Tag Archives: Lisa Tuttle

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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The WEIRD: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories

Weird: A Compendium of Dark and Strange Stories

The WEIRD: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories

Edited by Ann & Jeff VanderMeer

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

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

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

CAVEATS: Spoilers are not intended but there may be inadvertent ones. You may wish (i) to take that risk and read my review before or during your own reading of the book, or (ii) to wait until you have finished reading it. In either case, I hope it gives a useful or interesting perspective. Also, Nemonymous (Cern Zoo) was the original publisher of ‘The Lion’s Den’ by Steve Duffy that is included in this book.

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

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

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

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

The Other Side (an excerpt) – Alfred Kubin

Now the area had transformed into a monstrous zoo.”

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

The Screaming Skull – F. Marion Crawford

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

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

The Willows – Algernon Blackwood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sredni Vashtar – Saki

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

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

Casting the Runes – M. R. James

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

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



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


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