Tag Archives: ex occidente

The Angel Bird

My local skailine this morning that followed yesterday’s reading and reviewing HERE of THE MONK’S BIBLE by Harold Billings.

Skai: river (as in HPL), stream, torrent and, by assonance, sky.

“…and soon afterward he came to the great stone bridge across the Skai, into whose central pier the masons had sealed a living human sacrifice when they built it thirteen-hundred years before…” from ‘The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath’ (a novella that I review here).

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Thick Atrocities of Soot

“Nobody else in the family found much time for an old man who seemed to be losing his mind. Ah, but what a mind to lose.”
— Damian Murphy (from The Salamander Angel)


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Sangria in the Sangraal


by Rhys Hughes

A Real-Time Review started 16 March 2012

 Passport Levant MMXI

 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/

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


The Shapes Down There

He smiled as he regarded his subjects from his balcony.”

A memorably ‘fabulous’ conversation of clouds as they circle around debating the ‘as-above, so-below’ empirically-tested synchronicity of Mankind’s affairs as perceived flashmobs, a synchronicity with the Universe (including clouds possessing a motive force beyond even the weather’s control that created them) — i.e. rather than Astrological cause-and-effect.  The ‘affair’ in question here is the festive firelight blaze of the Emir of Albarracín, Huydayl Djalaf’Izz ad-Dawla. No dawdler, though.  As a bonus track, there is a brilliant sketch of the purpose of ’embers’. [I was wondering whether at one point – where ‘clouds’ are spelt as ‘clods’ – this was a meaningfully back-handed slant at the imperious clouds by the author (reputedly a member himself of the moving feasts of Mankind) – because, in all good literature, one can’t often differentiate clever wordplay from mis-fingered typo.  A rare intentional or unintentional typo, for me, is one of those “transient shapes” like an ember in the fiery “festivities” of words.] (16 Mar 12 – 11.15 am gmt)

The Spare Hermit

Incidentally, the first cliché was created by accident…”

When I was going to St Ives… no, when Murk (short for Murkales or a recurring typo for Mark?) was going to Albarracín (fast becoming this book’s epic-centre), he met people whose names ended -urk or started Kru-. A clever, thought-provoking fable – I think in this book Rhys Hughes may be more a fabulist than a fictionatronicist (or possibly a blend of both): and, in this one, where people as well as places are back-ups for each other towards maintaining an optimum reality by having a plan in place to obviate drop-outs. Or that’s how I read it. “Back then, in the 11th century, it was commonly supposed that winds slept in caverns when not blowing.” A nice touch in this stiff, aesthetically heavy-duty boards, crisp dust-jacket, pages of a landscape book with its own ‘genius loci’: as I turned from page 19 to 20, the book creaked deliciously and, genuinely, the first sentence I then read was: “Finally the massive lock turned and the gate creaked open.” (16 Mar 12 – three hours later)

Sally Forth

“Verily he plummeteth. Ouch!”

This is a dialogue piece in the mould of a Shakespearean comic backstory as if written by Don Quixote about a picaresque Knight rescuing once-called Damsels in Distress and is full of strained, often outrageous, wordplay.  Only this author could thus dare traduce himself. (16 Mar 12 – another hour later)

The Magic Gone

Harold swallowed. ‘Why shoot an arrow at a cloud?‘”

Time’s Arrow?  This is a substantial Whovian intrigue: of a time-traveller to Albarracín; Emirate political ploys — as factored into this book’s erstwhile optimum reality ‘spares’ or ‘back-ups’ — mix with minstrels and troubadours; and a conundrum concerned, for me, with Toynbeean history; whether Challenge comes before Response, or, paradoxically, vice versa.  “I swear I’m not a liar! I’m a time traveller!” (16 Mar 12 – another three hours and 20 minutes later, i.e 6.35 pm gmt)

Sangria in the Sangraal

So he turned to shooting birds down from the sky; he had heard that men in olden days riddled the clouds with shafts to make rain, but he thought that foolish.

Cloud-inducing takes on a new slant following the earlier stories. I think somewhere in a previous story a cloud turned into a teapot!  That, too, now takes on a new slant.  This is a Hughesian gem: one that will, sooner or later, be included within a select collection of his work in Penguin Classics.  The would-be knightly protagonist here doesn’t fire arrows into the clouds for rain but to kill storks in order ostensibly to prevent babies being delivered by this means to the Saracen enemy as future soldiers.  And his mother was sickly and prescribed red wine. Only this story can tell you how this fits with Sangria in the Sangraal being drunk by her — Sangraal not being a region of Spain like Extremadura or La Rioja  as I think I might shamefully have once assumed when I first glimpsed the title of this book. (16 Mar 12 – another 2 hours later)

The Man Toucan

I must point out, however, that it may be a century or more before anyone else comes this way again.”

…like this book. Only 102 copies of this bottle with a genie loco.  Seriously, this is a delightfully unserious philosophical fable by the Arch Fabulist and Fictionatronicist named Rhys Hughes or (according to his oft-times used avatar in this very (God)forsaken internet universe) Man Toucan himself or itself. Unserious, but the philosophy itself in this fable is potentially serious: teaching me much more of Ontology and Teleology regarding the Existence of God than any real philosophy book, and Deist Bifurcation and the possibility of sharing responsibility (moral or otherwise) and power (omnipotence). ‘Sharing’ like those ‘back-ups’ and ‘spares’? And there are more clouds here and a part of Spain (like Sangraal) that God didn’t know existed till He came to look for Himself. A genuine masterpiece, this fable, exceeding even the previous one.  Refreshingly delightful in tone. (17 Mar 12 – 8.40 am gmt)

[I’ve just discovered, under this book’s stiff-mannered dust-jacket, there is embossed on the front of the board-cover: YOU AND I < YOUR PAST + MY ETERNITY > DEATH IN ARAGON. At the moment I can’t get to the bottom of this (something to do with Louis Aragon: a poet I read last in the 1960s?). Whatever the case, these are the sole words upon the whole hard-board cover beneath the dust-jacket. So, if the dust-jacket is ever separated from it, someone finding such a bare copy or (dare I say?) ‘spare’ of this book in, for example, a mythical secondhand bookshop, he or she will be stymied as to its identity unless he or she opens it… (17 Mar 12 – another 15 minutes later)]

[I’ve just noticed this in the book’s CONTENTS :
The Man Toucan…………………………………………………………56
Latitude, Longtitude and Plenitude……………………………..68
The Kind Generosity of Theophrastus Tautology…………57
Scaramouche’s Pouting Mouth……………………………………..95 ] (17 Mar 12 – another 15 minutes later)

Latitude, Longtitude and Plenitude

The fleeing clouds were formless, unlike those of my childhood town, isolated but noble Albarracín, forgotten up the mountains, where every vapour was an actor with a shape not its own.”

[My personal immodest brainstorming:- I know now, quite independently, that earlier ‘clods’ was not a typo at all. Of Clods and Clouds – there is a type of human study this book is subtly enacting without the reader really realising: that people have their clouds and they have their clods.  Which of us is which? Only clouds can tell, I guess, so if you can tell I am a cloud not a clod, you, too, are a cloud like me.  And this story sort of embodies such considerations obliquely: and that often in  one latitude-longtitude clouds are clods and in another: vice versa; etc.  A new Geography of Ethics].  This story, like the previous one, has a bottle with communicative contents: here, a real torn-short book-like page of a message that contrasts ethics with the narrator who reads what is in the bottle with a skewed or straight vision of ethics because of his father’s perceived mores by skewed prejudice or straight honour as embodied in another, complementary, document.  Simply, though, taken at face value, this is a truly memorable tale-within-a-tale of a Robinson Crusoe type shipwrecking on an island – with skewed or straight reference to the times of the Spanish Armada that sailed to England – a protagonist whose treatment by the natives and his own loyalties to his home town: solves a problem of posterity. Or he thinks it does. And all of us (particularly those who are writers of literature) have the same dilemmas of skewed and straight vision: of one’s own likely posterity. And with the ‘posterity’ theme that pans out fascinatingly here, we have the plenitude of ‘spares’ again: part of that hopefully failsafe message whence our shipwrecked message-in-a-bottle perpetrator of shaky posterity fulsomely creates: something on the island as both message and posterity: and as part of the author’s ingenious interpretation of the new Geography of Ethics: and I will not spoil it by telling you about its exact nature here. But suffice to say that each of its ‘spares’ is slightly different from the next one. A bit like all the delightfully bespoke Ex Occidente books and John Howard’s postage stamps in the ‘Secret Europe’ book I real-time reviewed recently…  (17 Mar 12 – another two and half hours later)

The Kind Generosity of Theophrastus Tautology

I know what clouds truly are! Sky sheep, that’s what!”

[After reading this story, I now know why the contents page only had this coming one page after ‘The Man Toucan’ with the Latitude-Longtitude ethics story squeezed out!   A pagination-imagination trick of genius!  Cf: a similar, if quite different, trick in ‘Secret Europe’ concerning Z and 26. And I also know why, this time, there is no handwritten number at the back of my edition of the ‘Sangria ‘book at all!  This book does not exist at all!  And it is now clear why and how but I wonder if it will return in time for me to read the next story!] — This story, meanwhile, brilliantly makes references to previous characters* and incidents in this book, including the Grail (Sangraal).  Essentially, though, it is a nod towards Monty Python regarding the Spanish Inquisition, but, here, with a quite hilarious originality that makes me think I’ve now got it all wrong in what I said above about Clods and Clouds. This author is toying with his projected reader.  The fact that I can see that does not make his toying with me any the less! [Regarding clouds: I have been obsessed with cloud-racing ever since I can remember: and this has been brought out in some of my own fiction over the years. An example is shown in the third ‘comment’ below on this page which I placed there a few minutes ago in preparation for this entry.]  (17 Mar 12 – 1.20 pm gmt)

Scaramouche’s Pouting Mouth

Yes, I am juggling with dynamite, but it’s quite safe. I am a skilled performer.”

[There are now 128 pages in this book – including start and end material – e.g. an Author’s Forward (that I shall read for the first time after I’ve completed this review) and a colour frontispiece of what looks like a dressing-table for a midget plus a few blank pages etc.] This is the tale of a war-time clown, by profession, who is left as the only clown alive after the battle: he fears he may be a coward as he travels to where his father once visited: our epic-centre: Albarracín.  (I wonder whether ‘clown’, ‘coward’ and ‘cloud’ are meant to resonate as they did for me.)  This is another wonderful story, re-echoing the conceit of ‘spares’ – even the thought of ‘hawling’ (as I call it in my own novel) towns or cities from one level of the earth to another. Here eventually with a double bluff upon the clown himself! And it’s no accident, I suggest that the ‘magic’ of such prestidigitative ‘hawling’ happens with a “cloud of dust” like a swish of abracadabra! (17 Mar 12 – another 55 minutes later)

Knossos in Its Glory

Commuting as a custom was extinct, as dead as dodos, tigers and books. Simple fact.”

A SF digitilisation-extrapolation which is this book’s coda: an explicitly neat inner-gestalt of all Albarracíns, spare or otherwise. Earlier, I have been playfully calling Albarracín the book’s ‘epic-centre’ as a variant on ‘epicentre’ – so imagine my sheer astonishment, here, when it truly becomes an ‘epic’-centre for an epic film. This had happened because — being lost from or forgotten by the audit-trails of so-called ‘progress’ – it hadn’t become like all the world’s other towns and cities that are now made of some green plastic material!  The whole plot fell down for me however when the author gives one of his characters a ludicrous name like Beltan Braces!

I shall go out on a limb: I have read much Rhys Hughes fiction since the early 1990s and, despite most of it, if not all, being brilliant stuff, I genuinely believe this ‘Sangria’ book to be the best organically thought-provoking and mind-expanding whole.  Fabulous with brazen wit and sparkle: also implicitly gentle and meditative and self-traducing. Making clouds shine even if the world’s sun has gone. (17 Mar 12 – another hour later)


*now in bottles! (18 Mar 12)


Below is the banner header for my Real-Time Reviews site (here: http://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/) which has been shown there for some considerable while:

The real-time reviewer:


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The WEIRD (33)

Real-Time Review continued from HERE.

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.

30/11/11 – another ninety minutes later

Details – China Miéville

I usually give key-note quotes from the stories that I real-time review or scry or anatomise or join its leitmotifs into a gestalt – here, though, I’d be quoting most of the story! Each sentence is an enlightenment for my processes in reviewing as well as for many other stories in this book and for the running themes in the sort of other literature I read (and try to write). This story is amazing material that I find is another tuning-fork for the whole of this book.  The previous one wasn’t obviously so (and I’m still working on it having already re-read it once), but this one is the Occam’s Razor of complex scrying, if that is not a contradiction in terms. This is the directly contiguous story to the previous Chabon story and its ‘God of small things’ considerations regarding Occam’s Razor.  The detail is in the devil. It tells of a child who visits a woman beyond a door into hallway, a woman who stays beyond another door, ie visiting her as a good deed  for and from the child’s Mum. Dark Tower-type ‘doors’ (a la Stephen King), among much else, hinted at by the woman’s oblique  philosophising about life to the child through the door. This is like a sort of almost avant-garde kitchen sink theatre of the 1950s – with other characters laying siege to that same door, all trying, for whatever reason, to communicate with the woman behind the door. The child learns about this book’s inevitable stalking ‘burr’ or lurker that one cannot avoid seeing like a parasite/host symbiosis-pattern in cracks or leaves or anything else relatively complex that is scryable.  It is honestly very horrific. The clouds in the sky forming faces, like the header I’ve used sometimes for this review.  The need for the Ice Man’s coming as the erstwhile snow pavilion’s ‘white’ to absolve this ever sticking burr in ‘scribbled’ non-white.  Maps and ley-lines that shape the monsters that we may see when we squeeze our eyes? And this story itself is on paper that has white spaces between the words (that whiteness needed to quench or staunch the pursuant patterns) but that whiteness still makes shapes on the page for me because of its lying between and around the words even when you ignore the words’ meaning. The story’s ending (that I won’t divulge for fear of a spoiler) is obvious, too; but there was never to be a spoiler, in fact, that could be spoilt, (was there?) amid the nicks and twists of the pattern that the text palimpsests on the paper (if not on any future ebook version of this book!) but it needed to be predictable, for once, where a story’s art needed a twist as well as a predictability.  It sort of fits the pattern.  There is one longish sentence in this story that I literally ache to quote in full, but I shall resist. I’ve written this story’s critique in haste and excitement.


The Genius of Assassins: Three Dreams of Murder in the First Person – Michael Cisco

“- here come branches, bare and sooty, up around me, and the chiming of tiny bells -“

I am afraid this is another rare story in this book I have had to abandon. It has defeated me completely. This is my failure, not the story’s. I shall return to it, I hope. It seems to be about a dare for committing serial gratuitous murders – all I got from the first few pages, much else going over my head. The prose language, meanwhile, is scintillating, flowing like an unstoppable river of Ginsbergians. Poetry that may arrive in some sump of my being…. [To show I have, in the very recent past, appreciated this author here is my real-time review of one of his novels.] (30/11/11 – another 2 hours later)


Feeders and Eaters – Neil Gaiman

“And there was a cat.”

 first person singular maybury’s lost in a random city and meets someone (now reduced in circumstancess) whom i used to know on a manual labour job i once did who tells me – via small talk in a british version of a cafe in an edward hopper painting – about an old lady neighbour of his with a penchant for raw meat and a pet cat to which, at sight of its sudden flayed and flensed appearance more chicken than cat, he gave a vicious fatal lisa-tuttle. unknown to both of us, judging by my last paragraph, the city (or the whole world) is on far stranger overdrive of weird gears than merely that! [a fine extended vignette, but a prime weird fiction to be showcased here? perhaps.] (30/11/11 – another 2 hours later)

There will now be a delay in resuming this review. (30/11/11 – the last day of Autumn)


The CageJeff VanderMeer

I’ve nearly finished reading this story. I couldn’t wait, however, before making a surface observation un-intrinsic to my final critique of the whole thing soon hopefully to follow below. Staying in tune with  my ‘Details’ reference above to the patterns and monsters scried from the white spaces around the items of text on the actual pages of the book in that story, here, in ‘The Cage’, I realise that the double-columns were used in this book generally for specifically reading text from the actual paper used for ‘The Cage’ and its bars are surely intended to symbolise the cage itself, here with two of its bars discretely on each double-page  but joined by the top or bottom margins (or five bars if you count the bars on each edge and the vertically creased bar in the middle) . And it is no coincidence that ‘cage’ and ‘page’ are so close… (1 Dec 11)

Beyond them lay the balcony, long lost to fungi and locked up as a result.”

[Having written above about this book’s ‘bars’ a few hours ago, ironically I then immediately found out from a forum that the ebook version of ‘The WEIRD’ is today walking ethereally out and about – and being read on kindles.] “The Cage” is a story by one of the Reva-Menders.  I am always wary when editors include stories of their own in anthologies.  Two important points, here, though. There are two independently minded Reva-Menders who have laid a loyal ley-line between their Earth existences that does not threaten, I instinctively feel, either of these Earth creatures as integral beings.  And this story is simply a great masterpiece and it would have been a travesty to exclude it. Concerning an exporter / importer protagonist in a well-conjured fantasy-as-truth ‘imaginary’ world, a world here threatened – as Kubin’s was by virus of sleep-sickness – by a to-be-read-about complex effect of mushrooms as entities etc., both stories seemingly excerpts from their respective worlds, but, unlike the Kubin, the characters’ protagonisms in the VanderMeer are more insulated within the text, and thus for the reader of this book, more satisfactory than the Kubin. The VanderMeer has references to earlier cages, the story ‘The Ghoulbird’, and the ‘Screaming Skull’ comparisons with WF Harvey etc., and to the current great Financial F*ckbubble (“Trillian the Great Banker“), “zoologists“, “white tendrils“, travel-as-chore (“She became bored otherwise. ‘I want an unexplored country. I want a hint of the unknown,'”), the Harrow etc. (“A watermark of the city appeared on the glass:”), the cage potentially holding this book’s pervasive creatures, eg the lizard … a plague of ‘Silence’ without – tellingly in the context of this whole book so far – even a hint of a Todash, “Rumors of debaucheries”, symbiosis between cage and room, cage and page, cage and contents, cage as burr, deep empathy, skilful pathos, eg. a Marie Celeste hinterland of the protagonist’s Oates-ian family, a revanche or srednibution in host/parasite-ish relationship between rivals (eg Ungdom), and someone simply had to say: “we couldn’t keep pets”. Hence no pets here! Just a Ghoulbird museum of Fowles-ian creatures, dead or alive or pseudo-imaginary (or all three!).  Compelling, page-turning, ‘cagebar’-strobing suspense, too, regarding the contents of the cage as we head towards the story’s end: a marvellously conveyed emotional finale with what, personally, I see here (and have seen elsewhere) as the ‘Last Balcony’ syndrome. And much much more. Bravo and Wow! [JV appeared in Nemonymous One (2001) after first submitting his story to me anonymously and I accepted it (as was my wont then) before I knew who wrote it. While talking about Nemonymous, a story in Nemonymous Two (2002) has remained anonymous and remains anonymous to this day: i.e. The Vanishing Life and Films of Emmanuel Escobada. I merely suggest this should have been chosen for ‘The WEIRD’.  But the cage is not ever illimitable, I know – unless it’s only an ebook?] And please don’t forget the ‘oliphaunt’ in ‘The Cage’ is, for me, the barrage-balloon egg of an “aleph-ant”! This critique written in haste, awe and excitement. (1 Dec 11 – two hours later)


The Beautiful Gelreesh – Jeffrey Ford

“…forever trapped in autumn…”

I am afraid – with this by-line’s second bite at this book’s cherry – that I could not link with this story at all. Certainly not at my first read of it. My failure, not the story’s.


[As a separate point, I am dutibound to report that I am somewhat dismayed that ‘The WEIRD’ has scarcely any representation from what I  consider to be a major vehicle of Weird Fiction in recent years.  My real-time reviews of Ex Occidente Press books: HERE.] (1 Dec 11 – another 90 minutes later)

Continued as The WEIRD (34) page HERE.

Index of this whole real-time review HERE.


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Allurements of Cabochon – by John Gale

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

And it is of ‘Allurements of Cabochon’ by John Gale (Passport Levant MMXI). A book I purchased from the publisher.

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/


Publisher’s on-line details about the book: “sewn hardcover with dust-jacket printed on deluxe heavy paper, cloth boards, gold and silver folio, silk ribbon, end papers and full-color frontispiece.”

It is landscape format, a heavy-duty page paper, dust-wrapper and board covers, highly aesthetic to my taste, 220 pages. Restricted to 60 copies, mine being hand-numbered 20 (nicely coincidental with the same handwritten number in my similar edition of Charles Schneider’s ‘The Mauve Embellishments’).

The Unpassing Sorrow of Lady Winter

“And I have watched her, Lady Winter, climb to the summit of a needle tower, the balustrade as delicate, as intricate as white lace…”

A fraternal survey of season’s circles – when grappling with Winter’s feminine entrapments – via an antique “pearlescent” prose seriously to die for … blending – unsubstantiatably from my own resources – wafts of Swinburne, a poetic Lovecraft, Dunsany, MP Shiel, Beddoes, blending them with a unique Wintry Gale. [On a completely personal note, the ‘balustrade’ reminds me of both Salustrade and my own last balcony.  Also the Crimson King on his Dark Tower balcony.] (1 Jul 11)

The House of Silent Ravens

“…worm-burrowed balconies of rosewood that are upheld upon the strong, carven shoulders of marmoreal satyrs.”

Please add Poe to that earlier list – and Clark Ashton Smith. I’m trying to home in on the essential Gale and both its visible and invisible currents … but I keep returning to some prose essence richer than I have ever experienced before and I have yet to decide whether too rich, seriously overdosing as I am on gorgeousness and corruption – and on words stranger than arcane neologisms, yet a strangeness retaining itself and an antique reality of actual dusted-off words with some form of dust still clinging.  No, not overdosing, simply pigging myself, to the lexic limits, upon guilty air-/ earth-borne mind-and body-felt literary pleasure.  This substantial story is involved with Gothic love and jealousy and a were-Raven … birdflesh in unholy hawly alliance with humanflesh.  Plus feline reincarnation.  And the ‘Synchronised Shards of Random Truth & Fiction’: “A  reconstructed reality: events that were shattered and their fragments pulled back together again to form a fallacy of horrible fantasy.” (1 Jul 11 – two hours later)


“The being, the thing so thin and pale, hueless as bloodless bone, reached Lord Kandar and he felt it like a cold wind resting on him.”

I’m still overdosing on synaesthetic antique prose, yet I feel this story is symbolic of inscrutable Ex Occidente Press. A slithy tove / an irresistible sexy androgyne – teasing me….. Indeed, without Dan’s many books in recent months, my life would have seemed impoverished, yet, equally, I feel the drawbacks (perceived or reported) have also given me needed perspective and a new backbone within my literary soul.  This particular story encapsulates all that — (whenever it was written – and I am not reading the story notes that I’ve already spotted at the end of the book until I’ve reviewed all the stories themselves).  It is as if retrocausality works boths ways, like the most efficient filters. Meantime, this particular story is a CASian gem. (1 Jul 11 – another 3 hours later)

A Rhapsody for the Goddess of Autumn

“And yes, I have tasted the rosehip wine of them, the blackberry syrup of them, those lips of soft rose petals, for I am the Princess of Autumn.”

A prose poem in the guise of a fictional performance, a refrain or incantation that, for me, is a vessel for the continuing synaesthetic glut of words turned into sapphic kisses via a threnody by Rutland Boughton accompanying words by Fiona Macleod. (1 Jul 11 – another 3 hours later)

In Autumn Sempiternal – A Triptych

“…gusting winter breezes driving along herds of sere autumn leaves still dreaming of their late fires of amber and gold, porphyry and orpiment,…”

This is an exquisite (I’m running out of words to describe the utter antique richness of this book’s prose), yes, an exquisite theme and variations on a triptych that I imagine having been painted by a painter-equivalent of Théophile Gautier – variations extrapolating upon the ‘story’ before, behind and beyond: touching on seasons, decay, death, sensuality, forbiddenness, precious or over-indulgent stones, cushions and desiccations, perfumes and dreams – for me, an atrophy and trophy of decadence alike…  [I was told, on the grapevine, to sip these stories slowly.  But if I have time to do so amid domestic matters, I do not intend equally to let time waste in case I die before finishing the book. In any case, I enjoy over-dosing on such prose as its plush layers carpet each other in the slowly forgetting mind of age.] (2 Jul 11)

Phulygia’s Song of Ebony

But now this prose poem majors upon telling me to “wait and dream“!  Too late, I have already embarked on this … (the word I’ve been searching for) … rapture. Ensorcelled rapture, perhaps.  And this rapturous song relays, inter alia, “…misty dawns of madreperl rich with the flautists of jewel-feathered birds.”  (2 Jul 11 – two hours later)

The Final Ward (with Margaret Russell)

“…hangings of white silk moved by soft-handed breezes.”

Judging by the seeming dual by-line above, the Gale has been soft-handed by the Breeze. But, no, this is the most frightening story so far, where the woman – seeking sorcerous tuition from the Lord Kandra in his fundamented halls – fails in her mission and is genied or geased within a vessel for seeming eternities … with anger growing as only a woman’s anger can grow. (By the way, I will not continue to mention the rapturous prose as it seems to weave through all the book’s plots and themes and poeticks like a loom of dark light. But, here, we have the epithet: “phantom-rich” – that both startles and unsettles and I don’t know why. Oh so wrong. Yet oh so right.) (2 Jul 11 – another 90 minutes later)

Fallen are the Domes of Green Amber

“…he came to the encircling balustrade at the tower’s apex.”

This story’s title seems to be a haunting refrain to remind us of unrequited love – nay, unrequited life – for evermore. But, then, a “sudden soft breeze” intervenes and we realise this story’s quincunx of movements is an exact companion piece for the previous story with retrocausality defeating itself via the easing of a two-way filter rather than by more stringent parthenogenetic mis-synergy – and, here, the genied or geased vessel is the loved woman’s own head!  A tale of “sweet anguish“. Regret and rumour.  Again I should not need to mention the attractive glut of antiqologisms within the resplendent prose – but here I was rattled by commoner words: “the caressing fingernails of ghosts”. (2 Jul 11 – another hour later)

The Moon of Obsession

“His imagination soared on wide pinions of fire, his soul flamed,…”

Not that it is appropriate to have favourite movements in this overall symphony of sublime decadent literature (sublime in the sense of awe-inspiring rather than the more modern term used by cinema-goers when they see a film that they liked) – and, indeed, this short piece probably benefits from the complex audit trail hencefar – so I won’t call it my favourite (however temporary), but, rather, a precious, susceptible-to-the-five-senses ambivalence of a (partially sensual) yearning for an impossible antiquity made actually possible by steeping oneself to an utterly extreme degree in that antiquity by means of a deep and textured fiction-prose, a yearning symbolised here by a desire to kiss the moon, underpinned or enclosed by fearful, fanciful, fantastical, often morbid, yet paradoxically truth-contextualising, vessels of entrapment in contiguity with the book’s soul. The art of fiction in extremis. The ominous imagination in positive overdrive. (2 Jul 11 – another 2 hours later)

Ashes of the Phoenix

“He groaned as the wind violently whipped the ancient stone of the castle.  The groan was repeated, and the castle seemed to bend, twist fluidly before the assault of the moaning wind and the hyaline rain.”

That quote seems to encapsulate the book so far.  Mineral – a word I inserted in the previous section of this review before I deleted it upon publication of that section – as the precious construction of reality by stones, precious or otherwise, the moon, the perfumes, oils, the chrysoberyls et al that make our world of soul with substance and vice versa, just by being words (and words have ink in antiquity) – and now the Phoenix turning to the mineral of ashes. This book itself – its board covers – have you seen them, they beggar belief! – and the dust-wrapper, chequered in textured black – all impervious to fire by the look of them. Impervious to Death itself. Impervious even to our Planet’s Fate. (2 Jul 11 – another 2 hours later)

I have only just started the next story in the book – it’s quite a long one so I may not finish it before going to bed – but, leading on from the previous story, I can’t resist referring you to this quote I made  a few years ago from ‘Martin Pippin in the Apple Orchard’ – HERE. (2 Jul 11 – another 45 minutes later)

Betrothed of Winter

I could not leave today until finishing this story.  It is worth buying the book if simply for this alone. A culmination, too, of everything that has gone before – telling of the return of a youthful haunting to the mature churchly man, the return as if from a feminine genie out of Winter’s frozen ‘vessel’ of snow and ice (prefigured in the very first story and elsewhere)  – then leading to the last six words of the story — “spoiler quote” (click this when you’ve finished the story) — that naturally lead from what precedes this story more immediately.  [It is the beginning of July as I write this review, (i.e still the long evenings of the year) and I have sat in the still sun-filled garden while I finished the story, feeling my brain actually bloom and burn in my skull at the high-gearing needed to absorb and appreciate this momentous story.  An experience similar to when I first read ‘Martin Pippin in the Apple Orchard’ all those years ago – and that’s a major compliment to this book but it is a book that needs my now maturer self to cope with, i.e. just before I start fading back to a second childhood on the brink of this Autumn of my days!  [This book with its own iconostasis  coming down like  a safety-curtain within Ombria’s church … till I pick this book up again, hopefully tomorrow].] (2 Jul 11 – another 2 hours later)

The Votaries of Autumn – A Portrait in Bronze and Vermilion

“…adyta of malachite that are filled with the friable debris of the ages and dusts that were laid down uncounted centuries ago,…”

Aptly, after my ‘Autumnal’ thoughts last night, this piece reveals itself as an ominously, yet inspirationally, theatrical prose-paean in Wagnerian-Parsifal-yet-more-feminine mode to the  Goddess of Autumn. [I feel cumulatively attuned – even affixed – to this book as if it is, even now, sinking its roots, from above, into the tangled branches of my brain amid the promise (or threat) of “gales that violently play the high limbs of the trees together like darkened old bone“.] (3 Jul 11)

Lord of the Porphyry Nenuphar – A Nocturne

This is no mere Chopin Nocturne, unless Chopin… Well, let’s not go there. Meanwhile, I sense that the book’s prose is becoming  even richer, if that were possible, as if I have needed to be tutored with the refrain or incantation of rare and beautiful antiqologisms time and time again – thus tutored by earlier stories to reach and properly experience this milestone of a story, one that is so utterly ominous, blushing with sexual ambivalence and jackdaw-retributional, amid “death-fragranced gardens“, near the Dark Tower type edifice that inspired Wagner, Browning, Orson Welles, Stephen King,  Mark Samuels, where – as in “Betrothed of Winter” – a curse or previous haunting  returns to the protagonist (here a Prince)…and the implications for us are diverted for a while by the sound of the “winds of autumn to blow over flotillas of amber,  cerise and aureate leaves and to send them scurrying and whispering strange and curious things along the elongated streets.” but only if you return to the beginning of the story to re-live it, something I shall resist. If I can. (3 Jul 11 – another 90 minutes later)

Aevernia, My Lady of Reflections

“This haunted mansion whose towers ascend into infinities of ancient twilights and cold oceans of sunfalls.”

The Galean refrains and incantations continue to grow like incessant music, not minimal music like Glass, but maximal music but still just as relentlessly repetitive (in a good way) and coming in waves upon waves of itself – becoming madder, or is it me merely becoming madder because of them, while they remain as sane as ever?  This is a dark paean to unrequited love.  Unutterably rich with words.  My journey with this physically impervious book – judging by the number of stiff pages remaining in it – is drawing to its conclusion with me eventually at my maddest point, I predict … if I can still predict for much longer! (3 Jul 11 – another 2 hours later)

Fires of Remembrance

“…all, even the slaves, wore silks,  furs, and jewels.” 

Even this book’s conjunctions, prepositions and pronouns.  Meanwhile, Lord Kandra again – a symbol for the author? obsessed with wandering realms of Decadence in search of Death where Death surely must lurk? – perhaps, but the seasoned literary theory of the Intentional Fallacy intervenes, of course.  I am clearer, however, that he is a symbol for the Reader who is caught in the web of this book, as I am.  And so will you be, if you’re not already.  The book itself is the geased and genied vessel, not the supposed vessels heretofore? (3 Jul 11 – another 45 minutes later)

Reverie at Twilight (From The Garden of Dreams by Peter Madley)

“…he instinctively knew that what he had lost would be found here;…”

This book is a pure Heaven of Literature, threaded with oxymoron emotions.  This story seems a relief somewhat that we are not truly trapped.  It is a masterpiece of release by close affinitisation.  The protagonist, I guess, finds Machen’s ‘Fragment of Life’. I, myself, find or re-find Elizabeth Bowen’s ‘Mysterious Kôr’ and Eleanor Farjeon’s ‘Martin Pippin in the Apple Orchard’. We shall all find what we individually seek in this story, as adumbrated (and this is the crucial bit) by the foregoing context within this book.  Meanwhile, the incantations or refrains persist, even throughout this ‘release’! (3 Jul 11 – another hour later.)

The Green Lady Pavilion

“…allured him with its emerald spell, for spell it turned out to be.”

Allured me too with its glinting polish set in gorgeous vintage intaglio.  Meanwhile, this is the crowning release from the book – the book’s coda – a charming, slightly self-mocking, traditional weird or ghost tale of a cricket pavilion – an English pastoral music upon banks of green willow – with moments of the Land of Faery at the edge of reality (there threaded with this book’s delightful dark-and-light-rapture plus those hallmark antiqologisms for the madreperl-count) – and a cloven-hoofed woman  both enticing and repelling by dint of her needs.  This book may have mixed feelings for an underlying eroticism but often drowned out by the resplendency of Death and its accoutrements.  I needed to pig myself on this book. It was a sort of a ‘dare’ to myself. I nearly didn’t survive. I also needed to drench myself in its music, finish it before I died. I’ve never had that degree of urgency before with any book. Either I feel I’m getting older and more vulnerable to sudden discoveries of the treasure that Death may bring with it – and this book was simply an advance part of that treasure — or the book itself had this inescapable urgency built into it.  Whatever the case, it has been a significant read, even given the burning in my brain.

“…like a well-aged and dusted bottle of wine: it needs to be savoured lingeringly.”

I shall now read the Story Notes for the first time but as I never review non-fiction, I will not be back here again to tell you what I thought about them. END (3 Jul 11 – another hour later)


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‘The Sons of Ishmael’ by George Berguño

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

And it is of ‘The Sons of Ishmael’ by George Berguño (Ex Occidente Press MMX).

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 and any ideas would be welcome. (I am also conducting a simultaneous real-time review of another book that will worsen any delays.)

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: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2010/09/07/df-lewis-real-time-reviews/

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

My edition of this book has two very stiff Dustjackets one on top of the other, the inner one (shown above)  slightly less stiff than the outer one which has a different design but roughly the same background colour.  The hardback cover beneath the stiff DJs has yet a third design. (7 Dec 10)

The pages themselves are stiff paper and highly aesthetic to read upon or from.  In honour of ‘The Intentional Fallacy’, I shall now real-time review the stories (if stories they are) without first reading the Author’s Introduction or “About the Stories.”

Night Sea Journey to Turku

“In his sixty-fifth year he retired, and not long after he began to lose his memory.”

Nearly 63, as I am, I must not let this story slip away before I’ve recorded my reading of it. About a  month or two ago, I travelled from UK to St Petersburg by coach, touching upon Helsinki, Stockholm, Copenhagen on the return journey (including overnight on a ship). ‘Touching upon’ being the operative words. I briefly cheated those cities. As perhaps I cheat life itself.  The young protangonist (now since grown only slightly older than me) cheated, too, but I felt for him and the red-haired woman he met briefly so many years before. This story is my own touching of base before I can no longer touch any base. A story that affected me deeply. The prose pitch perfect. (7 Dec 10 – three hours later)


Into the Atacama 1899

Suddenly the girl sprang to her feet and sang a beautiful-eerie song in a strange tongue.”

A fabulous fable in fable-plain, yet beautiful-eerie, tongue itself, about a discovering of more than just a doll in a pile of toys for a detached man of Spain who lives in God’s Land as opposed to No Man’s Land.  As in the first story, at first an unrequited love, but here to be requited, eventually requieted. Touching if not a mere touching upon each other by not-quite-souls within bodies.  Redemption or something even worse than non-redemption?  Each reader must answer this for each reader.

[1899 is an important year for me: the birth year of my beloved Grandmother Alice and of Elizabeth Bowen, each who looks like the other.] (8 Dec 10)


The Devil Only Visits (Chile, circa 1900)

“I tried to speak, but my tongue lay inert in my mouth like a desiccated slug.”

An ingenious tale with a möbius section view of the Devil via a crab-haunted foundling who tried too hard at religion or religion tried too hard at him: not a mere whim or a fancy or a tentative touch but an eventual battle, a thorough-going Temptation of a St Antony manqué. Thankfully, we readers are somewhat insulated from the dire repercussions by means of this being a story within a story on a train journey to Valparaiso, another city cheated by a mere touch.  [My own apocryphal or Biblical exegesis of speculation: The Narrator was perhaps insulated, too, by his own perverse gullibility or propensity to tell tall tales, after his narration of the-storyteller’s-story-inside-of-his own story finished, but, later, being not a slug at all, “his tongue turned heavy as stone“]. (8 Dec 10 – another 5 hours later)


Colonel Redl’s Knife Sheath

” ‘… since no two days bring with them events that are exactly the same, it follows that human life is entirely determined by chance.’ “

Even verified wars and loyalties are subject to the synchronised shards of random truth and fiction that for me equate to ‘chance’ itself. This story of espionage, intrigue, reputation and chaos theory makes me think that World War One is a fiction, always was. I have the unspent bullet to prove it.  Human fallibility (eg a body’s sex reflexes) comprises truth as well as fiction and seems to prove that one never wastes time changing the world by reading fiction to optimise its ‘mix’ with truth – or living it. Confirmation that the worst things in history could have been even worse without our intervention of reading fiction.  A brainstorming, a fiction’s fiction. The story itself is memorable and you may brainstorm quite different things as a result of reading it! The world waits. (8 Dec 10 – another 5 hours later)


The Possessed

” ‘He merely swallowed his tongue’ “

And I, too, am speechless.  Possessed as I am by this powerful story.  Not now a möbius section so much as a core of possession wrenched and then sampled from my body-soul and then vintage-measured or ‘tree-ringed’ with all those demons who made me what makes me. (9 Dec 10)


Orkney Crossing

” ‘Oh yes, I’ve been to London, and it’s a wonder I didn’t bump into the Anti-Christ himself.’ “

Here, London has been brushed against or cheated, as we readers now concentrate on a Rite of Passage in 1979 – seemingly fore-ordained yet also paradoxically with the story evolving without an apparent intentional audit-trail – as the male protagonist deceives himself as well as others – and he goes where we all go eventually, we are told, i.e to the North, even to the Back of the North Wind, reaching a cave system “in the belly of the Orkney Dragon” –

I am now (temporarily?) at a loss to connect these stories so far, as if my own attempt at ‘audit-trailing’ the book is as arbitrary as this story’s. Foreordained to belch smoke through the funnel of my tongue in frustration? Indeed ” ‘…if you’re running from yourself, well, then, I’d say your best bet is to turn around and look yourself in the eyes.’ ” (9 Dec 10 – another 4 hours later)


Meyrink’s Gambit

I have just read this story as if I’ve never read it before. It echoes the ‘chance’ in history of Redl’s Knife Sheath. It is as if I’ve grown older than the period between first reading it and reading it now, while insulated by its story within story within story, in the same way as the book itself has two stiff dustjackets, two chancejackets – and my father is more than just a possession away.  A possession’s possession whereby I am my own knight’s sacrifice.  To topple from my proud horse of criticism to allow this book to drown me. To drag me down beyond any surface audit-trail I can manage to wreak from its chance-beyond-chance or from its two lifejackets or the belt-and-braces that most old-fashioned fathers wore, including mine.  (9 Dec 10 – another 3 hours later).


Doña Ariana’s Glass Foot

“…she felt ashamed of the freckles that smeared her arms and shoulders like a galaxy of dark stars, and she had never understood how I, who had been born without physical imperfections, had remained unmarried.”

Or unmarred? This short well-textured fable (already memorable, I sense, despite having just now first encountered it in this book’s own regime of matching stories with the unpredictable, non-auditable rhythms of my need to read them) of a sister’s matchmaking to attain a ‘certain lady’ for her brother – gives us pause for thought as to what is more evil, those who try too hard to hide their own imperfections or motivations. Or those who write about them for we innocents to read and then impel us, by such well-crafted fiction-as-reality, to seek out our own true love’s flesh-padded slipper wthout discovering it other than by eventually removing it, unmarrying it  from the rest of the body, disconnecting it from reality altogether to match our indistinguishability of despair from evil intent. An act of pure gratuitousness as a means to tempt us on towards this book’s last stand, unashamed at our own en-pointe-lessness.

In a brush with yet another cheating city. (10 Dec 10)


A Master Class with Joseph Roth

“Roma, December 10 / There is something else that has begun to preoccupy me.”

Up to page 98 and I wonder if something will stop me reading this story, as we continue to brush against several cities, even in the course of a few pages, as we pursue an author, an author’s book, even to memorise it before it slips away, along with the sons or grandsons of Father Literature or Father Ecumenic: call him, Ishmael. (10 Dec 10 – another 30 minutes later)

But now we reach Venice, the scene of my favourite film. Death in Venice. But also a city which I only briefly visited on a too too rapid coach tour about 10 years ago. 1999, I think. Also mention of one of my greatest passions to memorise the fiction of: Aickman.  But each time I encounter him, the words remain too slippery to remember.  As do his ‘plots’, too heavy for the faint freckles upon thin pages. (10 Dec 10 – another 15 minutes later)

The story leaves Venice too soon, too. Following a wonderful passage on chess templates and writing or memorising books. It takes time, I say, to know whether any book is memorable. And judging by thoughts I’ve just had, ‘memorable’ is too easy for books that are or should remain ‘unmemorable’. Another coincidence? Another gambit? (10 Dec 10 – another 30 minutes later)

But we remain long enough in Venice for it to make its stamp on this book. (10 Dec 10 – another 10 minutes later)

Yet, tellingly, Berlin is where we end up – with its bigger stamp, its heavier impress on thicker pages and heavy-duty jackets.  1933. But off to Paris by the end of the book…

Call me Ishmael, or, rather, Call me George Berguño.

This is a book of which I am very proud. I kept its audit trail even from myself. Cheating the stops on the track. Or speaking in tongues.

I shall now read the Introduction and Story Notes, in the expectation that they will give me further food for thought about my intentions. But I shall not be back here again to tell you about them.  I want you to experience the book before you’ve even read or written my crazy notes above about my own reading or writing of the book. (10 Dec 10 – another hour later)



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Oblivion’s Poppy – by Colin Insole

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

And it is of the novella entitled ‘Oblivion’s Poppy’ by Colin Insole (Ex Occidente 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: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2010/09/07/df-lewis-real-time-reviews/


Strikingly, this is what is said of the book on its Publisher’s site: <<We should be very clear about this: Colin Insole is one of the very few genuine exceptional authors to emerge on the weird scene in the last years, if not in the last decade. To describe his labyrinthine stories, his masterly language, his arresting imagery and symbolism would be not only futile but also rather indelicate. […] Oblivion’s Poppy is a breathtaking work of European decadent and weird literature. Certainly not for those who drink their wine with water.>>

I keep my powder dry. I have not yet started it!

This is what the publisher’s website says of its format (and it is indeed a beautiful book): <<…large landscape format, sewn hardcover with dust-jacket printed on textured cardboard paper, cloth boards, gold folio, silk ribbon, end papers and full-color frontispiece. […] a sewn hardcover book of 108 pages with dust-jacket, silk ribbon, endpapers and a full-colour frontispiece. Edition limited to only 100 hand numbered copies.>>

 Surprisingly, beneath the above dustjacket, the book’s hard cover clearly shows in large gold letters a different title embossed on its front (there may be a reason for this that I have not yet fathomed) and this is: <<THE SEER IS NEVER THANKED Stefan George.>>

 I am unnumbered. (23 Nov 10)


Pages 1 – 14

A Retreat (or Redoubt?) to where humans migrate with the homing instinct of nature’s creatures, accompanied by the astonishing prose music as well as redolence of the immediately prior direnesses in Europe. The Retreat’s Masonic stone guardians, as well as its real unfettered Host, watch the wet arrival of those for whom there had been earlier scavengings continent wide – one a female whose passage by past photograph is facilitated by the telling of it and all others by their earlier coming of it. One reading is not nearly enough. But one reading will suffice for these my initially risky real-time impressions.

And deep within a cave, near the Wilderness of the Wild Apples, a lynx twitched its ears and dreamed of the wildwood, in the old times, before humans breathed.” (23 Nov 10 – 2 hours later)


[It has since become clear to me that the ‘title’ under the dustjacket is not a title at all but a quote! One that I shall comment upon if this seems appropriate when reading the rest of the novella. However, I maintain that it looks like a title in large gold upper-case lettering right across the front. Indeed, with nothing on the spine, if any edition of this book ever loses its dustjacket (as books sometimes do) and then turns up in a secondhand bookshop, someone will pick up the book and may assume it’s THE SEER IS NEVER THANKED by Stefan George. He’ll likely put it back on the shelf without looking inside. After all, he was looking for a book by his favourite writer Colin Insole! That’s not a criticism, but an observation. In fact, I think it’s a clever trick.] (23 Nov 10 – another hour later)

It is contended that it’s ‘obvious’ that it is a quote not a second title under the dustjacket. I may agree with that, using the benefit of hindsight by looking further into the book. But first impressions, at least to this reader, indicated it was a title ‘creatively’ conflicting with that on the dustjacket. Should it ever lose its dustjacket, the design shown below would be the only exterior wording on the book. (24 Nov 11)


Pages 14 – 23

“… Beethoven’s Third Symphony and while it played, sombre and proud, he sat deep in thought, his eyes filling with tears.”

I am beginning to agree with the statement I quoted above from the publisher’s website: “To describe his labyrinthine stories, his masterly language, his arresting imagery and symbolism would be not only futile but also rather indelicate”. I do feel somewhat ‘indelicate’ attempting this real-time review, even to describe these pages I’ve just read as an exquisite series of ‘backstories’ to the ‘migration’ and ‘direnesses’ hinted at in my first attempt at engaging with this book above.

The inward, initially unseen ‘title’ or ‘quote’ is perhaps merely a literary ‘exegesis’ as warning to any approaching this book’s mysteries lightly.

I shall continue, however, and, meanwhile, I am obliquely, ‘indelicately’ reminded of what I wrote about this author’s story in the anthology ‘Cinnabar’s Gnosis’: –<<The Weimar Spider – Colin Insole: …exquisitely wallows in the sense of Mittel-European turn-of-the-centry towards mid-twentieth century weaving Baudelaire, Verlaine, Alban Berg, Ezra Pound – with more ‘rumours and possibilities’, relationships crossing time and tarot. And a magic mysterious bookishness akin to that of Mark Valentine fiction. Loved it. (There is a skein of narrative tentacles that will need un-weaving upon later re-reading I guess. Not retro-causal so much as Jungian via accidents-of-mind-and-body). All this and Meyrink himself walking through the words implicitly becoming a Proustian self that he perhaps never knew as himself when alive.“The rhymes and rhythms of forgotten people. You can hear their heart beats through the walls.” (22 Dec 09 – four hours later)>> — (24 Nov 10 – 2 hours later)


There is another, more substantial, quote inside the book before the novella starts, a quote from Ernst Jünger. I am tempted to quote it in full here as I feel it sheds more light upon my tusslings with text above, my indelicate exigency of exegesis, but it would possibly be a spoiler to do so.

Pages 24 – 27

“The rose hips were red or violet – burgundy-dark and noxious.”

The narration does not shy away from the indelicate manure of Retreat living, as connected with the work of another of its one-time denizens – coupled, ironically (?), with an oblique vision of Plato’s cave. (24 Nov 10 – another 2 hours later)


Pages 27 – 37

“Aside from our role as witnesses to this forthcoming ordeal, I am glad I have come here.”

I, too, am glad, although the seer is never thanked, it seems.

The focus of the Retreat’s happenings within the novella is clear from the beginning as 1952, and perhaps the time perspectives in Europe are clearer to you by virtue or guilt of that instinctive knowledge, including the harmonics of the universe, and other matters with which you may not otherwise be in tune  such as knightly masonics, alchemy, and the mixture of motives within the Retreat’s Host and occupants, and narrator. Retreat as a constant Redoubt.  But there is much more to fathom, I sense.  This novella is so rich, I feel sated with possibilities and echoes of heritages within me. Sated, but also elated.


Pages 37 – 47

“There is no need to be afraid. There are no ghosts. The unhappy souls remembered here left this world as if they never existed. Their lives amounted to nothing and when they died, nothing remained. Only their names and deeds are recorded.”

I could not resist quoting those words of the Host to the Retreat’s denizens. It touched me deeply.  And the camponology of time now rings louder.  (‘Host’ is my word in this context, by the way, not the book’s  and its nearness to ‘ghost’ is merely coincidental). (24 Nov 10 – another 90 minutes later)


Pages 48 – 54

“They were imagining their own deaths and walking in landscapes they had never seen.”

Various viewpoints, including a woman’s journal running like a thread in the book so far, and the Host’s listening, for example, to a denizen’s story, add to a permeating feel of Toynbeean history surrounding the crux of European war during the years leading up to ‘now’ in 1952.  Almost a knightly or scholastic approach to a ‘spirit’ of that war’s guilt.  [Disregarding this European war element for a moment, I find that there is a feel in this work like – or a non-conscious synergy with – some of the fiction work of Matt Cardin.  Knightly in Insole’s work, but Monkish in Cardin’s?] (24 Nov 10 – another hour later)


Pages 55 – 66

“My own city, the home of Chopin, is recalled in the contents of milk cans and metal boxes.”

I visited Warsaw in the last few weeks – on the road to Minsk and beyond – and heard from an 84 year old about the Ghetto etc. I am steeped – like it or not – in history’s push, even if I didn’t live at the time. This novella is about that – the ‘alternate world’ of history that is ‘you’.  Also the book’s ‘guests’ of the Retreat is a better word than my ‘denizens’. A redoubt as to whether I am a ‘seer’ at all!  And if not, I can be thanked for just being a fallible reader! Indeed, this book will need re-reading, as well as redoubting. (24 Nov 10 – another 90 minutes later)


Pages 66 -71

“They knew nothing about the secret purpose of the Retreat and assumed it was a closed monastic order which sold its honey, fruit and vegetables in the local market.”

[‘Monastic’ is so much more the ‘mot juste’ than ‘monkish’!]

Reference to the ‘fiction’ of Lord Haw-Haw – followed by cinematic vision of a girl with a doll (Cf: Schindler’s List?) – this time riddled with malignancy.

I think I am already convinced, by the way, that the publisher was not exaggerating when saying what I quoted him saying above about this author’s work. I also fail to do it justice, I’m afraid, as I’m sure I’m missing things on this my first reading. (24 Nov 10 – another hour later)


Pages 72 – 77

An amazing vision of huge poppies that the Host shows his Guests, beyond the size of those at Flanders Fields. [Appropriate that I had Poppy thoughts myself a week or so ago?] There are wonderful symbols hovering around this book – poppies, bees, lynx, apples…. This book will need to ferment for several years amid the underswell of eclectic nature, I guess? (24 Nov 10 – another 4 hours later)

Writing a real-time review is a special reading-journey on the internet – a journey that takes place within a single reading mind, beset by all the foibles of the moment.  The question is: does this affect the journey itself, i.e knowing one is publicly describing that journey as it happens? (24 Nov 10 – bedtime)


Perhaps I should record here that it is clear from the start of this book that the Retreat is situated in Wliflingen, West Germany. (25 Nov 10)


Pages 77 – 89

“Only the master of the refuge must fill the silver bowl with the blooms, ripening buds and seed pods, cut on the eve of solstice.”

Retreat as ‘refuge’?  How many more words for redoubt?  In this section I have more pencilled passages than any previous section.  This seems the veritable crux of … our guilt trip? Or heroic venture? Or literary trail-blazing into the very soul’s sump of our civilisation?   In my first official comments (without looking back first), I think I mentioned the word Masonic. That was an inspired guess at that time.  I have now entered upon further crusades with this book and its ‘Sentinel’. You will do so, too, because, if you are reading this review at all to this point (in real time or otherwise), you must be susceptible to reading this book in the first place.  But if this is a ‘seeing’ of our communal soul for what it is, I shall be ready not to be thanked.  (Cf: the works of Frances Oliver (eg ‘All Souls’) and John Howard  (eg the story ‘Silver Voice’ itself)). (25 Nov 10 – nine hours later)


Pages 89 – 92

“It was impossible to quarrel in the Halls of Fire for even bitter enemies, seeing each other, would be separated by lifetimes of memory.”

The eternal lynx…

I myself wrote of the eternal lynx of the onyx field in a sixties poem and later in a 1974 novel (‘The Visitor’). (25 Nov 10 – thirty minutes later)


Pages 92 – 96

“Rats will nest and breed in a corpse even while they feed on its internal organs.”

It’s as if we readers are being tested by the ‘mirror’ of this book itself. We shall either succeed or fail in our interpretations of it.  If we fail, the publisher will be on our tails.  I really feel like that.

Also, it’s as if we have lived with this book forever, even though we’ve only evidentially been reading it for the first time in the last day or so. (25 Nov 10 – another 30 minutes later).


Pages 96 – 104

“He was sixty-two.”

But not for much longer. The book closes in on me in a very personal way.

An apocalypse, an apocrypha, a symbiosis of symbols craftily laid earlier by this book now either to explode like text-mines in new newsworthy wars or to blend into a new Host, a new Masonic Eucharist, a camponology of words – a redemption, though? We guests can only hope. There is so much sin to expiate. (25 Nov 10 – another 30 minutes later)


Pages 104 – 108

“…the power of the remaining poppies seemed somnolent and subdued.”

The gift to me is the residue of an imputedly great author who leaves me his book after he is swallowed up finally by his words. Not necessarily the naked book itself with false title, but the memory of his book that is stronger than anything I can hold in my hands. I end a review that only harvests itself as a gift exchanged.

“It is Beethoven’s manuscript for some bagatelles and light dances. Look, there is his signature.” (25 Nov 10 – after a final 30 minutes elapsed)



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