-duty book (like this one published by Ex Occidente Press), I muse, without this story directly causing me thus to muse) to make it all seem or actually become non-fictional. Truth and reality running in parallel and nobody knows which is the one in disguise? (24 Jul 11 – another 2 hours later)

=========================

Café Morphine – by  Eric Stener Carlson

“Snow? It was July, for God’s sakes. How could there be snow?”

A lengthy, absurdist, often very humorous fable or parable concerning an Argentine unionist in 1921 travelling by train through Europe to a Union conference – sometimes mistaken by post-Revolution officials as a Jew or an Assyrian! – and he now makes a Poliakoff-type of inter-journey stop-over in a dislocatedly posh café – having already experienced confused absences and presences in the train carriage itself amid conversations about Kant and Heidegger – still clasping his precious box that the story opens for us at least twice – meets a self-confessed, untraditional ‘vampire’ – a vampire that feeds off or supplies Time itself (fresh from its reported propensity to retrocausality in R.B. Russell) – and I’m getting breathless and time-drained trying to cover (in one sentence) every point of this story which I evidently can’t because I’d need to tell it all over again while I re-read it – and why Café Morphine, I hear you ask – well, as I dream of “racing across the endless Iberian fields”, I dream, too, that Time (like Brian Ferry’s ‘love’ and Brahms’ Chaconne) is the drug for the veins (perhaps disguised as coffee to keep you awake) – and it gave birth to this whole book’s title that in turn gave the café  its name in this story so as to give it back to the book’s title, a name flying back and forth between like a butterfly. Second sentence: I loved this story for (but not only for) its timely message on how to spend one’s time-of-life with some ability to milk it to its last dreg. (24 Jul 11 – another 3 hours later)

========================

The Philosophy of the Damned – by Reggie Oliver

“The raising of the curtain on the first act was to him like the coming of dawn to a traveller by night, an event of unblemished hope.”

…indeed, the opening of any theatrical event that one has long anticipated in child-like trepidation and pleasure – and a new substantial story by Reggie Oliver is no exception. Petropol in the 1919 Crimea … and the theatre manager – himself with some trepidation – hires a new troupe. One that provides a zoo-like climax that is attuned to earlier caged simians in this book – and other anthropomorphic tricks: anthropomorphism that works both ways! This is another Reggie Oliver theatrical weird fiction classic of Hadean elegance – so fitting for this Hadean book.  And its ending is so provincial in quite a perfectly unexpected, but comforting and home-is-where-the-heart-is, manner, after all the dream-envisaged D.P. Wattian cabarets-bouffes that preceded it within this book and this story itself – and the Red Army that hearsay tells us followed it given no prior escape that fiction is supposed to provide in the guise of escapism. (24 Jul 11 – another 3 hours later)

========================

Red Green Black White – by John Howard

“…now coloured by the minute flecks of powdered paint and desiccated paper, drifting down in the still air from the ikons and portraits as they dry out; wood warping and splitting, paper curling and disintegrating, and leaving such spaces that she cannot remember what it was that filled them.”

…like vampiric time being drained to its last dregs again? This breathtaking patchwork or kaleidoscope of a fiction tells of more spaces to be filled, as a shape-shifting ‘agent provocateur’ “assumes” and “bodies-out” as different characters or many characters as history meets history in their own war to become the real-History –(like reading this whole book up to this point, in a synaesthetically exponential slow-strobing of the soul of Bulgakov that also crosses borders like fluid countries with no edges or with ever new edges (like morphine or music in the veins?))– in the real-Historical Balticana of 1918ish Ukrainia-German-Austro-Hungary, Poland &c &c, its various historical characters, treaties, events… “Your problem is that you do not – and cannot – see the larger picture that I can. You will never see it, and know your part in all these laughable dramas. You are not only drowning in history, you are already past, and becoming forgotten.” (25 Jul 11)

==========================

The Immortal Death of Ivanov Ivan Ivanovich – by Mark Beech

“…hacking ungraciously at those great chunks of stone, straining all the while for the spark of a colour-filled memory or the swell of a kind of music…”

A compelling, extremely well-told story (told on a train to others) with a linear plot of non-linearity as the impermanence of the identity of the Russian God beyond an iconostatsis of a seeming immortality – immortality subsumed by the harsh ephemerality of politics upon the people – sculptures-of-likeness, thus, that are as tenuous as the man who sculpted them or as the man whom he sculpted with such well-intentioned permanence even if originally a skill granted for the nonce by an inscrutable stranger (one’s own ‘disintentionalised’ author if one is a character in a book) – and I nearly cried at some of the implications; and how all this sort of sums up this book itself: each story a sculpture of words on stiff pages within even stiffer covers and a seemingly untearable textured dust-jacket (a theory of untearability never to be tested)… “apulse with all the industrial noise and primary colours of a constructivist future.” — “…a wide balcony. / Quiet at last! a clear crisp Moscow night opened around him. The red stars flickered over the Kremlin walls. In the park beneath him, he thought he could make out one of his Stalins.” (25 Jul 11 – two hours later)

========================

I Listened to Laika Crying in the Sky – by Albert Power

“Darkness. And the barking – hack – hack – hack … of terror and confusion.”

If this were the last story in the book, I’d deem this the perfect coda (but that is the privilege of this book’s last story that is the only one I’ve read before)  or perhaps this Laika one is the rising fall (as opposed to the more common ‘dying fall’) of Nina Allan’s new chaconne, as the book enters Khrushchev’s era and – when three men and an eight year old girl are on an expedition upon the very cusp of winter’s ice for snipe and teal bagging – with, nearby, sputnik’s launchpad. The dog in space – the true rising fall – an anthropomorphic stretching-out towards that shifting Russian God beyond the iconostasis of new-found space or of Rhys Hughes’ ‘nothing’ – away from that erstwhile ‘Hollow Earth’. The later deserted girl’s vision in the snow of who I assume to be Bulgakov himself is remarkable. And the alignment of some antiquated words scattered throughout contrasts with the breaking-news of modernity represented by the launch of sputnik. A poetic experience the strength of which is that it cannot be nailed down through any part of our now (at this point in the book) well-exercised, well-toned reading-limbs, if I can coin a phrase for the spiritual antenna required when reading potentially great literature of the future’s past. (25 Jul 11 – another 90 minutes later)

=========================

I only read and reviewed the final story below a week or so ago in the author’s book ‘The Exorcist’s Travelogue’ – and beneath I show my very slightly corrected real-time review from that time which, happily, is, as it turns out, the coda for both books:

The Farewell Letter  – by George Berguño

“Suddenly, I spied Joseph Stalin on the opposite balcony – and our eyes met.”

…with another ‘ancient longing’? Mikhail Bulgakov – being written about by his wife to his brother. — “…several years trickled by” and there is much to ponder here: things to dwell upon that should never really resolve this book’s coda. Accessible or esoteric history of our recent times, reincarnation (permanence?) by lycanthropy or anthropomorphism, the misanthropic transience of old fogies like me and Molière’s Alceste. The mating-dance of literature with literature. The eventual madreperl of regret. It’s like listening to an unknown piece by Mahler as the last piece in the last concert.  (15 Jul 11)

That moment on the balcony is so utterly moving, even more so now, in view of the Mark Beech story. (25 Jul 11 – another 30 minutes later).

===============================

The two stories that – I’m told – should also be in this book (together with, I suspect, Karim Ghahwagi’s ‘Amerika‘, with my review of it linked above somewhere) are A Certain Power by Mark Valentine and The Horned Tongue by Stephen J. Clark (the links being to my reviews of those stories).  Are there any more that were meant to be in this book? Not  a rhetorical question. If any later come to light, I shall mention them in the comments below this review.  Till, then, I keep my powder dry.  Other than to say – as I hope has come across above – this is one helluva book!!

 Does the gestalt of what is in the book differ from that with all that should have been in it? But perhaps that’s the very point of the book – as well as the crux or noumenon that I’ve been seeking, these few years, by carrying out my real-time reviews. One Platonic Form of Real-Time Review that they will all eventually coalesce into because they were meant to be in the one book – the ultimate heavyweight tome that sits in my head with the feeling of a still-unhewn stone sculpture? I now risk entering pretentious realms even I dare not enter. Suffice to say, I really loved the Justin Isis story above. I make that point in case there was any misunderstanding about my Molièrean misanthropy as an “assumed” or “bodied-out” curmudgeon or old fogey.  

What more can I say? That cat with poppy-eyes on the dust-jacket above stares mockingly as I write this, telling me that all reviews must end somewhere. So be it. I’ll end it in the Café Morphine. Join me there for the nonce, whatever you think of me.  I’ll be the one in the chair with the thickest back.

END (25 Jul 11 – another 45 minutes later)

4 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

The Peacock Escritoire – by Mark Valentine

I’m due to start below another of my gradual real-time reviews, turning leitmotifs into a gestalt. A book I recently purchased entitled:

THE PEACOCK ESCRITOIRE – by Mark Valentine (Passport Levant 2011).

There is no guarantee how long it will take to complete this review, whether days or years.

CAVEAT: Spoilers are not intended but there may be inadvertent ones. You may wish (i) to take that risk and read my review before or during your own reading of the book, or (ii) to wait until you have finished reading it. In either case, I hope it gives a useful or interesting perspective.

All my real-time reviews are linked from here: http://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/

In common with my normal practice, I shall be giving the real-time impressions of my reading journey, knowing as little as possible in advance about the book. 

Subsequent to eventually completing this real-time review, i.e. both the book and the loose papers within the overall container, I shall pay attention, on your behalf, to the physical format…and the pecock fether.

======================

The Ka of Astarakhan

“…as if my arithmetic and this apocalypse were pitching against each other in a mad mazurka.”

A memorable story of scrying, one that is poetically textured, where words are more powerful even than their own meanings and forms…casting spells, even mis-spells, upon the Russian soul I absorbed when in Russia a short while ago – and I the reader now cast them back at it and make the plot bend to my whim not its.  This day our crow-daark world meets the Arab Spring along the “Persian sands”…. (19 Feb 11)

The Amber Cigarette

“…those delicate tapers of amber paper made only by Desmay.”

One often wonders why and how a certain day (today: 20 Feb 11) holds a truly special experience and why not another day, with this Egyptian word-aesthetic story during an Alexandrian Spring? This strikes me as a perfect blend of numinousness, immanence, imminence, flowing from objects to souls to things that are neither… combining a style that I have earlier learnt to be essentially Valentinian but here suffused with elements of Clark Ashton Smith and Lawrence Durrell in equal measures … and Tobias Crisp, the works of whom are actually name-checked in the story itself. The text also radiates in part towards this whole book’s title as well as to the presumably intended joy of unwrapping it when it arrives from the East, complete with disinfected peacock feather…or with the breath-infused aromatics that transcend smoke. (20 Feb 11)

A Revelation of Cormorants

“…perhaps the script might be deciphered and the pale pages of the sands yield up their secrets.”

Language continues to be writ everywhere, if one can but translate it.  This story contains, in part at least, a neat reminder of the type of protagonist in “Oh, Whistle…” who, now, I feel, is beautifully etched into his quest for nailing (not literally) various birds for his bird-book, by observation and past quotation. I might mention my own ‘The Mentioning’ but Tim Nickels’ substantial masterpiece of the Cormorant (‘Supermarine’) is a better continuo for this song-cycle of divining crows (cf: the first story in this book) as well as of cormorants. The predicament of Valentine’s protagonist reaches a brilliant cliffhanger…and to tell you more of this exquisite story would foul its effect. (20 Feb 11 – four hours later)

A Certain Power

” ‘…Which power do you think he serves?’ / ‘Oh, who knows, dear. So many armies here, we ought to feel quite safe.’ “

This is a long, organic-from-piecemeal, enchantment of a ‘fiction’ (combining real history that you can discover by reading it with direct and subtle spiritualities and conspiracies) – both religious and counter-religious-by-other-religions as if (for me) Satanism versus Christianity is the same as other forces versus other ‘certain powers’ or forces within various religions – a truly haunting expression of what I have always called ‘the synchronised shards of random truth and fiction’ (here accomplished literally by use of the words ‘shards’ and ‘splinters’ as well as utilising visionary, even sinister, shadow(y)(less), powers – where, appropriately, within the convulsive times we live through this very day (21 Feb 11) when reading this story, such forces and powers are, paradoxically, even now, being both iconoclastic and synthesising of icons toward the tipping-point or metaphorical ‘iconostasis’. [In this piece, there are also crows, peacocks and an amber taper — and holy relics reconstituted ‘for real’ from symbols of those relics rather than from the relics themselves….] [As a further aside, when I recently real-time reviewed the Horror anthology ‘NEVER AGAIN’ edited by Allyson Bird and Joel Lane, I extrapolated upon my then concurrent visit to Russia and this is, I hope a relevant excerpt from what I wrote there: “…seeing the ‘blind faith’ within Russian Orthodox Churches with the altar ‘walled’ away by the iconostasis, seeing the double headed picture of a Russian and American soldier at Berlin’s Checkpoint Charlie, hearing ad hoc crowds praying at night in a Warsaw street, Moscow’s Red Square, the history in the museums and galleries &c &c  More to remember, perhaps, later.”] (21 Feb 11)

Sime in Samarkand

“The coal-hauler and the lord, eh? […] I think he wrote more than he knew.”

Oh, bliss! This, for me, is the perfect Short Weird Fiction – carved from a gestalt represented by Machen, Dunsany, Hodgson, Poe, Flecker, Samuels etc – and a fiction by Vance I’ve forgotten the title of that plays with those ‘shadows’ from the previous story in this book and extends them to things that are witnessed in the street by the narrator as controlling people (otherwise invisibly) like auras or demons…?  Anyone know that fiction by Vance?  This Valentine story – this VA author with quiet, imputedly gentlemanly, cosmic OOF! – is a true gem: conveying a feeling of truth when following an artist inspired by a poet’s work and then whose resultant artwork is thankfuly lost (or is it?) for fear of its certain power. But that description does no justice to this story. It has to be read. It has to be reprinted and anthologised forever – or, on second thoughts, like Sime’s artwork, it’s perhaps safer that it resides solely in this beautiful stiff-leaved, hard-boarded, smoothbark-jacketed  treasure of a book for we few, we select few readers to read only.  Seriously. [As an aside, there is also a most beautiful ‘dying fall’ that enhances the end of this story, one that involves the onset of the First World War, another of those concatenations of ‘certain powers’ in conflict, so resonant with today.] (21 Feb 11 – three hours later)

Morpheus House

“…some intuitive leap of recognition, some creative making of connections between images that might otherwise seem disparate.”

This is a charming, provocative but subtly humorous, tale of a cataloguing-house of dreams using record cards, i.e. dreams from Edwardian times to the present – of the house’s keepers and investigators, their foibles, whims and their own dreams and playful randomising of the cards. It also reminded me of the bird-cataloguing in this book’s third story – which is perhaps relevant in the light of the wonderful ending scene of ‘Morpheus House’…. [And it personally reminds me, too, if not directly or qualitatively, of my own treatment of ‘dreams’ and ‘dream sickness’ and the real/unreal coordinates of ‘dream places’ in my forthcoming novel ‘Nemonymous Night’ due to be published in June.]

“He always used the word “Sign” with an audible capital letter.” (21 Feb 11 – another 2 hours later)

The Antioch Imperial

A saltmarshy, atmospheric tale of a lonely, hard-kept church, its visitors, its keepers, its numismatic numinousness, its inducement of “contented, contemplative fog of thought.”  (SPOILER: an ingenious anecdote not of the Wandering Jew but of the Wandering Judas.) (21 Feb 11 – another 3 hours later)

The Tontine of Thirteen

A severe sect, then, not given to images.”

A frisson of absurdity as well as of wry common sense. Another ‘Oh, Whistle…’ type protagonist-cataloguer senses, in the seemingly empty landscape, a rippling tocsin of secular iconoclasm (compare and contrast: ‘A Certain Power‘) – depicting the backstory of a “cenacle” of depleting sharers in a word’s-meaning-is-its-use as well as in death’s.   An ironically invested shilling of “shockers”. You should not be put off by false leads or by inferences I do not intend, as this story of an eventual burial scene is one of the most haunting it has been my pleasure to be haunted by.  One that supplies to each of us our own singular plot that certainly will content we tontine of readers – one by one.  (22 Feb 11)

The Second Master

“At first, the title of Master was somewhat light-hearted and purely informal; and of course it was held for many years by Lord Lytton; for who other than the author of ‘The Haunter & The Haunted’ could have been summoned to receive such an honour?” 

 The author of ‘The House and the Brain’, I ask?

A Royal position – a civilised and thoughtful and genuinely enjoyable account of which this is – as Master of Mysteries (e.g. telling ghost stories at Christmas to the Monarch from Victoria onward), in parallel – or in conjunction as it was on one occasion – with the position of Poet Laureate: and the list of those fulfilling this position (which list weirdists among this book’s readers will particularly relish seeing) ended with a death in 1984, and so I sincerely feel that the author of this very book (The Peacock Escritoire) would have been [and perhaps is (in a fantasy falling short of or exceeding ‘The Second Master’)] a worthy aspirant to – or, even, actual current exponent of – the position in question. (22 Feb 11 – three hours later)

The Autumn Keeper

“Dark birds wheeled overhead, cawing.”

Not so much a Pilgrim’s Progress of Prague encounters but a Lantern-Dreamer’s Duress bracketed by a catalogue of scrying within the observation of someone high up the chain of narration (someone like the Second Master but one in adjunct to more fabulous monarchs than those who have mere prince consorts and hide parks) – leading to a sewn-book not as I said earlier in this review of [‘stiff-leaved’ within ‘smoothbark’] duressless durability like this boxed ‘book’ in which this autumn book is told of – but one that I imagine might fly off like air-shuffled dream cards or parchmenty flakes or singed amber cigarette-papers or iconostasis shards or cockcrows… (22 Feb 11 – another 3 hours later)

The Days on Castel Rosso

“But he, who was no fool and had kept the books for a firewood merchant…”

For me, a poignant tale of a widower’s intuition – during a necessary calendar-adjustment at “the very cusp of west and east” – of the earlier triskaideka-tontine. With leaved book references still resonating … and caskets and wood-carving – as if this book (and its accoutrements of which more later) is itself attempting to become a holy relic in literary form. Written in a language throughout so utterly exquisite it genuinely leaves me breathless.

“…he might write a book that would be a lantern to its forgotten shores.” (22 Feb 11 – another 3 hours later)

The Late Post

“…lighthouses, parcel tickets, imperial exhibitions, matchbox labels, the byways of literature, yew trees or the feeding of peacocks, all of which had interested him,”

A brilliantly witty, Coren-like, take on the eclectic collector, the gentlemanly eagerness with which one awaits the postman’s delivery for the latest item, the latest exploitation of the art of creative catalogue-searching … books and valuables amid the motley artefacts of abstruse and even popularist potentialities of object…  Variations on a theme of W.F. Harvey by a classical composer with words.  I loved every anti-social minute of it.  [There is an absurdist angle, too, an avant garde gulp that transcends the gentlemanly. And I wondered whether, initially, one item that had (not) arrived in the post was an e-book but then I scolded myself for such iconoclasm and restored my constitution by gazing at this book and its container and other accoutrements, re-assuring me that all was still well with the world, save for the odd annoying telephone call and my pondering the remarkable lack of emails in my in-box or spaces between the notes that otherwise make the music what it is.] (23 Feb 11)

Echoes of Saumur

Remarkably, for me, that last ‘dying fall’ in my review of the previous story is echoed here, here more serious than witty, more Proustian than Alan-Corenish, a Debussyan ‘submerged cathedral’ as if by Duruflé adumbrated in actual words that take on the sense of the music by a great organ composer, Jehan Alain, someone as a person I previously knew nothing about  but whose music is indeed very familiar to me simply as music.  So unbelievably beautiful both in itself as well as in the conjuration of the music in question, this section of ‘The Peacock Escritoire’ soars beyond where the lark ascends or out-curlews Warlock’s curlew of heavenly pain, and descends with “the crows returning to caw” in dark obeisance to the self that is changed or enhanced or Proustianised or Valen-tined by reading it.

“…the organist was at practice, so naturally kept returning to fragments of the work: it was as if I was getting it in huge torn shards.” (23 Feb 11 – two hours later)

The Return to Trebizond

“Below, he saw silver cupolas and arrowhead towers, high round-arched windows with glinting glass, slim finials like lances, red roofs and fragile balconies,”

This is a substantial feat of reading, the one item I’ve reached in this ‘book’ that I feel the need (rather than simply desire) to re-read, because not only of my relative ignorance of some of the history that appears to underlie it but also of my urge to ‘catalogue’ all the resonances with previous themes and tropes that I’ve found so far in this book’s rich texture of fiction – and there are many such resonances.  However, a real-time review has, for me, always been my first impressions on reading a book. And, for once, I shall draw back with great will-power from this story’s complex panoply of religions and history and their interconnections, intra-conspiracies and overt conflicts, and its artful momentary voluntary (or involuntary?) withdrawals of authorial omniscience from its ‘shardish’ audit-trail of narration or from behind the story’s iconostases – and mention something I said about a story above: “…both religious and counter-religious-by-other-religions as if (for me) Satanism versus Christianity is the same as other forces versus other ‘certain powers’ or forces within various religions.”  Here, with the “Yet all had been blotted out by the image-hating Saracen, ransacked where it could be moved, covered with whitewash where it could not.” compared, if only in my own mind, with Henry VIII’s actions within, for and against Christianity itself. And, yes, the shimmery shadows of holier-relics-than-thou floating in the incensed air…  [And the eclectic collection of the gentleman now grown old on page 222. But – oh! – now I’ve started cataloguing this story beyond my intention, whistle as I might with the harveyesque hand-fingerings on the sinister flute-holes, a whistling that is submerged by a cathedral’s silence.] (23 Feb 11 – another 3 hours later)

The Old Light

…a sloping, tumbledown congregation of books,”

A coda – a vignette about the perfect ambiance for a ghost story that treats provokingly of what I shall now call (as a result of this book) the ‘iconostasis’ between fiction and reality – a piece that (how could it be otherwise?) is in itself the perfect ‘dying fall’ of this discrete book within ‘smoothbark’ and ‘hard-boards’ on ‘stiff leaves’.  A dying fall, that is more the lark ascending than the lurk descending, in perpetuo moto.

And that brings me to the accoutrements of the discrete book as well as the book itself (all designed, I think, from ‘mentionings’, by one called Santiago Caruso).  This is how I expressed my feelings a few days ago on an internet discussion forum when I first received in the UK these intricate devices of a publication from Romania:

“In the spirit of real-time reviewing, I shall give my first impressions, without knowing anything other than those first impressions.
I make no other comment (of liking or disliking) – so far, without reading anything inside – other than describing that it is designed like a plush decorated sizeable purple escritoire which folds open to reveal a luxury book of stories (?) in an enlarged version of the previous Passport Levant formats on one side of the escritoire and, on the other side, a bundle of loose leaves (like luxury letter paper?) which I have not yet unribboned but I can see they contain text and pictures. There is a seemingly real peacock feather decking this bundle.”

I did have a feeling then, I recall, that the whole design, however interesting or partially pleasing, ‘went over the top’. I am still making my mind up on that score but, meanwhile, I shall shortly be unribboning that aforementioned bundle…. (23 Feb 11 – another half-hour later).

======================

I have been out for a walk along the grey, choppy strand near where I live, the heavy rain having just abated. I have now returned to my desk and completed the unribboning ceremony. And I am bemused how I earlier missed that this bundle of numerous quite stiff loose-leaves (all creamy-coloured, and with deliciously multi dint-textured surfaces) is top-leaved with one headed in large red manu-script: now decipherable as ‘Shards’ – with ‘Journal Notes’ in smaller, clearer print beneath it.  There is much text here throughout these leaves – for me yet to read – and ending with, on first glance, several astonishing artwork leaves (of which, no doubt, more later).

The Danubian Order – “coaling-stations and citadels”the first essay, vignette, prose poem, journal note? – and reminds me of my first holiday abroad some years ago when we went on a Danube cruise from Linz to Vienna and back again. This cruise for the bird-cataloguer in the third story of the book? I keep my powder dry, about these ‘Journal Notes’.  I am utterly intrigued…. (23 Feb 11 – another 2 hours later)

Notes on Jünger – but it is in fact dark red ink” – two diary notes playing with Stendhal’s Le Rouge et Le Noir.

I shall list the titles and one short single impression among all the impressions I receive from each Journal Note but they need to be read in the context of the whole ‘publication’ I’ve described above. Nothing I can say here will give you the right impression of this intriguing reading-experience, I guess.  Other than the fact that they exist. (23 Feb 11 – another 30 Minutes later) —>

The Ceremony of Arnsburg – Regarding, inter alia, Hesse’s Glass Bead Game and one remarkable child-like conceit regarding it. On a Black Sea Boat – For me, a coda upon the Old Light coda.  A Dark Indulgence – And now I stumble on a longer Journal Note, almost perhaps a bonus story in itself that seems to be interleaved with – yet separated from – the flow of tontine plots … considerations regarding types of paper thickness, and inks (one like blood), another “Avant garde” gulp – and as in The Late Post: a hand toward Heaven*. Shadow Work – “A gentleman embroiderer…” (23 Feb 11 – another hour later)

*or Hell? House of Aeolus – As with the crows (?), scrying by wind. The Postmaster of Everest – a mountaineer’s cards in the late post. [These notes represent fulsome dream cards, really.  I shall throw them up in the air, perhaps, later, rather than re-ribbon?] The Golden Hollow – a half-lengthy disquisition on a real place called Nobottle. Delightful. I just feel the gratuitous urge to add two letters to its name: Noahbottle.  You will feel a different urge, no doubt, when you read it. The Reader of the Sands – this is a substantial story with all the marked delight of the fiction in this book, here cross-fertilising, inter alia, the writ sands of the book’s Cormorant story with the scrying-sand skills of the guide who once took me walking  – without drowning – across the shifting waters of Morecambe Bay. (23 Feb 11 – another hour later)

Trespassers – more glorious prose to die for, including this sentence that seems to encapsulate the whole publication, so please allow me to quote it in full: “It is a day for melancholy, for music in the minor key, for books whose words convey more than they say, for the incense of bark and berries.” (23 Feb 11 – another hour later)

Well, not really the whole publication, as that sentence ignores the humour and wit, the conspiratorial gentlemanliness, the historical / religious resonances with the past crossing the shifting waters of the present – and the avant garde gulps! Ming and Incense – I trust the artist adumbrated in this Journal Note, one who has connections with Walberswick (a place I’ve visited several times), does (not) receive the same fate as the artist of ‘The Peacock Escritoire’ – as I sense, when I finish this review later tonight (I hope), the Peacock feather will take centre stage. As pinion or pivot of the artwork yet to be studied. The Tenacity of Feathers.  (23 Feb 11 – another hour later)

Mnemotechnik – a substantial vision – over several double-sided Journal Note cards – of the nemo within the title – or, rather, I can’t believe the ‘intentional’ author of this publication otherwise uttered this avant garde gulp. A 10984 version of 1984 – with on-line nicknames written in the sand and memories or backstories akin to the LOST TV series or ‘The Dark Tower’ books (by Stephen King): books that I’m concurrently real-time reviewing elsewhere. Gobsmacked.  Masonic, catatonic. The Chart in the Portico – “a stone map“. Hugo Schumpeter – I’d like to communicate face to face with anyone who once wrote this book. The Last Thinkers – Heidegger would be a good title or author of that title. The Scarlet Funeral Company – this is a lesson for someone like me who is attending a funeral this coming Friday, a funeral of someone I’ve known since 1968. The House of a Hundred Libraries – A borgesian carrel. Cloven-Footed Angels, Or, The Fifth Kingdom Now Fully Reveal’d – Gaddafi? (23 Feb 11 – another 2 hours later)

W. Compton Leith – another Machen-find from the Undergrowth. A Fondness for Villains – The Man Who Was The Missing Thirteen Thursdays. The Lost Chronicler Leslie Barringer – I am the lost DF Lewis who wrote better than he is remembered writing.

The set of creamy-yellow cards continue, luxury parchments – ‘Santiago Caruso’ (in large red manu-script like the word ‘Shards’ earlier) – ‘Portfolio’ (in smaller, clearer print). Then a set of (for me) umber-to-subtly-dark-bloodstained artworks that are simply stunning and completely in tune with my mood as I finish this important Mark Valentine journey through a finery of words and words’ music.

The portfolio contains artworks entitled ‘The Final Gate’, ‘Around the Dutch Stove’, ‘The Ritual’, ‘The Workers’, ‘The Black Lion’, ‘Broken Icons’ (NOTE THIS TITLE), ‘The Strangers’, ‘The Amber Cigarette’ (double-sized), ‘Dualism’ (double-sized), ‘The Ka of Astarakhan’ (double-sized),  and two unnamed miniatures.  And the frontispiece in the discrete book itself: ‘A Heathen God’.

Up in the air they go. I shall re-shuffle them (a la Dark Tower), hand-edged to tidy them into a new neat pack and re-ribbon them later for restoring to the Peacock Escritoire.

Dan Ghetu has emailed me in the last few hours as a result of my earlier comment above (“I did have a feeling then, I recall, that the whole design, however interesting or partially pleasing, ‘went over the top’.”) and I can quote what he said to me (with his permission), viz: “Precisely. Not the First War World trench “over the top” but love. Love is to go “over the top”. It is about love. We should not be afraid or ashamed to be pathetic. There is still much light in that.

Like Jehan Alain – and Cecil Coles.  Indeed.

And the bird that is just a bird is not a bird at all. It needs a peacock feather or other plumage or tufted tenacity – just for their own sake. Others will judge, when we’ve all fallen from our last “fragile balconies” and only the e-books will remain or books with stiff pages and smoothbark jackets and hard-boarders playing at prayers.

END.  (23 Feb 11 – another two hours later)

6 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Holiday – by M. Rickert

I’m due to start below another of my gradual real-time reviews, turning leitmotifs into a gestalt.

And it is of the 164 page hardback book entitled ‘HOLIDAY’ by M. Rickert: Golden Gryphon Press 2010.

There is no guarantee how long it will take to complete this review, whether days or years.

CAVEAT: Spoilers are not intended but there may be inadvertent ones. You may wish (i) to take that risk and read my review before or during your own reading of the book, or (ii) to wait until you have finished reading it. In either case, I hope it gives a useful or interesting perspective.

All my real-time reviews are linked from here: http://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/

In common with my normal practice, I shall be giving my real-time impressions of the stories in this book, without first reading the book’s introduction or knowing anything about the book at all other than it was recommended to me by people I trust.

Holiday

“I’m a writer. I notice these things.”

A tender evocation – by a male protagonist narrator – of ghosts in his house, reminding me of how I imagine children’s traditional ‘imaginary friends’ to resemble – ghosts that, if real, would importune him. I assume but do not know that only a woman as head-lease author could write through this narrator (as if the narrator, especially when dressed as a clown, is ‘her’ ‘real’ ‘imaginary friend’).  This is coupled with the past’s ‘baggage’ weighing down the evocation of such ghosts (with telling interruptions from more detached characters), ‘baggage’ within the pecking-order of narration at whatever collusive or non-collusive remove. Very intriguing and certainly haunting. [Another thing I shall remember about this story is the handy hint on how to gain the trust of a woman: tell her you like her ear-rings.] (7 Feb 11)

[I note a positive synergy between the story of ‘Holiday’ and that of ‘Being of Sound Mind’ by Roy Gray in the CERN ZOO anthology.] ( 7 Feb 11 – 20 minutes later)

Memoir of a Deer Woman (New Year’s Day)

“Frightened of leaving the children too long with madmen about, …”

Or with a word called “her“?

A dense and textured fable, but paradoxically expressed in a simple way – blending Katherine Mansfield and Angela Carter?  The previous story had ‘Holiday’ as a character’s name, here a ‘real’ holiday?  The process of growing into what one wonders can exist, amost like cancer growing, a prehensile creative-writing paper chase that is so utterly utterly poignant…about how to pre-figure death and departure with one’s animal soul from those other animal souls one loves, wrapped round with genuine constructive obscurity or randomness. (7 Feb 11 – three hours later)

Journey Into The Kingdom (Valentine’s Day)

“He had already lost some of his life-like luster, particularly below his knees where I could almost see through him.”

This substantial story of ‘story’, at first, reminded me of the salt-puddle stirrings of lost husbands to the sea in my own ‘Down to the Boots’ together with the ambiance of ‘The Caul Bearer’ by Allyson Bird that I reviewed in mid-2009. But it takes its place, too, as a real classic of the communion of ghosts, depending which ghost knows who is ghost and who isn’t in turn from inside their own souls – revealing the grief of cancer (cf the deer story) – and the art museum’s inimical synergy between vision and ‘story’. This book itself has some wonderful wonderful artwork. But we return to the story and the victory of love through recognition of death and death’s breath. This story almost overfeeds the readers, like the ducks, with its riches…. to prevent any “danger of floating away or disappearing.” (7 Feb 11 – another 4 hours later)

The Machine  (May Day)

“Graveyards creak with too many bones, and the weight of headstones…”

Ah, perfection. One always knows when one has read a perfect story. It becomes more than story. Even the apparent didacticism at the end is forgiveable – does not mar the perfection. This starts with an intro that could have been penned by Elizabeth Bowen (and that is to me is an extremely high compliment) – leading into a fable of Titus Andronicus proportions about evil, cruelty, the weight of words, the danger from or to those children or ‘imaginary friends’ in ‘Holiday’, the rape of fiction by characters within it … dense, textured, “quilted”, but simple, even heart-warming (!),  in hindsight.  [The machine? A web-machine that is constituted of words and pictures as in this book?]

“…how weightless she has become, as if her tongue was what held her to the earth.” (8 Feb 11)

Evidence of Love in a Case of Abandonment : One Daughter’s Personal Account (Mother’s Day)

“…Mr Saunders demonstrated to us girls what it’s like to be pregnant with a basketball.”

A “Roarshack” with the end of the previous story: similar ends justifying the means. A “hologram” of each other. This thought-provoking SFtopia of public executions (where they’re filmed close-up like filming a potential lbw in a cricket ground for later umpiring), executions of mothers as their daughters watch or receive a hairloop keepsake.  The potentially interpretable didacticism is again forgiveable (almost?) because, for me, it’s half-undermined by the last sentence.  Meanwhile, it was very appropriate that the executionees have child escorts in the two-edged sword context of children in the book so far. (8 Feb 11 – three hours later)

Don’t Ask (Father’s Day)

“…words drift from the floor, hollow, balloon-like, …”

They need the “hair” of the werewolf.  Very telling.  This ordinary town’s ‘Lost Boys have a Pied Piper who is not Peter Pan but is still ageless as Horror genre traditions are. A “famous lost boy” where fame is all we seek, immortality through famePeter Pan was fictional but he lives boyishly forever through fame, lives forever-longer than real people like us.  This story seems free of all didacticism, but I sense it lurking in the tropes or archetypes – the poignancy of boyish existence and  their vulnerability / equal strength to claw-up, to harm their parents before they become parents themselves in clean garages…?  (8 Feb 11 – another 2 hours later)

Traitor (4th of July)

“I looked up at the stars and thought how they were like fish in the frozen sky.”

This story – like some of the others so far – is simple yet challenging, challenging the interpretative skills of even the best real-time reviewer in the world.  Here we have a feisty nine year old girl with jingly hair-braids that ring at us throughout the story like a lost bell-wether.  Her ostensible mother who once ‘lost boys’ and saved herself … an ice cream flavoured ice cream echoing life’s later pain and self-sacrifice of an intangible war going on, I think, at the edges somewhere.  The ‘I remember’ of life’s hidden audit-trail  or a darkroom’s photographic-plate that cracks like a broken rink.  And, almost, yes, almost, a foundling suicide-bomber with jingly hair-braids and packed backpack … but if that is not in the story, it’s certainly in me. A corrupted gem of a piece when under the eye-glass. (9 Feb 11)

Was She Wicked? Was She Good?  (Summer – anniversary)

“The fissures have formed beneath us […] as if any movement would collapse the careful arc that keeps us suspended.”

That seems to resonate with the whole book so far. This story is disturbing and gains much from its context, as well as being a standalone dark essay in claustrophobia.  Here this story’s version of the small girl rips wings off creatures and you need to be a literary word-sleuth equivalent to Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes to decipher all the tropes and archetypes and dream interpretations and motivations. The girl’s father (the head-lease author’s unreliable representative as Narrator) is writing a book entitled ‘The Possibilities for Enchantment in a World at War with the Self, the Other and the Infinite’ and I am suddenly drawn to another love of mine: Proust.  And I am not fooled by the comfort of the story’s ending, oh no. (9 Feb 11 – another four hours later)

You Have Never Been Here (Halloween)

“…you sink further into the vague cushion of the seat, …”

For me, this is a symphony of ‘The Hospice’ and ‘The Unsettled Dust’ both by Robert Aickman and ‘Never Let Me Go’ by Kazuo Ishiguro and my long-term ideas on nemonymity and, today, I’ve been reading and writing about King’s ‘schizms’ (my word, not his) in his Dark Tower series, so it’s that, too. There are children, too, like those playing in the corridors of a hotel. But, then, suddenly, it’s not a symphony at all, it’s none of those things I just wrote about this wonderful story, because it’s about ‘you’, not me.  And ‘you’ need to decide, by entering it for ‘your’self.  (9 Feb 11 – another 2 hours later)

War is Beautiful (Veteran’s Day)

“My angel flutters restless wings beside me…”

An ‘imaginary friend’ from ‘Holiday‘ and the war at the edge of ‘Traitor’ come together here as Viet Nam – ghost or angel, under-age or not she has a baby already – and the male Narrator escapes from within the ‘schizm’ imposed by the head-lease author to disseminate his seed as well as a grenade (he didn’t throw it, but he wrote about and thus created those who did)  – and the weightlessness of love, the nothingness of the previous story’s ‘you’ and the regimented execution scenarios of ‘Evidence of Love…‘ now made chaotic by the skewed camera of words at war with each other to describe “the synchronised shards of random truth & fiction” (my words, not the book’s) in a real war, to ear-mark truth or exploit falsehoods.

 “The explosion of words, the ink melted by my tears.” (9 Feb 11 – another 90 minutes later)

The Christmas Witch (Thanksgiving / Christmas)

“…where they stop for ice cream. Rachel has peppermint stick and her father has vanilla.”

A substantial story not of ‘story’ this time but genuinely as ‘story’ seen through the third person singular eyes of the small girl made real by this book heretofore, not archetypal so much as, say, Rickertian.  She collects bones – and has girl-innocent thoughts about witches, dressing up as them for holiday days, amid a conflux of various characters, some who come back transmuted by a sort of vague  ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ scenario. And those erstwhile regimented executions in an earlier story for the ‘crime’ mothers commit by ‘losing’ babies (cf lost boys) is almost given the aura of a girlishly misunderstood bomb waiting to explode within the story.  The ending, for me, is delightfully and forebodingly Aickmanesque. But the whole story – from  what I have learnt from the whole book – seems to be (if it is here in a more traditional story-telling way than many of the other ‘stories’) Rickertian as new literary ambiance.  HOLIDAY is a major collection for lovers of dark fantasy or weird fiction.  [The holiday titles? I haven’t fathomed their import yet. Perhaps they are, as holidays are, restful pauses in a symphony that are often more important than the actual notes surrounding the pauses.] (9 Feb 11 – another two hours later)

END

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized