I’m due to start below on this page another of my gradual real-time reviews, turning leitmotifs into a gestalt.
And it is of BOOK – by The InkerMen (InkerMen Press 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/
The stories in this anthology are written by Alison J. Littlewood, Nick Mazonowicz, Antony Pickthall, Obby Robinson, Derek John, Dominy Clements, Katharine Orton, Richard W. Strachan, Douglas Thompson, Peter Griffiths, Jenny Gordon, Monica Germanà, Alex Mack, Brooke Biaz, D.P. Watt, Peter Holman.
My copy of this hardback book has a number of discrete inserts – most of which are lightly stuck in from other books. One is the title page of ‘Structuralism and Since’ by John Sturrock and has been signed by all the book’s authors. Most exciting. Intriguing. Book haunting…
As is common with all my real-time reviews, I shall not read the Preface or ‘Notes on Conspirators’ until after I’ve completed the review of the fiction. I do sense however – with an uncommon attack of common sense – that the book’s eventual gestalt will be ‘Book’.
They’re Coming for your Eyes – by Alison J. Littlewood
“The volume was bound in faded black leather, and Alice caught a peppery scent rising from it, though it was encased in the regulation plastic.”
…and here we have a library book. I remember, as a child, living for library books, like the girl here – ‘Famous Five’ books! Their protective covers, their little pockets for library cards, the paper with dates stamped all over it: (just like one of those ‘inserts’ I mentioned above). Here we range between this girl’s childhood and grown-up status, her now blind mother (to whom she reads), her boy friend, the dreams, the horror book she picks up at the library … and if I expected a cosy nostalgia for books, I was wrong: or, rather more cleverly, it’s a mixture of nostalgia and terror: a terror that it was the book that made me – and later unmade me at the tearful root of the optic fuse that one needs, in the first place, to appreciate real books that haven’t got braille ridges or electronic voices. A great opening story with something stuck inside it: an inner mental trope or numinous metaphor made literally tangible as the smelly remains of an endless summer holiday squashed between two of the pages would have been. (31 Jul 12 – 3.35 pm bst)
BOOK also provided me an ‘insert’ as a loose bookmark from an old (W.E. Johns) Biggles front-cover from my childhood. How did it know to do this?
Bed of Crimson Joy – by Nick Mazonowicz
“I thought we’d continue with the horror theme…”
‘THE BOOK’, ‘YOU’, ‘HIM’ and a ME called Catherine Boucher – but BOOK of URIZEN, BOOK of THEL or BOOK of JOB??? … this takes up Littewood’s theme of the enforced “invisible” in a new light. Unpronounceable but eventually pronounced upon. A “Bookgroup” like some Jungian Collective Unconsciousness? Or a M.R. James Herbert fol de rol? A very strange mixture of the mundane and the cosmic … and the synchronicity of names. This story stands on its own, I guess, but perhaps it is also a conduit between the first story and the as yet unread third story? Only hindsight will tell. Fascinating stuff. (31 Jul 12 – 6.40 pm bst)
The Last Word in Cooking – by Antony Pickthall
“He was friends with Margaret Atwood for chrissakes.”
Yes, indeed, a conduit from the ‘The Songs of Innocence and Experience’ by Blake in the previous story to ‘The Holy Sonnets’ of Donne in this one (linked independently in an academic essay here). Meanwhile, I am a sucker for fiction that starts with a carpet that possesses at least as much significance as the person standing or laid out upon it, as in this story. Leading to a Lost Book as an objective correlative of paternal and fraternal relationships, with hilarious consequences involving the ethnic family next door. As well as carpets in fiction, I love Lost Books, too. Not a book you’ve temporarily misplaced, but genuinely, legendarily LOST: the seeking out of which book involves spiritual quests and, here, with connections (so as to save a direct spoiler before you are ready for it) to this topic on my blog concerning Robert Aickman. All books so far in BOOK seem to lead to or are concerned with invisibility not only to itself by ‘lostness’ but also surrounding the human body (book-blindness, the repercussions that the reader might draw from Blake’s ‘invisible worm’ and, again, here by culinary attrition!) — Another intriguing, engaging story. (1 Aug 12 – 2.30 pm bst)
The Sun-Dial – by Obby Robinson
“Her dad was making a big deal about cooking.”
And John Donne wrote: “And all your graces no more use shall have, / Than a sun-dial in a grave:” — Now and again one comes across a perfect gem of a story that is your perfect match of the day, and this, for me, today, is it. Combining music (as well as the previous story’s Donne and cooking) with book collecting, and with synchronicity… and the skilful character portrayal in a short space and the artful observations that stay with you forever … like the keepsake of a special book. Can you tell that I think this story is little short of a masterpiece? (The thing about sun-dials is that they tell an invisible time from the moving of shapes and of other things in the universe that out-shadow our death). “These books, it seemed to her, held things withheld, but did not themselves withhold. As she gazed up at them, and their spines formed patches of broken colour, it was as a horizon stretched before her, unclear, distant and vast, but seen for the first time.” (1 Aug 12 – 6.40 pm bst)
Le Frotteur des Livres – by Derek John
“Gentlemen readers at our magificent Bibliothèque Nationale had begun to complain of the pages of certain rare and valuable volumes being glued together by, and I quote: ‘an unknown organic substance’.”
This is the ultimate hilarity concerned with books (unless the remaining – as yet unread – stories in BOOK contain something unexpected). Ebooks (the ultimate invisible books) eat your hearts out! But not only that, this story is stylistically brilliant, too, for those with a “fetish” for words and inserts (literal ‘inserts’ touched upon in my review’s intro above), possessing a seamless synergy, as it does, of three exquisite prose mannerisms that I, for one, have relished for most of my life: i.e. French Literary, East-European Weird and Lovecraftian Tentacular. What more could I want? Just further attritionally culinary ‘food for thought’ concerning the 20th Century’s wartime “bonfire of the vanities” towards a new slant on books becoming invisible… And to crown it all, it takes Blake’s aforementioned “invisible worm” in BOOK to perfect synchronous lengths! (2 Aug 12 – 1.00 pm bst)
Bête Noire – by Dominy Clements
“He was a suicide.”
The author of the previous story had a fiction in Nemonymous (early in his writing career) and here the composer Dominy Clements, who also has featured in Nemonymous, I’m proud to report, gives us… a substantive and intriguing plot, with a traditional ghost story bent, where the book is a hardback ghost, as it were. And, yes, without giving too much away, it tends to sneak away into parts of the shelving, if perhaps not becoming exactly invisible. But there is a disturbing slant to this otherwise light tale of a book that reads differently on each reading: eg the first reading of the book giving elation, the second despair, without presumably (this being a real book not an ebook) having its text changed from the fixed state it’s printed in. Boxed and columned (within and below London’s St Paul’s Cathedral dome (tome?) of sublime dizzying height from the whispering gallery), that dark side becomes relentless as you, inter alia, wonder by reading Clements’ story again it would cease to be quite so light on the surface and become even more disturbing underneath as you look down at the dizzying spaces between the words… Claustro- and acro-phobia, in seamless, if increasingly anxious, synergy. Immaculate prose. (2 Aug 12 – 2.30 pm bst)
Curiosity Blog or A Study of the Worst Book Ever Written – by Katharine Orton
“–living in Sidcup with a housewife and their two obligatory kids in a lower middle-class neighbourhood filled with beige.”
Well, hilarity comes in many forms, and we explore its spectrum again from ‘maniacally disturbing’ to ‘hysterically funny’ with this story told by the ‘personal notes’ of a blog-keeper dealing with a book that is the brother or sister of the book in the previous story. There are genuine frightening moments in it and an effective satire of the obsessive use of the internet to further one’s writing career etc. – another dizzying drop above the nothingness between the uncarpeted floorboards of what I call the Nemonymous Night (that I fear paranoiacally may be the real target book of this story!) – a dizzying drop like that viewed from the inner dome or tome of St Paul’s in the previous story. The acro- and claustro- of creativity. Genuinely cosmic — genuinely creepy with another hardback ghost and the ghost of its author — genuinely able to make me LOL and cringe. To combine those feelings is no mean feat. Here a book’s own imposed invisibility as its biggest gift – or weapon? (3 Aug 12 – 10.05 am bst)
On the Whole a Pretty Good Story – by Richard W. Strachan
“I was not even allowed to cannibalise these failed stories…”
A clever fictional essay upon the obsession of creative writing to make one’s mark in life, a feeling echoing that in the previous story, but here it is the writer’s father who has the vicarious obsession… Again the perceived book being written or already written — a novel with, for me, constructively naive Henri Rousseau-like recurring images — becomes tantamount to invisible, but here it is in the hindsight of narrative pecking orders. More food for thought. (3 Aug 12 – 11.25 am bst)
THIS REAL-TIME REVIEW NOW CONTINUED HERE.