Tag Archives: Mark Samuels

My reading-lifetime’s Hall of Fame

Image by Tony Lovell (2011)

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

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

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

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Real-Time Reviews – Touching Base

These days, I seem to be spending most of my writing time on real-time reviews of other authors’ books I’ve purchased.
I actually get a lot of satisfaction from real-time reviewing.

I think my early ‘gestalt’ watershed was Joel Lane’s BENEATH THE GROUND as far as a multi-authored anthology was concerned. But two other important watersheds were the very first real-time review I did in 2008 (almost accidentally): GLYPHOTECH by Mark Samuels and THE IMPELLED by Gary Fry, particularly the latter where I fully found my feet in tracking audit-trails…

I’m particularly proud of some of the most recent author reactions shown at the top of the page here: http://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/the-authors-reactions/

The whole list of links is here: http://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/

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Morbid Tales – Quentin S. Crisp

I’m due to start below another of my gradual real-time reviews, turning leitmotifs into a gestalt. A highly aesthetic paperback book I recently purchased from the publisher and received today (24 Jan 12). And it is entitled:-

Morbid Tales – by Quentin S. Crisp

Tartarus Press 2012

Previously published as a hardback by the same publisher: 2004

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

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: All God’s Angels, Beware! – Quentin S Crisp ; “Remember You’re a One-Ball!” – by Quentin S. Crisp ; Cinnabar’s Gnosis

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The Mermaid

Prelude: Philosophy in the Underwear Drawer

“I believe that everybody has a story. It falls to their life’s epicentre like a meteorite.”

There is a difference between morbid and misanthropic, I guess.  Here, we balance on the edge of each in turn and discover these edges do not overlap – necessarily. Imagine, the narrator of HP Lovecraft’s ‘The Hound’ preambling  not a Hound but a Mermaid, discovered not from a fruit-mulched grave-plot but perhaps another slot closed up as if there’s nothing to penetrate… I am entranced by the prose and its erotic touches as well as by the “mer-monkey” from the Horniman Museum, Penge, to which the writer of the book’s Foreword once introduced me decades ago.  The narrator is in a coastguard’s cottage where his obsessions may drift ashore? (24 Jan 12)

{later} Chapter One: Beachcomber’s Delight

“…fashioned by someone for whom this was the world, for whom jellyfish were floating flowers…”

Now here a moving solidification – via unsolid visions of sea and sea’s accoutrements and ‘object’ magic and a spoken “Sunken Tongue” and Medusa-musing and a “Kraken powder” – of the Mermaid taken to the Narrator’s home, where the purpose-built tank etc. amid narcotic prose gives birth to all manner of thoughts in my mind. The use of gills?  The felt literalness (as here) of wonder being more wonderful than more wonderful wonder.  And the beauty of reading such flotsam-blessed fiction – partly at least as a result of narrating one’s own journey in it as I am here – is that serendipities are often convoked – [e.g. (for me) from today’s immediacy as well as the recent past; Capek HERE, Reggie Oliver HERE and a Medusa-like HERE.]

“…as if I were a tomb-robber fleeing the winged shadow of a pharaoh’s curse.” (24 Jan 12 – two hours later)

{later} Chapter Two: To Have and Not to Have

“It was one of those times that form lightly without you realising that they are to become a poignant memory.”

And I suspect my reading of this story is one such ‘time’, tantamount-to-a-novella instilling in me both joy and despair at the same time: no mean feat.  Yet the narrator is mean to himself.  Guilt plays with innocence, like a mermaid with a lobster: and not always ‘respectively’ (or even ‘respectfully’).  And the love-physical implications – tied to that earlier ‘literalness’ which I see is in turn tied up with that in the War of the Newts book by Karel Capek – are striking to say the least: a tail like a sheath; onanism making one two (a tail eventually bifurcates) etc.; “this story-book love” telling its own story of perceived self-denigration: but, like two multiplicative negatives making a positive, two stories telling each other possibly make a positive reality along their own Escher combined audit trail or ley line of disguised fiction.  Good, too, to know that “vowel sounds travel better underwater“. (24  Jan 12 – another 3 hours later)

{Later} Chapter Three: The End of the Tail

“Yes, yes, the memories trail together as elegant as houseplants growing at different levels in an ornamental stand.”

Indeed. Just like this novella and the book it becomes. A book from the tides of sea-voice and anemone and jellyfish, shaped and hinged (like the Necronomicon?), a book that is as distant from what books are now fast becoming in 2012 as it is possible to be.  This is a perfect ending: where my earlier joy and despair are explained, reconciled, transcended – with even a passing, yet explicit, contextual reference on page 57 to the human curse of end-of-one’s-days dementia in the story mentioned above (‘Flowers of the Sea’) that had yet another 7 years to be written after ‘The Mermaid’ was first published in 2004. I shall not give away the ending of ‘The Mermaid’  – but it is something you will never forget in the context of everything that happens before it.  Not exactly “passive aggression” but something, although similar, more cataclysmic within the human pattern of weakness and strength.  There are no words for it yet except perhaps in ‘Sunken Tongue’.  I guess, you need your own “passive aggression” to appreciate this novella fully, but that’s not all that you need : you need a willingness and an ability to empathise.  To not be you.  First and last, “Certain sacrifices have to be made...” (24 Jan 12 – another 90 minutes later)

———————–

Far-Off Things

“They become nothing more than an anonymous ‘you’.”

A pagan paean  – as a heart-felt, old-fashioned investigation (amid modern times) into the nature of love and into a Wordsworthian Pantheism (here sown with demons and bugbears as well as the unpagan, quite human-needed magic of Christmas Day between the “folds” of Autumn and Winter) –  to another self-denigrated obsession, another explicit story-book love, not now a Mermaid, but a Milkmaid with (for me) Rapunzel’s hair raining like teardrops to feed both hope and, with eventual inevitability, despair. Yet the hope remains by being crystallised here for me on real paper so as to hold the fleeting emotion of ‘fabulous’ fiction for as forever a forever as possible.  Another oxymoron of permanence and transience. Another of those “gooligars” (no point in googling). (25 Jan 12)

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Cousin X

Pages 77 – 101: There was the discreet feeling of her feet leaving the earth. She even forgot this was strange. She was simply rapt.”

Discrete or discreet? Probably both in resonance – as, here, is the optimum blend of autistic gaucheness and  single-minded wondrousness.  Well, those who know me, will guess this story is written just for me. It’s just up my street – where, I imagine, the lorries and buses float in the sky like kites.  Proustian, yes a little.  Rather more it is another optimum blend: of Elizabeth Bowen and Sarban (especially their stories about children if not for children).  The prose immaculate reveals another form of unrequited love to match those earlier: a love as yet unfelt, the deepest unrequital of all (immortal, invisible, God only wise)? — here via the free gift or bought on approval from an old comic of x-ray specs between the Cousin X (why no name?) and his cousin Sasha, she warned by her parents not to spend time with him during his vist to her house. But she is Calmahained towards other-wordliness, self from self. As I am. You see, possibly misjudged Cousin X is unnervingly obsessed with taking apart contraptions like clocks etc. [A bit like doing real-time reviews…?] – exploring rock-pools for see-through sea-creatures and “kisses like jellyfish.” A story so far for the reader to (un?)”solidify” into potential “shapes“.  (25 Jan 12 – five hours later)

{Later} Pages 101 – 122: “And in the next instance there flashed out from this calm remembrance a vicious fear, like a hound left to guard a forgotten chamber, crazed and half starved, no longer able to distinguish between those who put it there and those who it is meant to guard against.”

Remembrance of things past: having gained a past like Proust – I would not have thought to write about this story’s first half like I did above if I had already read its second half before starting to write about the whole story.  Two hours ago, I had not reached the Earth’s Core. Nor had I reached this story’s deja-vu or hindsight of adulthood (and this is truly a drama that MUST one day be filmed by Stephen Poliakoff).  It is one incredible reading experience.  You need Cousin X’s concept of ‘air’ as well as the gaps between the words just to gain breath. I hate getting into superlatives and ever try to resist them. But sometimes they take you over just as subsumings take you under? As both do here. It’s just that all animals and other creatures, not only mermaids, need penetrating somehow, even if you have to enter by some strange byways. As I have done here, I hope, between the story’s claws and into its underbelly of meaning.  It’s possibly Aickman’s ‘The Same Dog’ rather than Sarban’s ‘Calmahain’.  Or, more likely, both.  And “darkle” is just the root of ‘darkling’. And k just a mutant x. (25 Jan 12 – another 2 hours later)

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A Lake

Pages 123 – 146: “There passed a few moments of expectant ambiguity, bobbing moistly like an Adam’s apple.”

At first or mostly or ostensibly, a workmanlike narration about Stephen in Japan: his visit to an uncanny Lake that he discovers is associated with suicides in the past: but set within gradually more and more stunningly conceived flashes of observation about fate and choice and identity and language and landscape and weather and morbidity and…, observations that often take the reader by pleasant or unpleasant (jarring) surprise and makes him or her stagger back on the balls of his or her feet for a nonce.  [Inter alia, a black rectangle wall emerges to bar Stephen’s eventual path of aggressified passivity: that erstwhile Necronomicon-like book again? And the lake, we learn, early on, has given up many dead fishes or they have given themselves up like lemmings – brilliantly described – with their size difficult to assess as “nowhere a whole specimen to be found” (intriguing in view of the first story?).] And we reach the end of the first half of the story with a tinge of a haunting, a woman, one of the earlier suicides, returned, I feel, to requite … exactly what? I shouldn’t have stopped reading to write this. But too late. (25 Jan 12 – another three hours later)

{Later} Pages 146 – 168: “Although he could not see more than two or three feet in any direction, he became increasingly aware of a poignant depth of water beneath him, needling his innards.”

The workmanlikeness is a form of well-written ‘pulp horror’ fiction: reminding me, inter alios, of A. Merritt. As in the first half, there are shafts of perception that stun one’s path through this darkly cosmic foray into a vast universe of self and selflessness reflected within the lake and its darkling Japanese myths and demons and inter-coiling snakes.  And the word ‘poignant’ when related to a depth of water actually does take on a real, perhaps unintended, meaning – in the half-resonant light (or darkness) of the earlier Mermaid story – when Stephen discovers the layered conjoined remains upon remains of… well, that would be a Spoiler.  “Not only space, but time too will disintegrate in The Ray.” (25 Jan 12 – another 90 minutes later)

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Time too will disintegrate? Seems to be a fascinating slant on the next story that I’ve just read this early morning…

The Two-Timer

“As a result, here I am today. I have remained discreet, apart from now, of course, divulging my adventures to you, here.”

An “anonymous ‘you'” who is somehow complicit? This is a telling, gradually maturity-accreting monologue to ‘you’ by Terry Buzzacott about a boyhood of “flobbing techniques” and a special power that he wields of freezing time (resonant with Cousin X’s x-ray specs and dissecting contraptions such as clocks (and, possibly, the book’s earlier ‘experiments’ with a mermaid)) while everyone else in his life is oblivious of his ‘fiddlings’ with them during the time that time is thus temporarily frozen.  I spoke of a relative ‘foreverness’ earlier in this review and that now takes on new meaning here: “drunk on the perfume of forever” with an arguable factoring-in of Bradbury’s butterfly effect… This boyhood tale at least partially resonates with the author’s novel (Remember You’re a One-Ball) and with my own recent interpretation of ‘two-timing’ in Jeremy Reed’s novel “Here Comes the Nice”.  A fascinating slant on early love, puberty, relationships with peers and teachers as filtered through an autistic aloneness’s yearning for ‘silence’ against the pisspot that life seems.  The plot’s final pay-off makes this  a really compelling story of beginning, middle and end, with the emphasis on the art of traditional story-telling but mixed with experimental conceits. Another landmark read for me.  “Meanwhile“, I just found myself wondering if a flob still oozes down the wall even when time is frozen?  But that’s just me. (26 Jan 12)

I just had a rainy constitutional by the sea and, while doing so, it occurred to me that real texts in traditional books are time frozen and ebooks are transient text subject to both benign and malicious ‘fiddlings’ over time.  Or other variations upon that theme.  (26 Jan 12 – 90 minutes later)

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It now turns out that those thoughts of art’s transience and permanence, text and etext, during my constitutional, have some significant bearing on the next story (novella?)…

The Tattooist

Pages 193 – 218: “So why do you want death impregnated in your skin, might I ask? You don’t think it’s a bit morbid?”

The Laconics of a professional Tattooist as he tells so tellingly another anonymous ‘you’ (in non-laconic, stun-jarring images and stylish syntax and word-choice) about the Boy who visits his Tattoo Studio for a customised comic-book image of a girl called Death (semi-irrelevantly reminding me of a Manga image and I sense the Japanese are richly laconic (a contradiction in terms?), laid-back, too)…   This story’s first half, too, is full of well-characterised portraits of pub-goers in modern Britain (jealous of each other’s tattoos), contrasting with the almost religious, almost parthenogenetic immaculacy of two men creating a woman between them over the “needling” poignant depths (cf: The Lake) of their interaction to the sound of “dirty guitars“. The religion of stigmata, too. And Pre-Raphaelite art. And life’s accessorization. And the Intentional Fallacy (“To be astonished at one’s own work is involunatarily to disclaim it.“). And the pain that makes non-pain worthwhile. As well as all the astonishing richnesses of theme and composition, this (so far) is a genuinely compelling story that any reader would not be able to put down, susceptibility to such rarefications or not.  A “Women in Love” (Gerald Crich and Rupert Birkin) type of struggle, a struggle that is also a parthenogenesis, creating the struggle as a thing-in-itself rather than the brutality of two men simply fighting: that of reader and author, too.  The dull-beating of the ever-new and ground-breaking, skin-breaking SF-fantastical from the portal of crowding creations upon screen and in book (or both). All tantalisingly touched upon: touching (at first tentatively) upon the ‘skin’ of reading this story.  Then puncturing it… “Actually he was as punctual as the haunting of a ghost.” (26 Jan 12 – another 3 hours later)

{Later} Pages 219 – 241: “There are so many kinds of relationships we don’t really have names for them at all. In fact, each is unique, and the most insignificant and influential relationships in a person’s life are not always those with people they see regularly and often.”

I am terribly nervous about doing justice to these pages that form tantamount to the powerful coda of this ‘novella’ (forming about half of the whole work).  It’s akin to (Cousin X’s) knife reaching beyond (The Two-Timer’s) “nervous test” – and here that takes on enormous importance where Struggle struggles out in full sharp relief.  Suffice it for me just to recall the Nursery Rhyme that this coda quotes in full: meaningful as hell for me personally. And the daydream of the Primary School scene (NF “British bulldogs” pent within it).  And so many other startling images and expressions here that will last me for many a “Holy Grail” of memories. “When the past is gone, it becomes unreachable“. But this coda, this further Proustian hindsight, has a creative tension and its own ‘struggle’ with what the narrator feels, without him even realising it. I cannot hope to cover everything I wish to say about this coda (this Nemonymous Apocrypha?)… It has become, not another landmark read, but a skin one.  Despite its inferred “morbid” watermark running from page to page like the name of the resort through a stick of holiday rock (by the way, never read this book on an ebook!), the plot’s “oral fossil” — its version of the mermaid’s tail-pouch — readily disperses the “covert accusations” and “grey spirit of oppression” that seems so prevalent in today’s sadly forever world.  And for that I thank it. (26 Jan 12 – another 2 hours later)

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Ageless

When I look at your arm just below your sleeve, I realise there is no more nostalgia.”

A short prose vision of a couple on a city roof playing chess. Frozen  by Terry Buzzacott’s time magic?  A riposte to the creative tension regarding Proustian ‘petit madeleine’ nostalgia I read into ‘The Tattooist’?  Or a variation on the Wordsworthian Pantheism as background to the two essentially (for me) parallel protagonists in ‘Far-Off Things’, but now here not classic grazing-land Nature or even Tintern Abbey Nature as such but a (Japanese?) city and its buildings as an organic stasis within Nature just as much as our sun is that, too?  Or perhaps just another “gooligar”? Perhaps the book’s last story (yet to be read) will give me the answer? [Earlier in this review: “Yet the hope remains by being crystallised here for me on real paper so as to hold the fleeting emotion of ‘fabulous’ fiction for as forever a forever as possible.  Another oxymoron of permanence and transience.”] (26 Jan 12 – another 3 hours later)

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Autumn Colours

“…the jellyfish glistening of street lights on the wet tarmac,…”

I always relish dealing with Prince Autumn. This is Andy, student, finishing a sort of gap year, then later, more gaps later, adulthood’s hindsight (so common in this book) – the earlier time: Socratic dialogue in modern voice about studentish things with a girl called Adrienne whom he only half knows; later time: this author’s work Suicide Watch in a ‘new’ monologue to the anonymous ‘you’ in counterpoint (the reader doesn’t or at least shouldn’t know which comes first: this present monologue or the earlier one in an ostensibly later book): mirrors aligned face-to-face like those cosmic mirrors in ‘A Lake’. Terry Buzzacott’s consequential “Time betrayed him, trapping him in this ageing body” (his body being the only thing in which Andy can be): the dreaded “kick of death” like that kick as the gooligar springs from the box with empty face… and a real story-book time when people wrote letters on real paper and translations of foreign works were kept not like as zip file but as valued manuscript in a box, ready itself to spring out.  And over time, through only half-knowingness between Cousin X and Sasha, Terry and Nicola, Stephen and Mariko, ‘you’ and Gwendoline, ‘you’ and Leah, Andy and Adrienne, they reach out to make each other better, or simply to make each other come.  Or make each other go.  The choice is yours.  This book paradoxically eases the choice by making it more difficult.  Morbidity: Actuarial tables regarding statistical proneness to illness. Mortality: Actuarial tables regarding statistical proneness to death.  But when the tables are turned into tales, we smile knowingly that the battle is to know which “someone whose part in [her] life had seemed almost incidental” is now waiting to spring out of the book-shaped box or box-shaped book to become more than just incidental to us (even to themselves). Kill or cure. To be you or not to be you. To requite or to reject.  I know what this book’s answer is but it will never be clear-cut enough for me to put into words or translate from any ‘sunken tongue’ that may have the exact words.  But somehow, against all the odds, this book has made me feel the potential power of achievable fulfilment.  And no need of Kraken Powder! “A vague daydream is always more exquisite than something clearly defined.”  (26 Jan 12 – another 90 minutes later)

END

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The WEIRD: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories

Weird: A Compendium of Dark and Strange Stories

The WEIRD: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories

Edited by Ann & Jeff VanderMeer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Other Side (an excerpt) – Alfred Kubin

Now the area had transformed into a monstrous zoo.”

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

The Screaming Skull – F. Marion Crawford

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

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

The Willows – Algernon Blackwood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sredni Vashtar – Saki

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

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

Casting the Runes – M. R. James

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

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

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

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

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The Lion’s Den – Cern Zoo

http://www.jeffvandermeer.com/2011/08/30/table-of-contents-the-weird-edited-by-ann-and-jeff-vandermeer/

I am delighted that Steve Duffy’s THE LION’S DEN story from Nemonymous Nine: CERN ZOO (2009) is being published in the above book entitled THE WEIRD. Just looking at the contents list – this is a major event for any story in the whole history of Weird Literature! (Congratulations, Steve!)

Also delighted that a very old friend of mine, Mark Samuels, has a story in there, too: THE WHITE HANDS. Very well deserved.

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The Chômu ‘Man Who Collected Machen’

image

THE MAN WHO COLLECTED MACHEN AND OTHER WEIRD TALES

by Mark Samuels

Chômu Press 2011

BEWARE POSSIBLE SPOILERS. STORIES NOT READ OR REVIEWED IN THIS BOOK’S RUNNNG ORDER OF THEM. ENFORCED RANDOMNESS OFTEN ILLUMINATES ONE IF USED IN SMALL DOSES.

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Losenef Express

“…and once-elegant balconies now rot on lichen-crusted facades.”

An atmospheric story on a train about a grizzled American abroad in Eastern Europe as a self-referential writerly exercise in imbibing Lovecraftian nips plus a gratuitous murder a la Camus.  Or as near gratuitous as possible, were it not for the input of self. (1 June 10)

Xapalpa

“Barron consumed his meal inside, but then took hot coffee on a sheltered balcony overlooking the main square.”

After an American in Eastern Europe, we now have another American and he is in Mexico, including similar curt glances in a public place – leading to a tale within a tale, of MR-Jamesian-like warning.  A traditional macabre tale for those who enjoy such tales, effectively steeped in Mexican landscapes and a Mexican mythos with underlying Catholic sensibilities. (2 Jun 10).

Glickman the Bibliophile

“He was not a commercially successful author and had no agent, merely indulging in post-retirement fantasies of authorial fame.”

A cataclysmic yet deadpan relating of I-lessness amid a gratuitous destruction of books and of all words real and electronic, to the extent of human physicality being wedded to that very process. Gratuitous except for the reasons given by the words I have just read about the process. A fable that will continue to give me food for thought. (2 June 10 – six hours later)

The Man Who Collected Machen

“After I had turned twenty-one, in 1969…”

This story is a must for all Arthur Machen lovers. Full of a pungent ambiance of book-collecting, smoking (Condor is (or was) a pipe tobacco), interconnecting conspiracies of, say, magus and common landlady, and a dark-effulgent London city that reminded me of ‘A Fragment of Life’.  Places and tomes that only exist in ‘magic fiction’ as opposed to ‘magic realism’….  And a blessed imprisonment that ordinary prisoners would die for. (3 Jun 10).

A Slave of Melancholy

“…the wizened ancient merely sighed, drew more deeply on his pipe…”

A Dunsanyan fantasy of a decayed city and a demanding goddess – a dream that may stay with you should you be in tune with such timeless arabesques of literature, as I am. There is an element of this book’s first story, too, a grizzled traveller and a self on self threat , here assisted by an original sense of the zombie… Meanwhile, I say it is futile to call life futile, for it is. (3 June 10 – another 2 hours later)

Thyxxolqu

“He drew out a packet of cigarettes…”

My favourite tale so far, this tells of a “word sickness” and other things that disfigure the mouth, in parallel with some Tower of Babel / Wittgenstein concept of language. It is genuinely frightening – a sense of horror at something that happens to all of us, i.e. being taken over by a natural process as part of growing-up, one we all know without really thinking about it.  [Also seen in the light of ‘Glickman the Bibliophile’, one needs to take time out & go sit in a smoky bar and just think thoughts. But do we think in English? I hope that bloke in the corner looking at me is not about to speak to me…!] (3 June 10 – another 90 minutes later)

A Question of Obeying Orders

“…he extracted his packet of cigarettes from inside his jacket, lit one with the candle on the table, drew on it, paused, and then blew out deep blue smoke into the air. The wine had made his thoughts hazy and tobacco aided his concentration. / He flicked ash from the tip…”

Another loner, this time a soldier deserting the Kaiser’s army  … faced, via a tableau vivant, with Horror of a traditional nature, but which tradition?  Meanwhile, another self on self confusion, effectively visualised dramatically. A monster summoned to shoot in a different war of souls. (3 June 10 – another hour later)

The Age of Decayed Futurity

I first real-time reviewed this story last Christmas.

“Often, when I am smoking and absolutely alone, I turn up my skirt and press the burning tip of my cigarette onto the cold white flesh of my thighs.”

This is a Samuels classic. One that ends with talk of pages covered in emptiness (or words in Thyxxolqu?). A writerly Self-Referentiality, zombification, conspiracy, retrocausality of self, and the phenomenon of Celebrity (cf Glickman), this story (as well as adding other themes like modern horror writers’ general trademark topic of static on untuned wireless or television etc), fits any new book like a hand in glove.  But whose hand? (3 Jun 10 – another 30 minutes later)

The Black Mould

“It was in the attempt to destroy itself that the mould consumed everything else…”

Although the previous story is a Samuels classic, this one is possibly a general classic – one of creeping cosmic horror. I can easily imagine myself as a young man in the Sixties loving this story, reading it aloud several times to myself and then to others (as I did then), savouring each word of this rich prose and visionary power.  Yes, genuinely, this is great old-fashioned stuff. And I sense the authorial soul of this book relishes old-fashioned horror and traditional weird literature and is an exponent of it, with tinges and twinges of modern originality to pepper the effects.  ‘The Black Mould’, old -fashioned, yet instinctively a tale for our times. (3 June 10 – another 45 minutes later)

Nor Unto Death Utterly (by Edmund Bertrand)

I first came across this author’s by-line in the Samuels collection ‘Glyphotech’ (which was the subject of my first ever real-time review in 2008 HERE).

“…a form in which modernity played no part; other than to facilitate the return of the glory of the past.”

This story is a wonderful Poesque tale in highly textured antique prose, whereby “metempsychosis” or transformation bears a kinship with the ‘Intentional Fallacy’ and Nemonymity – and whereby felt past preoccupations of horror (felt by this reader on behalf of the story’s imputed head-lease author) regarding different forms of transformation, unnatural and possibly evil.  Relating to gender or to a Goddess sensibility that even Christian conversions sometimes reveal for me regarding ‘Our Lady’, i.e. for me as a non-believing bystander. Disregarding that possible irrelevant subtext, this tale is thought-provoking in many other respects and lends more traditional Horror Genre delights to those of us who often thirst after them. (3 Jun 10 – another 90 minutes later)

A Contaminated Text

“For them the track of time is from end to beginning…”

This story is an acquired taste. It is nothing without the rest of the book  (so far). One sheds light on the other. Hollow world? Hawler world, I say.  Secret wisdoms.  And the whole book (so far) is contained or contaminated by two consecutive sentences in this story:

They dreamt of a decayed city of inverted steeples shrouded in fog, of black stars in a blood-red sky, of being dead-but-alive, and of searching after a cryptic symbol of no human origin, a symbol which alone brought oblivion. They were tormented by a voice seeming to call from a great distance, a voice muttering unintelligible words, a voice that bubbled and spat like hot tar.”

It should have used a filter tip.

A major book (so far). Samuels is Poe plus Borges and a lot more.  His work is better and worse than it seems.  But that is its skill.

In a few months, I will come back here and comment in a new real-time on my own review. (3 June 10 – another 4 hours later)

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The Tower

“Its first appearance occurred moments after I had woken for the day, had lit a cigarette and sat absent-mindedly in my easy chair looking out the window, with a completely clear frame of reference.”

I feel I was destined to leave reading this story until now. For the past few weeks – quite by chance – and due to be continued in forthcoming weeks – I have been reading and real-time reviewing on-line — the epic novel series by Stephen King with the overall title of ‘The Dark Tower’. Of overall Proustian length and strength. A gigantic and hugely important work for any interested in Weird Literature I feel. Whether it be by seepage between the doors of the Jungian archetypes, this short story by Samuels has for me crystallised a major event in my reading life. And I still don’t know how it may be further crystallised. The Samuels story seems to be a personal catharsis of life, death, politics, (un)sociableness, eschatology, spirituality, creativity, Ligottian pessimism (and variations thereon), etc…..using the narrative tropes of Lovecraft, Machen and other story writers of this ilk, yet, knowing his fiction as I do, this is entirely crystallised and discretely pure Samuels – a major visionary work that actually makes the Chômu book complete, a sense of satisfaction for me, hanging in the air as it has been, without me knowing it was hanging in the air, like the Tower itself. (31 Mar 11)

PS: The book itself wherefrom I have just read ‘The Tower’ is a very neat, well-produced paperback purchased from Amazon and received today – truly beautiful to handle and view – and with  a cover of the reddest red I think I have ever seen! (31 Mar 11 – another 30 minutes later)

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The Peacock Escritoire – by Mark Valentine

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

THE PEACOCK ESCRITOIRE – by Mark Valentine (Passport Levant 2011).

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

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

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

In common with my normal practice, I shall be giving the real-time impressions of my reading journey, knowing as little as possible in advance about the book. 

Subsequent to eventually completing this real-time review, i.e. both the book and the loose papers within the overall container, I shall pay attention, on your behalf, to the physical format…and the pecock fether.

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The Ka of Astarakhan

“…as if my arithmetic and this apocalypse were pitching against each other in a mad mazurka.”

A memorable story of scrying, one that is poetically textured, where words are more powerful even than their own meanings and forms…casting spells, even mis-spells, upon the Russian soul I absorbed when in Russia a short while ago – and I the reader now cast them back at it and make the plot bend to my whim not its.  This day our crow-daark world meets the Arab Spring along the “Persian sands”…. (19 Feb 11)

The Amber Cigarette

“…those delicate tapers of amber paper made only by Desmay.”

One often wonders why and how a certain day (today: 20 Feb 11) holds a truly special experience and why not another day, with this Egyptian word-aesthetic story during an Alexandrian Spring? This strikes me as a perfect blend of numinousness, immanence, imminence, flowing from objects to souls to things that are neither… combining a style that I have earlier learnt to be essentially Valentinian but here suffused with elements of Clark Ashton Smith and Lawrence Durrell in equal measures … and Tobias Crisp, the works of whom are actually name-checked in the story itself. The text also radiates in part towards this whole book’s title as well as to the presumably intended joy of unwrapping it when it arrives from the East, complete with disinfected peacock feather…or with the breath-infused aromatics that transcend smoke. (20 Feb 11)

A Revelation of Cormorants

“…perhaps the script might be deciphered and the pale pages of the sands yield up their secrets.”

Language continues to be writ everywhere, if one can but translate it.  This story contains, in part at least, a neat reminder of the type of protagonist in “Oh, Whistle…” who, now, I feel, is beautifully etched into his quest for nailing (not literally) various birds for his bird-book, by observation and past quotation. I might mention my own ‘The Mentioning’ but Tim Nickels’ substantial masterpiece of the Cormorant (‘Supermarine’) is a better continuo for this song-cycle of divining crows (cf: the first story in this book) as well as of cormorants. The predicament of Valentine’s protagonist reaches a brilliant cliffhanger…and to tell you more of this exquisite story would foul its effect. (20 Feb 11 – four hours later)

A Certain Power

” ‘…Which power do you think he serves?’ / ‘Oh, who knows, dear. So many armies here, we ought to feel quite safe.’ “

This is a long, organic-from-piecemeal, enchantment of a ‘fiction’ (combining real history that you can discover by reading it with direct and subtle spiritualities and conspiracies) – both religious and counter-religious-by-other-religions as if (for me) Satanism versus Christianity is the same as other forces versus other ‘certain powers’ or forces within various religions – a truly haunting expression of what I have always called ‘the synchronised shards of random truth and fiction’ (here accomplished literally by use of the words ‘shards’ and ‘splinters’ as well as utilising visionary, even sinister, shadow(y)(less), powers – where, appropriately, within the convulsive times we live through this very day (21 Feb 11) when reading this story, such forces and powers are, paradoxically, even now, being both iconoclastic and synthesising of icons toward the tipping-point or metaphorical ‘iconostasis’. [In this piece, there are also crows, peacocks and an amber taper — and holy relics reconstituted ‘for real’ from symbols of those relics rather than from the relics themselves….] [As a further aside, when I recently real-time reviewed the Horror anthology ‘NEVER AGAIN’ edited by Allyson Bird and Joel Lane, I extrapolated upon my then concurrent visit to Russia and this is, I hope a relevant excerpt from what I wrote there: “…seeing the ‘blind faith’ within Russian Orthodox Churches with the altar ‘walled’ away by the iconostasis, seeing the double headed picture of a Russian and American soldier at Berlin’s Checkpoint Charlie, hearing ad hoc crowds praying at night in a Warsaw street, Moscow’s Red Square, the history in the museums and galleries &c &c  More to remember, perhaps, later.”] (21 Feb 11)

Sime in Samarkand

“The coal-hauler and the lord, eh? […] I think he wrote more than he knew.”

Oh, bliss! This, for me, is the perfect Short Weird Fiction – carved from a gestalt represented by Machen, Dunsany, Hodgson, Poe, Flecker, Samuels etc – and a fiction by Vance I’ve forgotten the title of that plays with those ‘shadows’ from the previous story in this book and extends them to things that are witnessed in the street by the narrator as controlling people (otherwise invisibly) like auras or demons…?  Anyone know that fiction by Vance?  This Valentine story – this VA author with quiet, imputedly gentlemanly, cosmic OOF! – is a true gem: conveying a feeling of truth when following an artist inspired by a poet’s work and then whose resultant artwork is thankfuly lost (or is it?) for fear of its certain power. But that description does no justice to this story. It has to be read. It has to be reprinted and anthologised forever – or, on second thoughts, like Sime’s artwork, it’s perhaps safer that it resides solely in this beautiful stiff-leaved, hard-boarded, smoothbark-jacketed  treasure of a book for we few, we select few readers to read only.  Seriously. [As an aside, there is also a most beautiful ‘dying fall’ that enhances the end of this story, one that involves the onset of the First World War, another of those concatenations of ‘certain powers’ in conflict, so resonant with today.] (21 Feb 11 – three hours later)

Morpheus House

“…some intuitive leap of recognition, some creative making of connections between images that might otherwise seem disparate.”

This is a charming, provocative but subtly humorous, tale of a cataloguing-house of dreams using record cards, i.e. dreams from Edwardian times to the present – of the house’s keepers and investigators, their foibles, whims and their own dreams and playful randomising of the cards. It also reminded me of the bird-cataloguing in this book’s third story – which is perhaps relevant in the light of the wonderful ending scene of ‘Morpheus House’…. [And it personally reminds me, too, if not directly or qualitatively, of my own treatment of ‘dreams’ and ‘dream sickness’ and the real/unreal coordinates of ‘dream places’ in my forthcoming novel ‘Nemonymous Night’ due to be published in June.]

“He always used the word “Sign” with an audible capital letter.” (21 Feb 11 – another 2 hours later)

The Antioch Imperial

A saltmarshy, atmospheric tale of a lonely, hard-kept church, its visitors, its keepers, its numismatic numinousness, its inducement of “contented, contemplative fog of thought.”  (SPOILER: an ingenious anecdote not of the Wandering Jew but of the Wandering Judas.) (21 Feb 11 – another 3 hours later)

The Tontine of Thirteen

A severe sect, then, not given to images.”

A frisson of absurdity as well as of wry common sense. Another ‘Oh, Whistle…’ type protagonist-cataloguer senses, in the seemingly empty landscape, a rippling tocsin of secular iconoclasm (compare and contrast: ‘A Certain Power‘) – depicting the backstory of a “cenacle” of depleting sharers in a word’s-meaning-is-its-use as well as in death’s.   An ironically invested shilling of “shockers”. You should not be put off by false leads or by inferences I do not intend, as this story of an eventual burial scene is one of the most haunting it has been my pleasure to be haunted by.  One that supplies to each of us our own singular plot that certainly will content we tontine of readers – one by one.  (22 Feb 11)

The Second Master

“At first, the title of Master was somewhat light-hearted and purely informal; and of course it was held for many years by Lord Lytton; for who other than the author of ‘The Haunter & The Haunted’ could have been summoned to receive such an honour?” 

 The author of ‘The House and the Brain’, I ask?

A Royal position – a civilised and thoughtful and genuinely enjoyable account of which this is – as Master of Mysteries (e.g. telling ghost stories at Christmas to the Monarch from Victoria onward), in parallel – or in conjunction as it was on one occasion – with the position of Poet Laureate: and the list of those fulfilling this position (which list weirdists among this book’s readers will particularly relish seeing) ended with a death in 1984, and so I sincerely feel that the author of this very book (The Peacock Escritoire) would have been [and perhaps is (in a fantasy falling short of or exceeding ‘The Second Master’)] a worthy aspirant to – or, even, actual current exponent of – the position in question. (22 Feb 11 – three hours later)

The Autumn Keeper

“Dark birds wheeled overhead, cawing.”

Not so much a Pilgrim’s Progress of Prague encounters but a Lantern-Dreamer’s Duress bracketed by a catalogue of scrying within the observation of someone high up the chain of narration (someone like the Second Master but one in adjunct to more fabulous monarchs than those who have mere prince consorts and hide parks) – leading to a sewn-book not as I said earlier in this review of [‘stiff-leaved’ within ‘smoothbark’] duressless durability like this boxed ‘book’ in which this autumn book is told of – but one that I imagine might fly off like air-shuffled dream cards or parchmenty flakes or singed amber cigarette-papers or iconostasis shards or cockcrows… (22 Feb 11 – another 3 hours later)

The Days on Castel Rosso

“But he, who was no fool and had kept the books for a firewood merchant…”

For me, a poignant tale of a widower’s intuition – during a necessary calendar-adjustment at “the very cusp of west and east” – of the earlier triskaideka-tontine. With leaved book references still resonating … and caskets and wood-carving – as if this book (and its accoutrements of which more later) is itself attempting to become a holy relic in literary form. Written in a language throughout so utterly exquisite it genuinely leaves me breathless.

“…he might write a book that would be a lantern to its forgotten shores.” (22 Feb 11 – another 3 hours later)

The Late Post

“…lighthouses, parcel tickets, imperial exhibitions, matchbox labels, the byways of literature, yew trees or the feeding of peacocks, all of which had interested him,”

A brilliantly witty, Coren-like, take on the eclectic collector, the gentlemanly eagerness with which one awaits the postman’s delivery for the latest item, the latest exploitation of the art of creative catalogue-searching … books and valuables amid the motley artefacts of abstruse and even popularist potentialities of object…  Variations on a theme of W.F. Harvey by a classical composer with words.  I loved every anti-social minute of it.  [There is an absurdist angle, too, an avant garde gulp that transcends the gentlemanly. And I wondered whether, initially, one item that had (not) arrived in the post was an e-book but then I scolded myself for such iconoclasm and restored my constitution by gazing at this book and its container and other accoutrements, re-assuring me that all was still well with the world, save for the odd annoying telephone call and my pondering the remarkable lack of emails in my in-box or spaces between the notes that otherwise make the music what it is.] (23 Feb 11)

Echoes of Saumur

Remarkably, for me, that last ‘dying fall’ in my review of the previous story is echoed here, here more serious than witty, more Proustian than Alan-Corenish, a Debussyan ‘submerged cathedral’ as if by Duruflé adumbrated in actual words that take on the sense of the music by a great organ composer, Jehan Alain, someone as a person I previously knew nothing about  but whose music is indeed very familiar to me simply as music.  So unbelievably beautiful both in itself as well as in the conjuration of the music in question, this section of ‘The Peacock Escritoire’ soars beyond where the lark ascends or out-curlews Warlock’s curlew of heavenly pain, and descends with “the crows returning to caw” in dark obeisance to the self that is changed or enhanced or Proustianised or Valen-tined by reading it.

“…the organist was at practice, so naturally kept returning to fragments of the work: it was as if I was getting it in huge torn shards.” (23 Feb 11 – two hours later)

The Return to Trebizond

“Below, he saw silver cupolas and arrowhead towers, high round-arched windows with glinting glass, slim finials like lances, red roofs and fragile balconies,”

This is a substantial feat of reading, the one item I’ve reached in this ‘book’ that I feel the need (rather than simply desire) to re-read, because not only of my relative ignorance of some of the history that appears to underlie it but also of my urge to ‘catalogue’ all the resonances with previous themes and tropes that I’ve found so far in this book’s rich texture of fiction – and there are many such resonances.  However, a real-time review has, for me, always been my first impressions on reading a book. And, for once, I shall draw back with great will-power from this story’s complex panoply of religions and history and their interconnections, intra-conspiracies and overt conflicts, and its artful momentary voluntary (or involuntary?) withdrawals of authorial omniscience from its ‘shardish’ audit-trail of narration or from behind the story’s iconostases – and mention something I said about a story above: “…both religious and counter-religious-by-other-religions as if (for me) Satanism versus Christianity is the same as other forces versus other ‘certain powers’ or forces within various religions.”  Here, with the “Yet all had been blotted out by the image-hating Saracen, ransacked where it could be moved, covered with whitewash where it could not.” compared, if only in my own mind, with Henry VIII’s actions within, for and against Christianity itself. And, yes, the shimmery shadows of holier-relics-than-thou floating in the incensed air…  [And the eclectic collection of the gentleman now grown old on page 222. But – oh! – now I’ve started cataloguing this story beyond my intention, whistle as I might with the harveyesque hand-fingerings on the sinister flute-holes, a whistling that is submerged by a cathedral’s silence.] (23 Feb 11 – another 3 hours later)

The Old Light

…a sloping, tumbledown congregation of books,”

A coda – a vignette about the perfect ambiance for a ghost story that treats provokingly of what I shall now call (as a result of this book) the ‘iconostasis’ between fiction and reality – a piece that (how could it be otherwise?) is in itself the perfect ‘dying fall’ of this discrete book within ‘smoothbark’ and ‘hard-boards’ on ‘stiff leaves’.  A dying fall, that is more the lark ascending than the lurk descending, in perpetuo moto.

And that brings me to the accoutrements of the discrete book as well as the book itself (all designed, I think, from ‘mentionings’, by one called Santiago Caruso).  This is how I expressed my feelings a few days ago on an internet discussion forum when I first received in the UK these intricate devices of a publication from Romania:

“In the spirit of real-time reviewing, I shall give my first impressions, without knowing anything other than those first impressions.
I make no other comment (of liking or disliking) – so far, without reading anything inside – other than describing that it is designed like a plush decorated sizeable purple escritoire which folds open to reveal a luxury book of stories (?) in an enlarged version of the previous Passport Levant formats on one side of the escritoire and, on the other side, a bundle of loose leaves (like luxury letter paper?) which I have not yet unribboned but I can see they contain text and pictures. There is a seemingly real peacock feather decking this bundle.”

I did have a feeling then, I recall, that the whole design, however interesting or partially pleasing, ‘went over the top’. I am still making my mind up on that score but, meanwhile, I shall shortly be unribboning that aforementioned bundle…. (23 Feb 11 – another half-hour later).

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I have been out for a walk along the grey, choppy strand near where I live, the heavy rain having just abated. I have now returned to my desk and completed the unribboning ceremony. And I am bemused how I earlier missed that this bundle of numerous quite stiff loose-leaves (all creamy-coloured, and with deliciously multi dint-textured surfaces) is top-leaved with one headed in large red manu-script: now decipherable as ‘Shards’ – with ‘Journal Notes’ in smaller, clearer print beneath it.  There is much text here throughout these leaves – for me yet to read – and ending with, on first glance, several astonishing artwork leaves (of which, no doubt, more later).

The Danubian Order – “coaling-stations and citadels”the first essay, vignette, prose poem, journal note? – and reminds me of my first holiday abroad some years ago when we went on a Danube cruise from Linz to Vienna and back again. This cruise for the bird-cataloguer in the third story of the book? I keep my powder dry, about these ‘Journal Notes’.  I am utterly intrigued…. (23 Feb 11 – another 2 hours later)

Notes on Jünger – but it is in fact dark red ink” – two diary notes playing with Stendhal’s Le Rouge et Le Noir.

I shall list the titles and one short single impression among all the impressions I receive from each Journal Note but they need to be read in the context of the whole ‘publication’ I’ve described above. Nothing I can say here will give you the right impression of this intriguing reading-experience, I guess.  Other than the fact that they exist. (23 Feb 11 – another 30 Minutes later) —>

The Ceremony of Arnsburg – Regarding, inter alia, Hesse’s Glass Bead Game and one remarkable child-like conceit regarding it. On a Black Sea Boat – For me, a coda upon the Old Light coda.  A Dark Indulgence – And now I stumble on a longer Journal Note, almost perhaps a bonus story in itself that seems to be interleaved with – yet separated from – the flow of tontine plots … considerations regarding types of paper thickness, and inks (one like blood), another “Avant garde” gulp – and as in The Late Post: a hand toward Heaven*. Shadow Work – “A gentleman embroiderer…” (23 Feb 11 – another hour later)

*or Hell? House of Aeolus – As with the crows (?), scrying by wind. The Postmaster of Everest – a mountaineer’s cards in the late post. [These notes represent fulsome dream cards, really.  I shall throw them up in the air, perhaps, later, rather than re-ribbon?] The Golden Hollow – a half-lengthy disquisition on a real place called Nobottle. Delightful. I just feel the gratuitous urge to add two letters to its name: Noahbottle.  You will feel a different urge, no doubt, when you read it. The Reader of the Sands – this is a substantial story with all the marked delight of the fiction in this book, here cross-fertilising, inter alia, the writ sands of the book’s Cormorant story with the scrying-sand skills of the guide who once took me walking  – without drowning – across the shifting waters of Morecambe Bay. (23 Feb 11 – another hour later)

Trespassers – more glorious prose to die for, including this sentence that seems to encapsulate the whole publication, so please allow me to quote it in full: “It is a day for melancholy, for music in the minor key, for books whose words convey more than they say, for the incense of bark and berries.” (23 Feb 11 – another hour later)

Well, not really the whole publication, as that sentence ignores the humour and wit, the conspiratorial gentlemanliness, the historical / religious resonances with the past crossing the shifting waters of the present – and the avant garde gulps! Ming and Incense – I trust the artist adumbrated in this Journal Note, one who has connections with Walberswick (a place I’ve visited several times), does (not) receive the same fate as the artist of ‘The Peacock Escritoire’ – as I sense, when I finish this review later tonight (I hope), the Peacock feather will take centre stage. As pinion or pivot of the artwork yet to be studied. The Tenacity of Feathers.  (23 Feb 11 – another hour later)

Mnemotechnik – a substantial vision – over several double-sided Journal Note cards – of the nemo within the title – or, rather, I can’t believe the ‘intentional’ author of this publication otherwise uttered this avant garde gulp. A 10984 version of 1984 – with on-line nicknames written in the sand and memories or backstories akin to the LOST TV series or ‘The Dark Tower’ books (by Stephen King): books that I’m concurrently real-time reviewing elsewhere. Gobsmacked.  Masonic, catatonic. The Chart in the Portico – “a stone map“. Hugo Schumpeter – I’d like to communicate face to face with anyone who once wrote this book. The Last Thinkers – Heidegger would be a good title or author of that title. The Scarlet Funeral Company – this is a lesson for someone like me who is attending a funeral this coming Friday, a funeral of someone I’ve known since 1968. The House of a Hundred Libraries – A borgesian carrel. Cloven-Footed Angels, Or, The Fifth Kingdom Now Fully Reveal’d – Gaddafi? (23 Feb 11 – another 2 hours later)

W. Compton Leith – another Machen-find from the Undergrowth. A Fondness for Villains – The Man Who Was The Missing Thirteen Thursdays. The Lost Chronicler Leslie Barringer – I am the lost DF Lewis who wrote better than he is remembered writing.

The set of creamy-yellow cards continue, luxury parchments – ‘Santiago Caruso’ (in large red manu-script like the word ‘Shards’ earlier) – ‘Portfolio’ (in smaller, clearer print). Then a set of (for me) umber-to-subtly-dark-bloodstained artworks that are simply stunning and completely in tune with my mood as I finish this important Mark Valentine journey through a finery of words and words’ music.

The portfolio contains artworks entitled ‘The Final Gate’, ‘Around the Dutch Stove’, ‘The Ritual’, ‘The Workers’, ‘The Black Lion’, ‘Broken Icons’ (NOTE THIS TITLE), ‘The Strangers’, ‘The Amber Cigarette’ (double-sized), ‘Dualism’ (double-sized), ‘The Ka of Astarakhan’ (double-sized),  and two unnamed miniatures.  And the frontispiece in the discrete book itself: ‘A Heathen God’.

Up in the air they go. I shall re-shuffle them (a la Dark Tower), hand-edged to tidy them into a new neat pack and re-ribbon them later for restoring to the Peacock Escritoire.

Dan Ghetu has emailed me in the last few hours as a result of my earlier comment above (“I did have a feeling then, I recall, that the whole design, however interesting or partially pleasing, ‘went over the top’.”) and I can quote what he said to me (with his permission), viz: “Precisely. Not the First War World trench “over the top” but love. Love is to go “over the top”. It is about love. We should not be afraid or ashamed to be pathetic. There is still much light in that.

Like Jehan Alain – and Cecil Coles.  Indeed.

And the bird that is just a bird is not a bird at all. It needs a peacock feather or other plumage or tufted tenacity – just for their own sake. Others will judge, when we’ve all fallen from our last “fragile balconies” and only the e-books will remain or books with stiff pages and smoothbark jackets and hard-boarders playing at prayers.

END.  (23 Feb 11 – another two hours later)

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