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My reading-lifetime’s Hall of Fame

Image by Tony Lovell (2011)

My reading-lifetime’s Hall of Fame in no particular order:

Charles Dickens, Christopher Priest, AS Byatt, Enid Blyton, May Sinclair, HP Lovecraft, Barbara Vine, Reggie Oliver, Anita Brookner, WG Sebald, Jeremy Reed, Ian McEwan, Elizabeth Bowen, Stephen King, Oliver Onions, Marcel Proust, Salman Rushdie, Glen Hirshberg, Paul Auster, Mark Valentine, John Fowles, Edgar Allan Poe, John Cowper Powys, Lord Dunsany, Algernon Blackwood, Jack Vance, Philip K Dick, Jeff VanderMeer, Samuel R Delany, Anthony Burgess, Susanna Clarke, Rhys Hughes, Lawrence Durrell, MR James, Robert Aickman, Sarban, Ramsey Campbell, Thomas Ligotti, Tommaso Landolfi, Kazuo Ishiguro, Quentin S. Crisp.

This is a list including writers I once considered in my Hall of Fame but now rarely read, and new writers whose works I read quite a lot and have included in my Hall of Fame fairly recently and variations upon that, but all have been major reading experiences some time in my life.  Apologies to those I’ve inadvertently omitted because of my semi-Proustian memory.

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The WEIRD: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories

Weird: A Compendium of Dark and Strange Stories

The WEIRD: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories

Edited by Ann & Jeff VanderMeer

First published in Great Britain 2011 by Corvus, an imprint of Atlantic Books Ltd.

I’m due to start below another of my gradual real-time reviews, turning leitmotifs into a gestalt. I have already ordered this book from an Amazon dealer. I hope to commence this review as soon as I receive it.

There is no guarantee how long it will take to complete this review, whether days or weeks. But more likely: months or even years (judging by the enormous size of its contents).

CAVEATS: 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. Also, Nemonymous (Cern Zoo) was the original publisher of ‘The Lion’s Den’ by Steve Duffy that is included in this book.

My many other real-time reviews are linked from here: http://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/ (2 Nov 11)

“… maintaining a chemical purity in the reaction between product and appraiser. […] Submit to whatever spell, weak or strong, is being cast. Better to praise and share than blame and ban. The communion between reviewer and his public is based upon the presumption of certain possible joys in reading, and all our discriminations should curve toward that end.” – an extract from John Updike’s rules.

Just this minute received delivery of the book itself. Wow! And double-columned text – didn’t expect that. (4 Nov 11 – 1.05 pm GMT)

Having now handled this beautifully handleable tome, as gigantic as it is imposing, I wonder now if I have bitten off more than I can chew by tackling a real-time review of it.  I am thrilled as well as daunted by this project, hoping that I live long enough to complete such an endeavour. As ever with my RTRs heretofore (proceeding apace for three years exactly today), I shall treat each story as it comes. Here, with this book, I shall re-read any story I have read before in my 63 year reading-life, hopefully attuning each reading to an emerging gestalt. Every collection and anthology has a gestalt, in my experience, whether intended or not, sometimes quite an unexpected one. Whether that gestalt has a randomly inexplicable / synchronous power or a more deliberate one, I try to feed back that power to the book itself when reviewing it, e.g. knowing that a  book’s reading journey may be different if one knows, when making that journey, that one is publicly communicating the experience of that journey in real-time. Finally, I usually do not read introductions, story notes etc until I have completed the review, and that will be the case here. (4 Nov 11 – an hour later)

The Other Side (an excerpt) – Alfred Kubin

Now the area had transformed into a monstrous zoo.”

A very promising start for me, containing feral and dream-sickness (my expression, not the story’s) and zoo themes that have obsessed me. A sleeping sickness plague for humans and when they awake the animal kingdom has run amok, with frightening and humorous results. There’s even a bear that eats a pork butcher’s widow. An enjoyable and provocative dystopian fable with implications for immortality and decay. I’m not sure if the excerpted nature of this piece has meant I miss or misread some of the characters’ protagonisms… yet it seems steeped constructively, and at least partially, in War With The Newts – by Karel Capek (4 Nov 11 – another two hours later)

The Screaming Skull – F. Marion Crawford

“One always remembers one’s mistakes much more vividly than one’s cleverest things, doesn’t one?”

Apt talk of November and of drugging people like Michael Jackson so as to sleep soundly and  a tell-tale or five-fingered skull – on the loose – and soliloquised about maniacally then sensibly then maniacally again then wrecked on the rocks of the reader’s craggy mind (i.e. mine) – this is an incredibly modern tale told to us from the unmodern past.  It’s like the animals in the Kubin are emblemised as on the loose with leaden brains and grinning bony carapaces. Each single haunted skull to  betoken another somewhere else or another part of itself with Darwinian jigsaw fitting? A classic horror story that I’m pleased to have brought back to my attention. I remembered it not. Not quite like this – in this book’s heavy-bendy skull-tome context… “…the dog, his face growing more and more like a skull with two little coals for eyes;” — (4 Nov 11 – another 4 hours later)

The Willows – Algernon Blackwood

I. “It was an otter, alive, and out on the hunt; yet it had looked exactly like the body of a drowned man…”

For me, a welcome opportunity to re-read this weird classic after a number of years. Lonely Literature’s ulitmate ‘genius loci’ (gestalt stätte): the boat trip of the narrator with his ‘unimaginative’ companion (the Swede) along the ill-differentiated Danube between land and water, nature and terror. Here we echo the stream of feral beasts or skulls of earlier stories in this book alongside the patternless, human-uncontrolled surge of currencies and debts that pervade our news today, joining a ‘parent river’ then we become another different unexpected parent-in-waiting of children that were misborn years before we were first alive.  Here we have willow-prehensile land and water as a herd or swarm instinct – as accentuated by even Unimagination itself now being impeached by frissons and fears – not Three Men in a Boat with jokey bonhomie, but two men alone together in a clumsy Jungian canoe that is you and me… (5 Nov 11)

II. & III. “It was we who were the cause of the disturbance,…”

Not by (a) ‘our’ disturbing the disturbance into existence, but by (b) creating it at source, from the hands of the head-lease author via the creative narrator towards the even more creative reader?  The story’s overt implication is (a), but re-reading this story in my later years I now feel it is (b) and – with the wind, the patterings, the heaviness of soul and the shapes emerging from some gaia – all take on a new meaning as I disturb – or create? – the story’s hidden gestalt. (5 Nov 11 – two and a half hours later)

IV. & V. “Our thoughts make spirals in their world. We must keep them out of our minds at all costs if possible.”

The above “them” actually being our thoughts themselves (any or all of our thoughts to be kept from our mind!) or is it THEM: the transcendents that lurk like Old Ones beyond the thinning or “veil” (veil or ‘door’, with the swarm of bees or humming gong sound, a la Stephen King’s Todash?) – or the strange disjointed fragments of phrases that make no sense and may be our thoughts disguised? This is all genuinely frightening to the reader who, as I hinted before, is more than implicated by just reading the story – despite the 3-men-in-a-boat laughter that breaks out at one point. Yet, there are three men here after all, the ego, id and nemo, but which is the Swede (cf: ‘the American’ in the Kubin story or ‘the Russian’ in Blackwood’s ‘The Centaur’ novel), which the equally anonymous narrator and which the anonymous victim ‘otter’?  There will hopefully come soon my ‘hole in the toe of my shoe’ moment (rather than my ‘hole in the bottom of my canoe’ moment). A revelation, this re-reading, as I imagine the transcendents’ shapes made up of several animals from another ‘monstrous zoo’.

“The nemo is an evolutionary force, as necessary as the ego. The ego is certainty, what I am; the nemo is potentiality, what I am not. But instead of utilizing the nemo as we would utilize any other force, we allow ourselves to be terrified by it, as primitive man was terrified by lightning. We run screaming from this mysterious shape in the middle of our town, even though the real terror is not in itself, but in our terror at it.”
– John Fowles 1964 (from ‘The Necessity of Nemo’ in ‘The Aristos’)
(5 Nov 11 – another 3 hours later)

NB: ‘The Willows’ seems to be a treatment of self-deception (and indeed the expression ‘self-deception’ in this sense is used in its text). This is appropriate as I am currently reading an academic book by Robert Trivers about ‘self-deception’. (5 Nov 11 – another 30 minutes later)

Sredni Vashtar – Saki

Without his imagination, which was rampant under the spur of loneliness, he would have succumbed long ago.” Cf: the ‘unimaginative’ Swede in the previous story!

 A short densely textured Saki classic masterpiece about a boy fighting (according to how the mood takes you in this welcome thoughtful yet relaxing mode of reading ‘The Weird’) against (or with?) class-conscious, generation-conscious, toast-conscious views of religion and social convention and all idol religion – with a feral god fluted from the Kubin or shape-swarmed, shape-beasted Blackwood. (Loved the TV version of this story but can’t get it out of my ‘thoughts’ when reading the story).  (5 Nov 11 – another 3 hours later)

Casting the Runes – M. R. James

“…Mr Karswell began the story by producing a noise like a wolf howling in the distance,…”

Karswell, Kubin. Sakitribution. Meanwhile, this is a characteristic, if slightly off-the-wall, M.R.-Jamesian story of various civilised and partially academic narrative-levels (one epistolary, another unreliable, others more reliable), i.e. unfictionalised fiction that hides and then tantalisingly reveals a pursuant or stalking evil like a simmering burr you can’t brush off.  A mass of creatures, at one point, and a “dry rustling noise” and, also as in ‘The Willows’, an Unimagination stirred into Imagination (the latter tellingly nearer to the truth about what lies behind any veils and piques) … and a snappish creature under the pillow that I imagined to be like Sredni Vashtar. And pursuant Runes or letters (some embedded in glass not upon it) like the lexic disjointments in ‘The Willows’. “I’ve been told that your brother reviewed a book very severely…”   Following the morally satisfactory conclusion of this spooky story, I nevertheless retain some empathy, if not sympathy, with our man Karswell…. (6 Nov 11)

THIS REAL-TIME REVIEW OF ‘THE WEIRD’ IS NOW CONTINUED HERE.

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All my many other real-time reviews are linked from HERE.

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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.

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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).

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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)

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