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Oblivion’s Poppy – by Colin Insole
I’m due to start below another of my gradual real-time reviews, turning leitmotifs into a gestalt.
And it is of the novella entitled ‘Oblivion’s Poppy’ by Colin Insole (Ex Occidente Press 2010).
There is no guarantee how long it will take to complete this review, whether days or years.
CAVEAT: Spoilers are not intended but there may be inadvertent ones. You may wish (i) to take that risk and read my review before or during your own reading of the book, or (ii) to wait until you have finished reading it. In either case, I hope it gives a useful or interesting perspective.
All my real-time reviews are linked from here: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2010/09/07/df-lewis-real-time-reviews/
Strikingly, this is what is said of the book on its Publisher’s site: <<We should be very clear about this: Colin Insole is one of the very few genuine exceptional authors to emerge on the weird scene in the last years, if not in the last decade. To describe his labyrinthine stories, his masterly language, his arresting imagery and symbolism would be not only futile but also rather indelicate. […] Oblivion’s Poppy is a breathtaking work of European decadent and weird literature. Certainly not for those who drink their wine with water.>>
I keep my powder dry. I have not yet started it!
This is what the publisher’s website says of its format (and it is indeed a beautiful book): <<…large landscape format, sewn hardcover with dust-jacket printed on textured cardboard paper, cloth boards, gold folio, silk ribbon, end papers and full-color frontispiece. […] a sewn hardcover book of 108 pages with dust-jacket, silk ribbon, endpapers and a full-colour frontispiece. Edition limited to only 100 hand numbered copies.>>
Surprisingly, beneath the above dustjacket, the book’s hard cover clearly shows in large gold letters a different title embossed on its front (there may be a reason for this that I have not yet fathomed) and this is: <<THE SEER IS NEVER THANKED Stefan George.>>
I am unnumbered. (23 Nov 10)
Pages 1 – 14
A Retreat (or Redoubt?) to where humans migrate with the homing instinct of nature’s creatures, accompanied by the astonishing prose music as well as redolence of the immediately prior direnesses in Europe. The Retreat’s Masonic stone guardians, as well as its real unfettered Host, watch the wet arrival of those for whom there had been earlier scavengings continent wide – one a female whose passage by past photograph is facilitated by the telling of it and all others by their earlier coming of it. One reading is not nearly enough. But one reading will suffice for these my initially risky real-time impressions.
“And deep within a cave, near the Wilderness of the Wild Apples, a lynx twitched its ears and dreamed of the wildwood, in the old times, before humans breathed.” (23 Nov 10 – 2 hours later)
[It has since become clear to me that the ‘title’ under the dustjacket is not a title at all but a quote! One that I shall comment upon if this seems appropriate when reading the rest of the novella. However, I maintain that it looks like a title in large gold upper-case lettering right across the front. Indeed, with nothing on the spine, if any edition of this book ever loses its dustjacket (as books sometimes do) and then turns up in a secondhand bookshop, someone will pick up the book and may assume it’s THE SEER IS NEVER THANKED by Stefan George. He’ll likely put it back on the shelf without looking inside. After all, he was looking for a book by his favourite writer Colin Insole! That’s not a criticism, but an observation. In fact, I think it’s a clever trick.] (23 Nov 10 – another hour later)
It is contended that it’s ‘obvious’ that it is a quote not a second title under the dustjacket. I may agree with that, using the benefit of hindsight by looking further into the book. But first impressions, at least to this reader, indicated it was a title ‘creatively’ conflicting with that on the dustjacket. Should it ever lose its dustjacket, the design shown below would be the only exterior wording on the book. (24 Nov 11)
Pages 14 – 23
“… Beethoven’s Third Symphony and while it played, sombre and proud, he sat deep in thought, his eyes filling with tears.”
I am beginning to agree with the statement I quoted above from the publisher’s website: “To describe his labyrinthine stories, his masterly language, his arresting imagery and symbolism would be not only futile but also rather indelicate”. I do feel somewhat ‘indelicate’ attempting this real-time review, even to describe these pages I’ve just read as an exquisite series of ‘backstories’ to the ‘migration’ and ‘direnesses’ hinted at in my first attempt at engaging with this book above.
The inward, initially unseen ‘title’ or ‘quote’ is perhaps merely a literary ‘exegesis’ as warning to any approaching this book’s mysteries lightly.
I shall continue, however, and, meanwhile, I am obliquely, ‘indelicately’ reminded of what I wrote about this author’s story in the anthology ‘Cinnabar’s Gnosis’: –<<The Weimar Spider – Colin Insole: …exquisitely wallows in the sense of Mittel-European turn-of-the-centry towards mid-twentieth century weaving Baudelaire, Verlaine, Alban Berg, Ezra Pound – with more ‘rumours and possibilities’, relationships crossing time and tarot. And a magic mysterious bookishness akin to that of Mark Valentine fiction. Loved it. (There is a skein of narrative tentacles that will need un-weaving upon later re-reading I guess. Not retro-causal so much as Jungian via accidents-of-mind-and-body). All this and Meyrink himself walking through the words implicitly becoming a Proustian self that he perhaps never knew as himself when alive.“The rhymes and rhythms of forgotten people. You can hear their heart beats through the walls.” (22 Dec 09 – four hours later)>> — (24 Nov 10 – 2 hours later)
There is another, more substantial, quote inside the book before the novella starts, a quote from Ernst Jünger. I am tempted to quote it in full here as I feel it sheds more light upon my tusslings with text above, my indelicate exigency of exegesis, but it would possibly be a spoiler to do so.
Pages 24 – 27
“The rose hips were red or violet – burgundy-dark and noxious.”
The narration does not shy away from the indelicate manure of Retreat living, as connected with the work of another of its one-time denizens – coupled, ironically (?), with an oblique vision of Plato’s cave. (24 Nov 10 – another 2 hours later)
Pages 27 – 37
“Aside from our role as witnesses to this forthcoming ordeal, I am glad I have come here.”
I, too, am glad, although the seer is never thanked, it seems.
The focus of the Retreat’s happenings within the novella is clear from the beginning as 1952, and perhaps the time perspectives in Europe are clearer to you by virtue or guilt of that instinctive knowledge, including the harmonics of the universe, and other matters with which you may not otherwise be in tune such as knightly masonics, alchemy, and the mixture of motives within the Retreat’s Host and occupants, and narrator. Retreat as a constant Redoubt. But there is much more to fathom, I sense. This novella is so rich, I feel sated with possibilities and echoes of heritages within me. Sated, but also elated.
Pages 37 – 47
“There is no need to be afraid. There are no ghosts. The unhappy souls remembered here left this world as if they never existed. Their lives amounted to nothing and when they died, nothing remained. Only their names and deeds are recorded.”
I could not resist quoting those words of the Host to the Retreat’s denizens. It touched me deeply. And the camponology of time now rings louder. (‘Host’ is my word in this context, by the way, not the book’s and its nearness to ‘ghost’ is merely coincidental). (24 Nov 10 – another 90 minutes later)
Pages 48 – 54
“They were imagining their own deaths and walking in landscapes they had never seen.”
Various viewpoints, including a woman’s journal running like a thread in the book so far, and the Host’s listening, for example, to a denizen’s story, add to a permeating feel of Toynbeean history surrounding the crux of European war during the years leading up to ‘now’ in 1952. Almost a knightly or scholastic approach to a ‘spirit’ of that war’s guilt. [Disregarding this European war element for a moment, I find that there is a feel in this work like – or a non-conscious synergy with – some of the fiction work of Matt Cardin. Knightly in Insole’s work, but Monkish in Cardin’s?] (24 Nov 10 – another hour later)
Pages 55 – 66
“My own city, the home of Chopin, is recalled in the contents of milk cans and metal boxes.”
I visited Warsaw in the last few weeks – on the road to Minsk and beyond – and heard from an 84 year old about the Ghetto etc. I am steeped – like it or not – in history’s push, even if I didn’t live at the time. This novella is about that – the ‘alternate world’ of history that is ‘you’. Also the book’s ‘guests’ of the Retreat is a better word than my ‘denizens’. A redoubt as to whether I am a ‘seer’ at all! And if not, I can be thanked for just being a fallible reader! Indeed, this book will need re-reading, as well as redoubting. (24 Nov 10 – another 90 minutes later)
Pages 66 -71
“They knew nothing about the secret purpose of the Retreat and assumed it was a closed monastic order which sold its honey, fruit and vegetables in the local market.”
[‘Monastic’ is so much more the ‘mot juste’ than ‘monkish’!]
Reference to the ‘fiction’ of Lord Haw-Haw – followed by cinematic vision of a girl with a doll (Cf: Schindler’s List?) – this time riddled with malignancy.
I think I am already convinced, by the way, that the publisher was not exaggerating when saying what I quoted him saying above about this author’s work. I also fail to do it justice, I’m afraid, as I’m sure I’m missing things on this my first reading. (24 Nov 10 – another hour later)
Pages 72 – 77
An amazing vision of huge poppies that the Host shows his Guests, beyond the size of those at Flanders Fields. [Appropriate that I had Poppy thoughts myself a week or so ago?] There are wonderful symbols hovering around this book – poppies, bees, lynx, apples…. This book will need to ferment for several years amid the underswell of eclectic nature, I guess? (24 Nov 10 – another 4 hours later)
Writing a real-time review is a special reading-journey on the internet – a journey that takes place within a single reading mind, beset by all the foibles of the moment. The question is: does this affect the journey itself, i.e knowing one is publicly describing that journey as it happens? (24 Nov 10 – bedtime)
Perhaps I should record here that it is clear from the start of this book that the Retreat is situated in Wliflingen, West Germany. (25 Nov 10)
Pages 77 – 89
“Only the master of the refuge must fill the silver bowl with the blooms, ripening buds and seed pods, cut on the eve of solstice.”
Retreat as ‘refuge’? How many more words for redoubt? In this section I have more pencilled passages than any previous section. This seems the veritable crux of … our guilt trip? Or heroic venture? Or literary trail-blazing into the very soul’s sump of our civilisation? In my first official comments (without looking back first), I think I mentioned the word Masonic. That was an inspired guess at that time. I have now entered upon further crusades with this book and its ‘Sentinel’. You will do so, too, because, if you are reading this review at all to this point (in real time or otherwise), you must be susceptible to reading this book in the first place. But if this is a ‘seeing’ of our communal soul for what it is, I shall be ready not to be thanked. (Cf: the works of Frances Oliver (eg ‘All Souls’) and John Howard (eg the story ‘Silver Voice’ itself)). (25 Nov 10 – nine hours later)
Pages 89 – 92
“It was impossible to quarrel in the Halls of Fire for even bitter enemies, seeing each other, would be separated by lifetimes of memory.”
The eternal lynx…
I myself wrote of the eternal lynx of the onyx field in a sixties poem and later in a 1974 novel (‘The Visitor’). (25 Nov 10 – thirty minutes later)
Pages 92 – 96
“Rats will nest and breed in a corpse even while they feed on its internal organs.”
It’s as if we readers are being tested by the ‘mirror’ of this book itself. We shall either succeed or fail in our interpretations of it. If we fail, the publisher will be on our tails. I really feel like that.
Also, it’s as if we have lived with this book forever, even though we’ve only evidentially been reading it for the first time in the last day or so. (25 Nov 10 – another 30 minutes later).
Pages 96 – 104
“He was sixty-two.”
But not for much longer. The book closes in on me in a very personal way.
An apocalypse, an apocrypha, a symbiosis of symbols craftily laid earlier by this book now either to explode like text-mines in new newsworthy wars or to blend into a new Host, a new Masonic Eucharist, a camponology of words – a redemption, though? We guests can only hope. There is so much sin to expiate. (25 Nov 10 – another 30 minutes later)
Pages 104 – 108
“…the power of the remaining poppies seemed somnolent and subdued.”
The gift to me is the residue of an imputedly great author who leaves me his book after he is swallowed up finally by his words. Not necessarily the naked book itself with false title, but the memory of his book that is stronger than anything I can hold in my hands. I end a review that only harvests itself as a gift exchanged.
“It is Beethoven’s manuscript for some bagatelles and light dances. Look, there is his signature.” (25 Nov 10 – after a final 30 minutes elapsed)
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