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Prince November’s Quandary

Having just completed real-time reviewing the fiction anthology DADAOISM (Chômu Press 2012), I have distilled my own symbol from the gestalt of its contents.

I now have the residual Autumn years of my life – however few or many – to decide which is the greatest anthology of all:

DADAOISM

Or

the VanderMeers’ massive ‘The WEIRD’ that I obsessedly real-time reviewed during November 2011: Inter alia, I said then: “The best Weird fiction can touch and tantalise you strangely, darkly, poignantly, humorously, grotesquely or with deathly finality, but, also, mellowly and fruitfully, because, from the very experience of reading it at all, one never quite reaches the winter beyond the autumn in the way that you once reached the autumn beyond the summer.”

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The Master in Café Morphine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Nine Exhibits – by Mark Valentime

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

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

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

Beloved Chaos that Comes by Night – by Jonathan Wood

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

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

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Behemoth’s Carnival – by Stephen J. Clark

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

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

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The Princess of Phoenicia – by Colin Insole

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

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

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The Cadaver Is You – by Michael Cisco

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

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

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The Darkest White – by Rhys Hughes

Chapter 0: Prelude / Chapter I: The Magnifying Glass

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Magnates had bribed the coalition authorities;…”

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

Chapter VI: On the Terrible Lake

“Nothing is what I hope to find.”

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

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

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

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

Chapter IX: The Map /Chapter ∞ : Redemption

“They had reached the other café.”

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

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A Country Doctor – by Adam Golaski

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

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

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Archaic Artificial Suns – by D.P. Watt

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

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

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

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

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

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The Fearful and Wonderful Phantasm of Time – by Charles Schneider

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

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

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The Black Swan of Odessa – by Allyson Bird

“Fiction does not feed my body.”

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

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

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The Heart of a Man – by Justin Isis

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

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

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Chaconne – by Nina Allan

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

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

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The Tsarina’s Wintercoat – by me

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

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

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

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

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

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Café Morphine – by  Eric Stener Carlson

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

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

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The Philosophy of the Damned – by Reggie Oliver

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

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

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Red Green Black White – by John Howard

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

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

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The Immortal Death of Ivanov Ivan Ivanovich – by Mark Beech

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Farewell Letter  – by George Berguño

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

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

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

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

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

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

END (25 Jul 11 – another 45 minutes later)

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I Wonder What Human Flesh Tastes Like

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

I Wonder What Human Flesh Tastes Like – by Justin Isis (Chômu Press 2011).

I Wonder What Human Flesh Tastes Like by Justin Isis

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/

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I Wonder What Human Flesh Tastes Like / Unauthorized Egg Model Book Cover

“He started changing history.”

A story (?) of three pages. Memory loss through a grandmother’s old age or memory loss leading to onanism with one’s own sister makes this early days for any real-time review of this book of 335 pages. Licked its face, as they say on Bargain Hunt. (25 Jan 11)

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The book I finished real-time reviewing yesterday ended with a story of a clown that (by my interpretation) licked faces clean after (or while?) killing their owners, and this new book’s first substantial story below has a Japanese woman’s smile like two clowns kissing:

Nanako 

“…because Nanako had no opinions…”

I am not reading anything about this book (such as its introduction) until I’ve read and reviewed it. The ambiance so far seems Japanese. The style’s exquisite, flowing through my tired and sore early-morning vision like the purest dream-ointment.  It seems to convey, inter alios, a Lawrence Durrell laced with some form of minimalist music, even though the syntax has satisfying traction that would belie the second analogy.  It also reminds me obliquely of two stories called Violette Doranges and Even The Mirror (by two different authors) that reside side by side elsewhere, only mentioned on be-half of those deliciously lazy enough not to want to know why or wherefore.  Nanako, seen by the male protagonist, is a woman who grows in two fields of vision, the apparent real and unreal, but we are not properly told which is the most whimsical and why one field outfaces the other.  We just sense that the real woman first met is retrocaused by (and despite) what she later became.  A late-night visionary sadness, with even later slicking rather than licking of faces, laced with odd analogous scrotums, semen … and onanism.  But do we ever know when we are alone? (26 Jan 11)

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Manami’s Hair

“There was a faint pain, and she could feel something cracked and rough like a lizard’s skin.”

[The tooth-brushing type of obsession (within the story’s main character or within the author himself?) reminds me of certain facets of Robbe-Grillet.]

If the previous story was one woman in mis-synergy with herself over time, this story is about two women – sisters – living together within a single point in time, one a drain on the other.  The draining one, as opposed to the drained, seems obsessed with TV drama and indeed much of the plot could be part of a ‘Neighbours’ episode, e.g. dates and mis-acting.  Star-spaced, if not star-broken, by both enrichening colours and skin-diseasing static, the delight in imagining death to others as a fiction, wanting to write an autobiography although she is only 20, I think, and been housebound through (delicious?) laziness for 6 months… 

The story’s ending of faltering steps is another ellipse… or series of ellipses … … … (pores where hairs now grow). (pores or prose?)

[The story-breaks, textually throughout this book, all have a simply-drawn symbol (one that I think I happen to recognise) as a divider between them…. You will possibly recognise it, too, but, so far, I have drawn a meaning-blank.] (26 Jan 11 – five hours later)

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The Garden of Sleep

“If you have a garden inside yourself to tend,”

…then you will need to read this story so as to find what comes after the comma.

The discovered lover of this story’s narrator – discovered while ‘I’ am still within the story telling it to ‘you’ – is contrasted by the mis-synergies with various people in the narrator’s family. The lover is a chameleon, an almost genderless, precious waif, called ‘you’.  Earlier in this book, two women within one woman through time, then two women together as sisters … and, now, here, an ‘I’ with a ‘you’ both in and out of time. And I see this story, if not the whole book, as a fascination akin to the ‘you’ of the story itself. I, of course, can’t tell yet after only 84 pages what other garments the book shall wear amid an imputed ‘genius loci’ (Japan?) that has not grown as clear as it may do after reaching page 335.

When I read this story tonight, it seemed to take less time than it should. A plain, easily consumed style, but tantalisingly beautiful in its plainness, with moments of a chance section of purple prose here and there that sets off its blushes. I shall keep watch to see who else reads it… 

[Meanwhile, a very short extract from elsewhere and elseother seems to comfort me at the thought of any unrequital that may ensue upon leaving this story, and eventually this book: “The paradise garden is a magical place. We can only dream when there, but we cannot dream of it.”] (26 Jan 11 – another 5 hours later)

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I Wonder What Human Flesh Tastes Like

“That’s part of my strategy, to force the reader to make connections between things they wouldn’t normally connect.”

A core statement for my own real-time reviews in general – as well as for this book?  I feel as if I’ve travelled ‘fictionally-religionally’ for most of my life till I reached this point of possible crystallisation. 

This story – let’s be bold – connects with this book’s first ‘story’ of a similar title:

IWWHFTL / UEMBC: “When she smiled he saw the chipped edges of her teeth;”

IWWHFTL: “She smiled but her lips curled strangely and he could see too much of her teeth. They were unevenly placed.”

This eponymous story is about gratuitousness, heterosexual park-cottaging leading to talk of cannibalism, but direct participation in sudden concupiscence and pet-dog toilet-drowning; meticulous cartographic spotting of life’s reality-stains with undercurrents of burning it all up as a first best to the second best of curing these ills. I am aghast, sickened – but conceptually exhilarated. I’m not proud of this exhilaration, though. I’ll flag-mast myself clean, I guess. (27 Jan 11)

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The Quest for Chinese People

Pages 103 – 121

“…everyone on Earth is descended from the same woman in Africa millions of years ago and there used to be these other people that weren’t really human but we killed them all,”

Amid the protagonist’s ordinary workaday life, his hidden desires, sleeping, brushing teeth, the people he knows, his wife, his brother – the first half of this story is a revery upon his self-discovered obsessing about the enormous size of the Earth’s Chinese population and his ‘guilt’ at his lack of knowledge of these Chinese people.

I know the feeling – a niggly worry that expands … and expands … in the dark watches of the night particularly.  Towards an epiphany, as the story describes it.  Maybe this is another example of gratuitousness…coupled with a darkly fine-print  ‘pointillism’ of aesthetics concerned with this book’s ‘genius loci’, one which I may still not have grasped other than the name ‘Japan’ and the Japanese sounding names of the characters.  Meanwhile this story flows nicely : while also possibly being a “camouflage” like one of the character’s shirts.

I watched as she cleaned her teeth.”

[I’m beginning to think this book may be the primest example of a literary theory of mine that I’ve explored for many years, i.e. on record as “The Synchronised Shards of Random Truth and Fiction”. I’m now beginning to wonder, too, that the ‘shards’ may here be symbolised by teeth, chipped or unchipped, false or deeply rooted,  i.e. those implements that one would need, presumably, to consume human flesh. (Thinking aloud.)] (28 Jan 11)

Pages 121 – 139

“…I had assumed that it would not be possible for me to act without some definite intended aim.”

Now reading on, I sense this story somehow expresses the horror of the syllogism argument as an existential angst.  The Intentional Fallacy (another bee in my ancient bonnet) expressed as demographic history’s flabbiness or laziness or inert immanence  (expressed in part by culinary un-inquisitiveness), i.e. in contrast to a more focussed aesthetic acting as an assumed (Asian-pointilliste?) backdrop that readers who already know about the Japanese ambiance may take for granted.  The story’s protagonist, meanwhile, oblivious of this complex audit trail he treads, fulfils (disintentionally?) what I earlier called his hidden desires – but is foiled by two women who are this time in pure synergy, unlike the mis-synergy of earlier pairs in this book.  And a final-catalyst force that possibly is the story’s inner ‘tabula rasa’ disguised as the story’s own protagonist’s brother.

“Her mouth cracked, but she never quite smiled.” (28 Jan 11 – two hours later)

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A Design for Life

“His teeth pressed against her lips. / — I love you, I love you, she said in English.”

Another “Neighbours”-type soap-opera plot, yet one subsumed by an ambiance of pretentious art and music, and the artistic and sexual politics of furthering one’s career in that field.  I saw myself as the amenable (affable, passive, inert, immanent, flabby?) older man, Takeshi … until, out of character or as spear-carrier, he managed to score!  

Indeed, in more ways than one, this is a story of passively inert and flabby immanence – and an existential angst ignored by the story’s characters while sublimating their so-called Artform of becoming Andy Warhol.  In tune with the ‘connections’ theme I mentioned earlier with that seminal quote from IWWHFTL – I suddenly discovered here a sensibility that I’ve been trying to identify as permeating this book so far. A sensibility conveyed by, inter alia, the paintings of Magritte.

“…a garbage truck emerging from the back of an enormous human skull,”

belonging no doubt to the out-face in Nanako. [Or a Cronenberg / Carpenter burrowing backward from the jaw as a ratcheting teeth-monster?] (28 Jan 11 – another 4 hours later)

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I Wonder What Human Flesh Tastes Like Etc.

Pages 171 – 187

“The feel of the raw meat in her hands was unpleasant; it reminded her of other soft, wet things she hated: slugs, perhaps, or rain-drenched socks.”

Another soap-opera bubble, this one of ‘Home and Away’ schoolgirl crushes and relationships (two sisters again, both vegetarians, one whose teeth have braces), quirks of their  thought captured as part of routine reality, particularly one of them who has an unrequited crush on a boy in the class – but threaded through with aberrant (gratuitous) thoughts that she should break her vegetarian fast, with sinews and redolences artfully conveyed to the reader, as part of a matter-of-fact, but haunting description that also dwells on comparing the thought of an actual slaughter of a cow for meat with an imaginary slaughter of a human being for the same purpose.  There is something fundamental about the synergy or mis-synergy of these aspects of the story: the meticulous matter-of-fact-in-trivia and the gratuitous motivations incubating within. [Tonight, I shall allow this story similarly to incubate within my body’s sleep and see how things develop when I pick up this book again and finish the story. Good night. [Btw, news just in, Isis = is is]] (28 Jan 11 – another 3 hours later)

Pages 187 – 203

“Lying on her bed at night, before she fell asleep, Ayano had vague dreams of all the different kinds of meat she had yet to try.”

I’ve rejoined the two plain sisters along their continuum of exploratory fiction.  It may be because it’s so early in the morning, but I now feel decidedly queasy, if not shocked, having completed this story’s inner journey of self-tasting.  We have an astonishing description of the meats, their various timings of cooking (rare or not), speculation as to human meat, bodily oils, face-carving (cf ‘Nanako), &c – leading to quite ground-shaking passages I dare not divulge. Teeth are part of the process.  What has gone before makes this story even more powerful. The synergies, the mis-synergies, the eschatology, the scatology, the syllogism of ‘the Chinese and the rest of us’ … the meat that is the all of us…

[Before completing this story, I wrote, this morning, on a discussion forum elsewhere, about this book: “For me, this book is in uncharted waters or waters that the ship ‘nouveau roman’ once explored so as to allow other ships like this one to pass through on the way to an as yet undiscovered el dorado.”  Hence, the divider-symbols between story sections? And will we reach that el dorado with this book, or will it feel its job is done by showing us first sight of it on the horizon?] (29 Jan 11)

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The Eye of the Living Is No Warmth

Pages 205 – 230

“Instead of analyzing lyrics or predicting future lineups, he recorded his sweat, erections and breathing changes;”

…a far-fetched description of an internet reviewer!

This story is of a pair of two late-twenties men who are fans of music girl groups and are active on internet forums about this world … and one star girl is arrested for smoking at the age of 17. Breaking Japanese Law and her contract or generally contravening this book’s ‘genius loci’.  The two men – amid a flabby or Magritte-like detachment I note and feel in myself quite often – pursue the photographer who took the photo of her smoking.  They meet the photographer’s mis-synergous girlfriend who has “a redness at the tips of her teeth.”  And I await, detachedly, the outcome. Meanwhile, regarding an as yet assumed aside, but one significant for me, the main male protagonist here is known to be writing a pessimistic philosophical tract entitled “The Book Against the Human Race” (Cf: “The Conspiracy Against The Human Race” by Thomas Ligotti). (29 Jan 11 – another 4 hours later)

Pages 230 – 249

A Karaoke session for our two men and the girl, followed by a Ferris Wheel ride, all of which actually starts to fill in for me this book’s  Japanese ‘Genius Loci’ more trenchantly than the previous anticipatory imminence (sic) of one. The philosophical tract against the human race (not just against the Chinese one) together with the amorphous ambiance of characterisation make this possibly the first classic work about the Detached and the Internetted creatures that are begininning to populate the world (or my head that is my world). The closing scenes of the transferred ‘handshake’ (cf: My “But do we ever know when we are alone?” question earlier in this review) is a ‘deliciously lazy’ but perfect ending to this story. Bravo!

“He’d eaten a lot at the Chinese restaurant,” (29 Jan 11 – another 90 minutes later)

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A Thread From Heaven

Pages 251 – 271

“In that ruined city foxes nested in sunken basements;”

A pair of adolescent males – part of another student soap-bubble scenario – start a friendship on the school train-commute but are immediately bullied by an actorly or inscrutably or detachedly leadered group of cruising men, with our main protagonist Park (whose dreams, we were earlier told, include airships) then giving his stomach up as part of a voluntary punch-bag puppet (that fits so neatly with earlier ‘flabby’ feelings in this book) – and he has his teeth actually or almost cracked.

A reality-stain of rust iconising a simple daily object. A trainload of human meat ready to be fused by a chance crash: Park’s speculations that float here as cousin threads from the rest of the book’s own world of the human race laid-back for us to pick over literarily, if not literally. (29 Jan 11 – another 90 minutes later)

Pages 271 – 290

“Time is the same as language.”

The threads (including the starkest or cruellest from the rest of the book) continue piecemeal to pour through Park’s thought-pores as if this book is a sort of Bible or actually Park’s own Christian Bible, then creating a ‘paradise garden’ of reality (my laid-back expression, not the story’s) that is cultivated not by awareness itself but by the awareness of that awareness by others.  All within that soap-bubble. (29 Jan 11 – another hour later)

Pages 290 – 306

“Gradually, the past was slipping into fiction,”

At the end of this section, my premonition of the ‘garden’ comes to stunning, undivulgeable fruition, as Park, having sealed up the surface of Gods, watches dead human meat – what shall we say? – succulate…  [At least we have the continuing thread or anchor or fishing-line (or noose?) – of another Karaoke session to give local colour and therapeutic self-miming /mining.] (29 Jan 11 – another hour later)

Pages 306 – 335

“Artists are also wind-up toys that have been set in motion. If they weren’t artists, they’d be politicians or comedians or something else. The shape of the mind determines the role. Everyone is given a role at birth and that role is their mind.”

I dare not impart the powerful climax of this book, the ultimate tracing or karaoke or palimpsest.  And I would be here all day imparting Park’s ‘waking dreams’ as a completist task or the way they interweave the threads. This is probably the most positively shocking book I have ever read, and this last section seals that contention beyond ‘probably’… probably. It is extremely well-written …and builds as the reader progresses through the stories. Don’t take any one shock as something that should turn you away from this book.  In symphonic music, a sudden atonal blast is no reason to walk out from the rest of it.  The rest could be as spiritually beautiful as the Lark Ascending or as spiritually darkening as the Lurk Descending.  All done without touching the sides. Laid-back. A new gear in literature now clinching….

 But what were those divider-symbols?

If I think of more to say, I shall used the ‘comment’ facility below, as I hope some others will do, too.

“…exist, exist,”

(29 Jan 11 – another 90 minutes later)

END

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