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Shrike – Quentin S. Crisp

I’m due to start below another of my gradual real-time reviews, turning leitmotifs into a gestalt. A hardback novella (signed by the author) that I recently purchased via Amazon and received today (3 Feb 12). And it is entitled:-

Shrike – by Quentin S. Crisp


PS Publishing (2009)

CAVEAT (1): 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 other real-time reviews are linked from here: http://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/

My previous real-time reviews of fiction by Quentin S. Crisp: Morbid Tales – Quentin S. Crisp ; All God’s Angels, Beware! – Quentin S Crisp ; “Remember You’re a One-Ball!” – by Quentin S. Crisp ; Cinnabar’s Gnosis


I.The note of the upturned bronze bell was silence made audible. It interpenetrated the realms of both the living and the dead.”

[My first remembered creative writing outside the jurisdiction of school was a poem called ‘O Garden’ that featured a shrike: that I somehow knew was also called the butcher bird.] This chapter, Autumn of course (it always is Autumn with my reading!) – and Brett Stokes, a young man, who had sort of been adopted by the Kunisada family during the time he was an exchange student in Japan, returns for the ‘funeral’ following the death of Mr Kunisada from cigarette-caused cancer. Here both Philip Larkin’s “musical, moth-eaten brocade” of religion and the “excuse” provided by alcohol are factored into what I have called before an element of Crisp fiction: i.e. the Laconics: here the Laconics of Japan and its bereavement rituals.   A touching picture of a granted “leisure of death” told in characteristically well-textured Crisp prose. (2.15 pm 3 Feb 12)

II. “…a gardenful of autumn morning.”

An almost rambling chapter, but somehow at heart we know it is not rambling at all. Brett with Mrs K, Mr K’s widow, leading to comparison of his mother-son type relationships with the meaning of ‘love’ and an ‘ex’ called Heather – and a palimpsest or tracing of erstwhile relationship with Mr K himself, mixed by the “precious” memories within a “still-life” of Japan as ‘genius loci’: the organic, poetically meaningful difference between Autumn there and back where Brett lives. And almost what I can transpose from this chapter’s mention in another context of “crisp notes” now written by Brett about these things as the further factoring-in, via a two-way filter, of the reader’s own entrancingly laid-back journey amid “lost cycles“, self-doubt, “a crisp, lucid pathos still spoken as of old by the gong-like reverberations of a temple bell“, the minutiae of a wrist and sleeping with the pre-funerary dead (as they do in Japan?).  A fiction-truth of all these things that “seemed always and only to belong to the future , or to the past, but never to now.” (3 Feb 12 – another 2 hours later)

III.Obscurity, after all, was a great part of the aesthetic attraction of failure.”

Resonating between an anti-novel about, say, a Venetian blind or a futon and a dead neglected Japanese writer whom Mrs K and Brett visit at that writer’s museum, as it were, we are teased with the image of a thorn-crucified lizard as a shrike’s latent larder.   Having watched a number of ‘Tales of the Unexpected’ recently,  I, too, wonder, if the bird was featured there (Dahl influenced by reading my sixties poem ‘O Garden’, thus later to influence Stokes (via Crisp) in the 21st century?). The leisure of death as a symptom of laziness or of “literary failure” (I can relate to that, at least) or of lie (fraud)?  Or of all three?  There is an intrinsicity here akin to each chapter heading’s explicitly but supposedly Japanese script-capsule of a paper’s print-mark – as if each audit-t(r)ail crosses (cf the lizard) then re-crosses another and another eventually to form the unified pattern of meaning or “death-mask“. And one character says: “I believe Murakami Haruki has publicly stated that he can’t stand Japanese literature. He spends his time listening to American jazz and suchlike.” (3 Feb 12 – another 3 hours later)

IV. “Getting close to someone reminds you how tragic ordinary life is.”

And that if reality can be turned into fiction, fiction can just as easily be turned into reality …  in this new Crispian “Suicide Watch”-type ‘letter’ to Heather from Japan written as if he’s already dead, i.e. another variation on a theme: a ‘dying fall’ that runs, for me, like a paradoxically uplifting vein through much non-vocal classical or ‘chamber’ music (that some people call ‘serious music’!).  The shrike now seems to have a second victim in a desiccated toad, and potentially a third in a live toad.  There follows Brett’s attempted, potentially dream-invading visualisation of the nature of this, or any, shrike. I, meanwhile, try to remain unable to visualise a shrike. I suppose it’s the easiest matter in the world to google it…. [I wish to remain ignorant of its nature, and part of the suspense of this novel, for me, is being on the brink of being told something about it I do not wish to know. I never knew what a shrike looked like when I wrote my first poem many years ago. I suppose I just liked the sound of the word.] (3 Feb 12 – another 2 hours later)

Dahl or Dali (both referred to in this book’s text), I woke up this morning with their hybrid dreams still presiding.  (7.50 am – 4 Feb 12)

V. “To arrive at life, one must first go through death, that was as plain as all hell, thought Brett, taking the first drag on his cigarette…”

This chapter: sometimes eschatologically mawkish, at other times, stigmatically spiritual, as Brett (who gave him such an awfully off-putting name! … ‘Stokes’ at least partially resonates with spike and shrike and poker-as-thorn) continues his Crisp Notes to Heather, via a “Ghost of Love Affairs Past” version of unrequited Proust, a potential act of dire gratuitousness via Albert Camus: and an abstemious Scrooge wielding Occam’s Razor —- and I remember my cough that I made public when reading “All God’s Angels Beware!” and here the cancer-thorn to be ‘inherited’ from the late Mr K.  Brett’s body as well as soul seen first  as a “fortress” or aspergic defence-system, but seen second, via my interpretation of Brett’s undercurrents of thought, as Terry Buzzacott’s ‘two-timing’ Fortress as Redoubt. Time frozen as Pilate (the embodiment – of all other people who Brett feels watched by – in the unknown  form of a conceivably tiny shrike) is about to drive a relic-nail from Golgotha through Brett’s Breast. (4 Feb 12 – another 2 hours later)

VI.Stalemate is stalemate is  stalemate.”

Like that Stein line “a rose is a rose is a rose”? Or a woodbine is a woodbine is a woodbine. This substantive chapter is the Earth’s Core of ‘Shrike’, I am currently assuming. A significant visionary episode that it would spoil to describe, especially the nature of the narrative belief underlying its beginning. Simply do re-read the whole of the published Quentin S. Crisp fiction canon before reading this chapter – because it all culminates here.  A judicial theatre of eschatological choice: and one must re-read War With The Newts – by Karel Capek, too, and revisit the cigarettes in ‘The Man Who Collected Machen’ by Mark Samuels: Fiction pulling the strings of Reality: or vice versa: except they are called different names from Fiction and Reality in this chapter, names that would reveal the Spoiler I’m trying to keep Unspoilt.  Whatever the case, this section is a major memorable intervention within the plot’s audit trail, an audit trail that I once thought I was following before reading this chapter: even as powerful as the Sermon on Hell scene from Joyce’s ‘Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man’ that once severely kicked me into or out of touch when a Young Man myself many years ago.  [Emma’s in the smoking Woodhouse. That’s a non-sequitur?] (4 Feb 12 – another 2 hours later)

I forgot to mention – in VI. there is also a reference to “exquisite music” that is not a million miles away from my observation earlier about ‘dying fall’ etc. (4 Feb 12 – another 45 minutes later)


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Capek’s Newts Corengate at the Dark Tower

I find myself suddenly reading three books in overlap:



The only one by my own volition, having impulsively bought it while on a shopping trip with my wife in Frinton-on-Sea a few days ago. It actually gave birth to my Expen the Scusil website, as well as amusing me with Mr Ocren’s slightly dated off-boat humour.



At the behest of some members of the Message Forum Stephenking.com I just joined following my Real-Time Review of Full Dark, No Stars.  You see, I admitted to reading all SK works as they came out except ‘The Dark Tower’ books.


WAR WITH THE NEWTS – WWTN (1936) by Karel Capek

This is at the behest of Quentin S Crisp.  Not that I had to read it. But I was strirred to do so by his intriguing reports of it.


These three books – into none of which I have as yet got very far – are beginning strangely to harmonise with each other. Off-beat, off-boat, brooding yet absurdly creaturifying.

Who knows where they are taking me. (14 Jan 11)


WWTN I. 1 – 3

 A cross between Alan Coren, Stephen Leacock, Rhys Hughes, Jonathan Swift. A blend that makes me believe in the creaturification of words. Tails lumping between the lines.

“And God has no shingle at all, on earth or in heaven.”
Interesting use of uppercases and uppercuts. (15 Jan 11)


TDT-TG: I. 1 – 5

“…where demons undeniably walked;” I’ve reached the end of Chapter 5 of the first section. (I’ve not read the Foreword or any other impure non-fiction gubbins that precede these chapters). A brooding spaghetti western, brilliantly evoked in King’s inimitable style. The last Gunslinger in an oblique quest, meeting strange characters, feeling strange feelings, surrounded by the creaturification of the words that bear him on their backs. “And pigs would dance the commala in the light of the Peddler’s Moon.” (15 Jan 11 – two hours later)


‘Yes,’ said the voice, ‘one does not run into four-foot dragonflies every day of the week. However,’ it continued, unplucking itself from the roof and dropping to the floor beside me, ‘we do not, contrary to popular myth, sting people.’ – TBOAC (Page 57) – (15 Jan 11 – another hour later)


WWTN – I. 4

“Those poor little buggers so multi-pigged themselves in Devil Bay – “

Amazing stuff. Narrative and disbelief of narrative by others within the same narrative, plus memory loss – concerning giant walking lizards that the locals see as Devils, the pearls that our Jules-Vernian captain is teaching them (he says) to harvest.  Multi-plied, not -pigged.  (16 Jan 11)


TDT-TG: I. 6 – 7

“Somewhere something was tottering, and when it fell, all would end.”

Narration within a narration as the Gunslinger is told by his one-night stand about the Man he follows, i.e. the Man in Black with an ability to resurrect the dead, particularly a told-about corpse with a sick grin, amid more mysteries and oblique wonderful weirdmongerishness and not davinci but numeral codes….nnnnn nineteen… [I keep expecting one of Capek’s giant lizards to stump along the tussocky horizon as a cameo.] (16 Jan 11 – two hours later) 


Beethoven’s living liver: “Shrunk to half its proper size, leathery in consistency and greenish-blue in colour and bean-sized nodules on its surface.” (TBOAC – page 61)


WWTN – I. 5: Captain J. van Toch’s Trained Lizards

“Back home, man, we have devil priests who are downright wizards.”

Gossiping of Capek Toch – and the transportation of his lizards and their human-likeness or king-kongish novelty – “ts ts ts ts ts” – they go – or do they speak like we do – in tongues? Like Eliot’s cats? Stealing our own pearls of wisdom?  I am getting a feeling for this sf-topian fiction, a feeling that it is true, because it makes so much sense in the context around me. My birthday tomorrow. (17.1.11)


TDT-TG: I. 8 – 10

“He was like something out of a fairytale or a myth, a fabulous, dangerous creature.”

Like King himself in 1982 as distilled by his fiction?  And what is over the other side of the endless desert? Devils? We’re not told. Too busy looking after the Gunslinger’s mule. There might even be giant lizards brooding inscrutably out there?  Reading this book and wondering why they’re not mentioned? Thinking aloud. (17.1.11 – an hour later)


From ‘Semitopia’: “However, these urges do not die; the semi-spirit lives on.”  (TBOAC – page 208) (17 Jan 11 – another 3 hours later)


WWTN – 6. The Yacht In The Lagoon (Part One)

This book is really taking off nyfelyA gradually benuding Botticelli nymph nommed Sweetiepie Li watched by male admirer – ABEing, after original considerations of cannibal talk & kingkongish ‘gorilla’ nature with their fay wray – she meets the lounging lizards – doing obeisances before her and giving some sort of communion by pearl-fishing…  Nyfe in the Water.  Ts ts ts.  Who would have read this book without some sort of pushing…. (18 Jan 11)


TDT-TG: I. 11

Another knife and another nude woman. The Gunslinger has a past & it  is being eked out non-collusively to we bystanders of this very strange konking fiction. I wish I had read this book before. It sheds light on other pieces by this author I’ve enjoyed piecemeal from the time of Carrie in the seventies.  But the light The Gunslinger sheds is diffusive, misty, intriguing, a dream that is slowly fitting into shape in a parallel way to how the story of the lizard-newts is emerging within the other novel I’m reading randomly alongside it. (18 Jan 11 – an hour later)


“English Bohemianism is a curiously unluscious fruit. It does not belong in the great, mad, steamy glasshouse in which so much of the art of the rest of the world seems to have flourished – or, at least, so much of the pseudo-art. Inside this hothouse, huge lascivious orchids slide sensually up the sweating windows, passion-flowers cross-pollinate in wild heliotrope abandon, lotuses writhe with poppies in the rich warm beds, kumquats ripen, tremble, and plop flatly to the floor – and outside, in a neat, trimly-hoed kitchen garden, English Bohemians sit in cold orderly rows, like carrots.” (TBOAC – page 210)

Like carrots, or , rather, lizards … or weirdslingers? (18 Jan 11 – another hour later)


WWTN – 7. The Yacht In The Lagoon (Continued)

This lagoonery seems to be a panoply-within-panoply of the emerging lizards (now nown as newts) – as if the book itself is giving gradual birth to them via its own literary-real process of evolution… and it appears I was spot on at least with the kingkong ethos and faywray … and the photostatoo — of a giant lizard hugging a woman within the comments below — that I used for the cover of a book called Cern Zoo in 2009…  I am protoplasmically entranced by WWTN. (19 Jan 11)


TDT-TG: I. 12

“The gibbering madness that walks and crawls and wriggles through men’s most awful wants and desires.”

From that beautiful woman ‘surrendering’ to creatures just now in WWTN, we have here in TDT-TG, almost by inversion, a grotesque woman preacher creating creatures from herself as conjurations of her gospelling prayers … while the Gunslinger watches her memorable ‘performance’, here in Tull.

“I have walked arm in arm in the lion’s den…” (19 Jan 11 – another hour later)


” ‘I blame the Zoo,’ said the Lion.”  (TBOAC – page 224) (19 Jan 11 – another 45 minutes later)


WWTN 8 Andrias Scheuchzeri – 9 Andrew Scheuchzer

Scientific context and technical names for our new newzardy friends emerging from the primeval waters of a rare fiction-reality and London Zoo where they’re human-language-talking freely about their new readers who have come to them as a result of my review. Or rather Quentin’s suggestion that I and others read about them. Thanks, Quentin. It is so much like the ethos of ‘Cern Zoo’, I can’t quite believe it. Not that you knew that, really, I suppose. It’s like serendipity has emerged from a ‘one in an eternity of trillions chance’ conflux of dream and reality. 

“As can be seen, fame demoralises even newts.”  (20 Jan 11)


TDT-TG: I. 13 – 20

“Why do you have to think you’re in the middle of such a mystery?”

In 1982, when this book was first published, it must have been a horror genre trail-blazer. It stil is – and the Gunslinger continues his quest for the Man in Black, piecing together, yes evolving (in the context of this whole real-time review) items of gossip into truth, prehensile myths into first hand experience, a Tullish killing-mayhem, weirdmongerishness (prefiguring as I now realise for the first time my own ‘Weirdmonger’ story published in 1988) – as, here, the first section of this book (called ‘The Gunslinger’) comes to an end. Very impressed.

“The wind walked restlessly, told its tale to no one.” (20 Jan 11 – three hours later)


“Call me Passepartout. Should you ask why, I should have to reply, in my mortification, that it is because my shoes are bound together with adhesive tape.  In the old days, you could have called me Ishmael.” (TBOAC page 244, ‘Flying Dutchman’) (20 Jan 11 – another hour later)


WWTN 10: The Fair at Nové Strašecí

” ‘How much is six times seven?’ / ‘Forty-tw0,’ quacked the newt with an effort.”

A hilarious but equally sad freakshow type scene – with both Capektain protagonist and newt shrunk to tin-bath or book’s own size.  (21 Jan 11)


TDT-TG: II. 1.

“Because the man in black had shrunk two full feet…”

The book’s 2nd section starts here (THE WAY STATION), resonating, via high fantasy, and a self-concocted nursery-rhyme merged or muddled from the gunslinger’s childhood, approaching a sandhouse waystation (where I imagine tiny lizards foraging but not by dint of any words telling me that) – and has the man in black whom he seeks really shrunk…?  Only at waystations can plotspoilers roost without compunction but then fly off as if they’d never been there at all, I guess.  Meantime, the prose in this book is genuinely some of King’s best I’ve ever seen. (21 Jan 11 – another hour later)


Under The Influence of Literature: “Dear Mother, / Please do not be alarmed, but I have turned into a big black bug.” (TBOAC – page 250) (21 Jan 11 – another 45 minutes later)


WWTN 11 – 12 – Of Men-Lizards; The Salamander Syndicate

“(You talk as if this is a novel.)”

Indeed, I wonder if this is a novel at all but rather a specialist literary exercise never seen before (except possibly in Lovecraft), plus piecing together clues and documents – team-building by means of suppositions and Minutes of a business meeting trying to value the share price of global geomantic upheaval or the tangible creation of the very SFtopia we are reading into existence via our imaginative-ontology-teleology or simple ultimation of unneutered fiction neutered by truth (or vice versa?).

I still have the Appendix: The Sex Life of the Newts to read and review, but otherwise we have reached the end of this book’s first section (entitled Andrias Scheuchzeri)  (22 Jan 11)



“It was not fair to ring in innocent bystanders and make them speak lines they didn’t understand on a strange stage.”

But who is stander and who is bystander, I ask. Our protagonist meets a boy called Jake who speaks of memories that may or may not be of a real world that we readers or bystanders know, a world that haunts the gunslinger’s world. Which world neutered, which unneutered? The book in my hand seems to indicate something real about my own once-upon-a-time world of old-fashioned TV sets. But what if it were now a slippery text on a Kindle, instead? (22 Jan 11 – two hours later).


“I have taken the trouble to enclose a brick of the Leaning Tower…” (TBOAC – page 279) (22 Jan 11 – another 30 minutes later)


WWTN – Appendix to ‘Book One’: The Sex Life of the Newts

“…the important concept of the sexual milieu, which represents a separate intermediate stage between parthenogenesis and sexual reproduction.”

We must remember, I suppose (although I yet fail to see how, in the light of the Intentional Fallacy, it could ever be relevant to a textual appraisal of the book and its pure imaginative resonance), that WWTN was published in Czech in the period leading up to the 2ndWorldWar.  Meanwhile, this section talks of the sexual patterns or mating dances, erotic, religious, physical, spermatic, of a collective newtork.  The Collectivity of  Andrias Scheuchzeri -Andrew Scheuchzer as a single character in this book rather than a breed of giant lizards or salamanders or newts.  The book’s Gunslinger with the bullets built in.  Entailing parthenogenetically the distaff- as well as spear-carrier.

[NB: The first ‘Nemonymous’ in 2001 was printed with the subtitle: A Journal of Parthenogenetic Fiction and Late-Labelling – later giving birth to lizardy CERN ZOO as its 9th edition.]

“…the Great Copulator…” (23 Jan 11)


TDT-TG: II. 3 -4

“Somewhere a radio is playing a song by the rock group Kiss.”

[Cf: “This, if we may so call it, kiss continues for several days;” in today’s WWTN reading above.]

A past car crash (like exploding lizard sex?) is emblematic of Time’s retrocausality as the Gunslinger and Jake, at the Way Station, seem to transcend destiny – as well as the thought that the man in black may be slowing deliberately so that he can be caught up with?   (23 Jan 11 – another hour later)


“Man here wants to have a go at the salmon.” (TBOAC – page 282) (23 Jan 11 – another 15 minutes later)


WWTN – II. Up The Ladder of Civilization

This section with much data (some in very small print) may take me a while to study and absorb. So all readers of this real-time review need to be patient.  Fundamentally, it appears that Mr Povondra, seemingly exhibiting today’s fashionable form of male aspergers, is collecting all the News of Newts, i.e. cuttings and other data, with the condescendingly indulgent permission of his mother, who recognises that men should have their boyish ‘nutcase’ obsessions. Apparently, too, Mr P is also doing this for his own posterity or legacy as the doorman who allowed Capektain Vantoch in to see Mr Bondy and hence ignited the world’s (currently) 70 million Newts and its consequent geomantic transfiguration (akin to an erstwhile benign form of global warming?)… (24 Jan 11)

This Review of WWTN will continue on another page yet to be announced in comments below.

The Review of THE DARK TOWER – THE GUNSLINGER will also continue elsewhere, to be announced in comments below.


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