Tag Archives: Reggie Oliver

AREA X: The Southern Reach Trilogy

vandAREA X – Jeff VanderMeer <<< My Dreamcatcher Review

This will not be the only place that you will learn about this incredible book. Likely to be major cinema film soon. A classic of a unique genre beyond science fiction, a genre yet to be named.

I hope my review linked above gives a thought-provoking slant on this book, as well as some of my personal references regarding Big Hawler, the two lighthouses of Whitby harbour, the nemonymisation of names, the room where I read this book, the Monkey’s Elbow musical group, and a final synergy that I find with Reggie Oliver’s ‘Flowers of the Sea’, and much more.

Note: I deliberately left reading and reviewing this work until the three separate parts published earlier (Annihilation, Authority, Acceptance) were published in one volume. In hindsight, I was right and, as I hope I have shown in the review, this is the only way!

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Virtue in Danger

Just received this incredible physical artefact of an Ex Occidente Press book  – over 280 pages.  Has to be seen in real life to be believed. ‘Virtue in Danger’  or ‘The Princess and the Actor’ – A Metaphysical Romance by Reggie Oliver

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And Dan Ghetu’s Dada Gnosis:

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Real books on this morning’s sunlit shelf…

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Sculpture by Tony Lovell

Sculpture by Tony Lovell

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Links to more of my rocks and books in the comment below.

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Flowers of the Sea

I know I must be biased, but, for me, temperamentally, FLOWERS OF THE SEA is the greatest Horror Story ever written. I know that’s pretty strong. But, actually, I do feel that inside.
So imagine my delight when I heard today (HERE) that it is likely to be the title story in a new Reggie Oliver collection published by Tartarus Press.

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Terror Tales of East Anglia

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

A book I purchased from the publisher:

TERROR TALES OF EAST ANGLIA – edited by Paul Finch

Gray Friar Press 2012

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 other real-time reviews since 2008 are linked from here: http://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/

My previous reviews of Gray Friar Press books: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2010/09/29/gray-friar-press-my-real-time-reviews/

As ever, I shall only be reviewing the fiction stories.

Authors included: Paul Meloy, Gary Greenwood, Christopher Harman, Roger Johnson, Simon Bestwick, Steve Duffy, Mark Valentine, Gary Fry, Paul Finch, James Doig, Johnny Mains, Alison Littlewood, Edawrd Pearce, Reggie Oliver. (14 Oct 12 – 2 pm bst)

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Loose – Paul Meloy & Gary Greenwood
“I bring Dan the green beens he ask for.”
The best scene in the story that bit. Hilarious play on beans and beens with green rubbish bins. The rest, for me, is disappointing. A run of the mill story, one about East European immigrants in awkward interface with the English natives’ ‘lazy racism’ as they work in a Suffolk hotel. Some feral curse concerning a ‘wolf strap’ – and  easy swear words that seem tacked on rather than intrinsic. Thinly characterised, but with odd  moments of deft horror passages. Not much point, I feel, in looking for deeper meanings, as is my usual wont, nor in recounting more of the plot. [The print is too small for comfortable reading and, also, I hope I shall not need to continue this service of typo spotting as I read the rest of the book: i.e.  ‘sou chef’ should be ‘sous chef’ on p2; wrong hard return after ‘year-‘ on p4; ‘his slid his legs’ on the same page; who on earth is ‘Steve’ on p6?; and should it be ‘Sprite and ice cubes’ on p7 rather than ‘Spite and ice cubes’?] (14 Oct 12 – 2.55 pm bst)

Deep Water – Christopher Harman
Pages 21 – 31
“‘Towards’ was the operative word.
I am about halfway through this substantive story, and already I am as much elated by this work as I was disappointed by the previous one in this anthology. This promises to be a landmark reading experience for me, and not only because I am long familiar with Dunwich, Sizewell, Woodbridge and Hambling’s sculpture on the beach at Aldeburgh, and not only because this is, at least partially, a superb classical music story (please see my Classical Horror anthology book I recently published), but also because the prose style, the characterisation etc. are wonderful — please see the police character as an example, and the protagonist himself who first reminds me of that in Reggie Oliver’s great senile dementia story ‘Flowers of the Sea’, here with the circumstances of his Celia going missing amid a whole wonderful Davy Jones’ Locker claustrophobia/ exquisition ambiance (my words, not the story’s necessarily) ….. But not completely like that Reggie Oliver character, because this Harman one has arguably betrayed his wife with another woman? Absolutely wonderful, so far, including the Takemitsu, Britten, Vaughan Williams, Malcolm Arnold references….. [Also, so far, no typos to report, so hopefully those in the previous story were examples of a one-off aberration.] (14 Oct 12 – 6.25 pm)
Pages 31 – 42
“…as if he were one of the lost souls who gravitated towards seaside resorts.”
The first half’s promise, for me, has been fulfilled. This is quite a tour de force, with prose tendrils so outlandish they seem the sea itself. The ‘policeman’ – called Trench – we know now why his legs were earlier described finnish, and the ‘green beens’ from the previous story at least link here with the greenness of ‘Celia’ in the swimming pool.  This is a story with which every reader needs to make his or her own bespoke rapprochement – no review can prepare you for it.   There are so many examples of turns-of-phrase or turns-of-plot that I could give you but they would still only give very little idea of what sort of experience this story is.  It is Reggie Oliver’s ‘Flowers of the Sea’ taken perhaps to new depths… where the slippery shape of the missing one vanishes and reappears and vanishes again round the corner of aquarium or street or beach, till you wonder if the missing one is you yourself not someone else. A symbol for sea as the growing communal dementia? A ‘mad wife’ as seen by her husband is only mad because she deemed him mad first (thus his perceptions of her were as they were). “Vivaldi was dry, rational until slow pizzicato strings described hard claws tiptoeing across a striated sandy floor. Bach’s contrapuntal lines entwined in his head like smooth tubular growths.” [Meanwhile, I myself attended, as it happens, a live public concert in Clacton-on-Sea last night where my own wife was singing alto in a chorus performing, inter alia, Vivaldi’s ‘Gloria’ after months of rehearsal]. (14 Oct 12 – 8.10 pm bst)

The Watchman – Roger Johnson
“…somehow the glaziers didn’t quite manage to reproduce the colours. I don’t know: there’s something about mediaeval glass…”
There something paradoxically warm and comfortable about fictionally exploring a country church (here a Suffolk one) despite horrors emerging regarding legends underlying its history. This is a very effective version of such a tale in traditional garb, telling of watchmen, robbers, gargoyles and come-uppance, believably accreted by references and quoted passages. Warm and comfortable maybe, but I did feel a frisson of terror at a simple phrase and what I imagined underlying it in the context. No mean feat of writing. That phrase: “…and began to do certain things.” (15 Oct 12 – 11.10 am bst)

THIS REAL-TIME REVIEW NOW CONTINUED HERE.

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The Screaming Book of Horror

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

A hardback book I purchased from the publisher:

THE SCREAMING BOOK OF HORROR – edited by Johnny Mains

Screaming Dreams 2012

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 other real-time reviews from 2008 are linked from here: http://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/

Authors included: John Llewellyn Probert, John Brunner, Alison Littlewood, Robin Ince, Bernard Taylor, Anna Taborska, Paul Finch, Rhys Hughes, Kate Farrell, Alex Miles, Craig Herbertson, Alison Moore, Claire Massey, Reginald Oliver, David A. Riley, Steve Rasnic Tem, John Burke, Christopher Fowler, Janine-Langley Wood, Johnny Mains, Charles Higson. (8 Oct 12 – Noon bst)

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Christenings Can Be Dangerous – John Llewellyn Probert
“Well, a graveyard wasn’t such a bad place to be scared in,…”
This is an interesting case study to start this book with. Babies often scream even when they’re not scared, you see, but Horror concerning innocent babies can be shocking, and this one, for me, is! That, despite a humorous tone with a slight tongue in a slight cheek. Gratuitously horrific (unless one accepts these strange outcomes of the protagonist’s retributory madness regarding his ex)… and iconoclastic in terms of today’s  mœurs. Yet I wondered, would I have thought it was so shocking had I experienced this in the 1960s or 1970s within the Pan Books of Horror that I read at that time?  Rhetorical question. As a story in itself, at the beginning, it seems artificially to withdraw authorial omniscience regarding the protagonist’s thought processes, then meting these processes out to us regarding the circumstances of the christening church’s yew tree etc before Hell breaks loose (the latter scene very effective, TOO effective!) (8 Oct 12 – 3.05 pm)

[As is common with all my RTRs, I shall avoid other reviews and the book’s own introduction until after I have read and publicly reviewed the whole book.] (8 Oct 12 – 4.30 pm bst)

Larva – John Brunner
“‘Larva’, she amplified, ‘is a Latin word that originally meant both spectre and mask.'”
One’s whole body as the mask for self? This is another shockingly cross-grain story, one that revels in iconoclasm and PUS. It tells of uncouth muggers who prey on ‘poofters’ and ‘nignogs’, with, here, another baby victim (what chances that any anthology could start with consecutive stories that both themselves start with nipples being bitten!) – a baby who takes revenge not only for what happens in this story but what happened in the previous story! Meanwhile, I take suck or succour from this work not for its run-of-the-mill  morality tale of the protagonist’s eventual meted-out come-uppance but for its brilliant metaphysical larva conceit. And its  accomplishedly conveyed PUS AND VOMIT. [I thought John Brunner wrote SF and died some years ago, unless this is a different John Brunner or an uncharacteristic long-lost horror story discovered by Mr Mains?] (8 Oct 12 – 7.30 pm bst)

The Swarm – Alison Littlewood
“As jellyfish thrive they feed upon fish eggs and larvae,…”
…and thus the cycle goes on, here a calmer cosmic osmosis as it turns out stemming from the crueller, laddish threads set up by the two previous stories. Here the cruelty of the swarm – skilfully imbued with the tang of the sea – somehow becomes a spiritual culmination of the earth soul that may have been seeded from literature like that of John Cowper Powys (whom I serendipitously happen already to be reading). But there is an added frisson when we read in the Littlewood that each participant in the gestalt-‘creature’-from-leitmotifs (represented by a line of glowing lights) has 24 seemingly brain-disconnected eyes and then compare this to the creature with a ‘myriad of tiny pink eyes’ in the Probert. The fact that Littlewood’s  protagonist, at story’s end, is still narrating post-culmination (on the precise point of becoming beyond consciousness) did not seem to matter. This throws a retrospective light on Probert’s earlier gradual going up the gears of narrative omniscience… (9 Oct 12 – 3.05 pm bst)

[It hadn’t quite dawned on me fully how Littlewood’s jellyfish gestalt is arguably an allegory of my earlier stated reference on this page to my real-time reviewing technique of accreting leitmotifs (light motifs) to form a gestalt – nor how the overall title of this anthology is something that my edited ‘The Horror Anthology of Horror Anthologies’ anthology book (horror stories about actual Horror anthology books) would have loved to contain a story about a Screaming Book of Horror! In fact, thinking about it, was there one? I shall have to re-read it!] (9 Oct 12 – 6.15 pm bst)

Natural Selection – Robin Ince
“…not a bad structure really for the accident-prone system of evolution by natural selection and its adaptation of previous fish parts along the way.”
…and so the cycle continues from story to story. Here, a gem of a Horror Story, truncated to prose perfection, except it’s about the problem of what exactly to truncate in order to travel “along the timeline” (the book’s audit trail toward its gestalt?) so as to provide that perfect potential of a baby, screamer or not. Here, ostensibly a feminist tract, where, like in the Probert, the protagonist (this time female) seeks to truncate  her next ex and his baby but, here, by creating a new baby, a better one!  Gratuitousness  with a moral, like the Brunner. The image of cutting off  a human ear is wonderfully done. [As an aside, without ears, one cannot hear screams, only see them, like the one in Munch’s scream.] “…when was he going to stop screaming?” (9 Oct 12 – 7.05 pm bst)

[Further to my comment above about ‘The Horror Anthology of Horror Anthologies’, I have found in it a quote (i.e. from the Rhys Hughes story): “Wasting no more time on nostalgia, he cut out the entire Appendix and cast it aside. It was bloated and disgusting. The book screamed during the operation, but it was over in seconds.” (I note there is a Rhys Hughes story I’ve yet to read in ‘The Screaming Book of Horror’). Also, the story in the HA of HA entitled ‘Common Myths and Misconceptions Regarding Rita Kendall’ by AJ Kirby is predominantly about a scream: in fact the most famous audible scream in the world!] (9 Oct 12 – 7.35 pm bst)

THIS REAL-TIME REVIEW IS NOW CONTINUED HERE

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A Certain Slant of Light – Peter Bell

I’m due to start below another of my gradual real-time reviews, turning leitmotifs into a gestalt. A hardback book I purchased from the publisher & received in the last week or so.

A Certain Slant of Light: Ghost Stories – by Peter Bell

Sarob Press 2012

Illustrations by Paul Lowe

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.

My previous review of a Peter Bell book: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2012/04/28/strange-epiphanies-peter-bell/

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

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Lamia

“She exuded an aroma of patchouli oil, as if disguising something worse.”

This is a hilariously striking M.R. James extrapolation where an American academic explores the byways of Cambridgeshire in the sometimes genuinely spooky or monstrous, sometimes populist or “plebeian”, sometimes downright farcical-satirical world of the showman or showwoman he finds himself experiencing as a singular third person singular protagonist who is guided, in a very engaging style, nicely sub-claused, by Bell. I was wondering whether this was a pastiche of a delightful Reggie Oliver story or actually featured that wonderful gentleman himself acting out a MRJ story. Probably both! Whatever the case, the story seemed personally appropriate for me, having in the last few weeks visited the Isle of Ely on holiday and Oliver Cromwell’s house there. And a well known haunter of Dunwich, Suffolk, too, over the years. (24 Jun 12: 10.10 am bst)

Bewitched

Fair gave her the shivers, I can tell you,…”

A story that takes me back to what I sense to be the early Fifties, where boys could be called “cissies” by big girls and health-&-safety hadn’t been invented: frissons of the past war, a cobbler’s shop on the corner, and the acceptable insanity that the war had doled out, and the “superstitious awe”, and the mis-alignment of souls by literal ‘bewitchment’.  Where a ‘shrunken head’ could be ‘upstaged’ by another dubious talisman among the William Brown or Jane Turpin set – and old people were what they always were, even more demons on the inside than they were on the outside! (Tantamount to an old man myself now).  Loved the story’s eventual synergy between the eras bracketing  my life and/or, as I was then, am now, ever with ‘nothing between the ears’!  “Bad for me, worse for you.” This book’s second amorality tale in a row with monstrousness as coda. (24 June 12: 1.05 pm bst)

Millennium Ball

I reckon what freaked him was those sand dunes. You can get lost in them and some of them are bloody high, you feel all shut in.”

A compelling, substantive, markedly ‘genius-local’ scenario of an obscure Hebridean island where our protagonist – invited by an old University friend not seen for a while – spends  the Millennium New Year’s Eve, with merely a reference to a flu epidemic in wordplay with the Millennium Bug!  Highly haunting, with a coordination of beach-side McGoohan-‘Prisoner’ and MRJames-‘Oh Whistle’ scenes and then, by later realisation, ended by shades of the protagonist’s fate in The Wicker Man – the coda paragraph after the ‘***’ being a slight disappointment of ‘rationalisation’ but not at all spoiling the excellent previous atmosphere of man against the wilds of sublime nature and nightmarish supernature: including the coordinates of (a) two separate ‘messages in a bottle’ from different places in the world arriving on a single Scottish shore and (b) two separate accounts of Boswell and Johnson concerning the same trip they made all those years before.  (24 June 12: 6.55 pm bst)

Conservation

In her blue two-piece suit, Natasha reflected, she must look as conspicuous as a parakeet amongst urban pigeons.”

For me, this perfectly sized story (not too short, not too long) is a genuine classic of horror, weird, ‘ghost story’ fiction (call it what you may)  especially of the M.R. James scholarly mode, but more than that, it has resonances as a discrete entity beyond anything M.R. James wrote and, with the book’s previous context, it becomes something very special indeed. Genuinely frightening, with its Liverpool ambiance, visiting a church in the now seedy area (called ‘Shrike’ with resonances of both normal nature when the place was more scenic in the past and today’s urban nightmare): in tune with ‘hoody’ culture of street gangs etc. (well observed and believable) as symmetrised with ‘Victorian vandalism’ upon the art of churches  … and a ‘hatchment‘ which resonates, for me, with a Russian Orthodox iconostasis: and the words ‘religious symmetry’ are actually used in this story  disarmingly with ‘weeping chancel’ (a real term) adding to the atmospheric build-up that one needs to be a sensitive reader to be thus frightened by, as I hope (fear) I have been. Luckily I am not sufficiently sensitive to go the extra mile with this story. Perhaps you are? And the earlier ‘bad for me, worse for you’ symmetries threading this book so far only serve to accentuate the ‘awful’ symmetries here. Astonished. Burne-Jones eat your heart out. Has to be read. (25 June 12: 11.15 am bst)

The Barony at Rødal

As you see, the windows of this house, they have glass that you cannot see through, only the light.”

…like an iconostasis in spiritual terms? This latter day botanical tour of Norway by a man with his daughter reminds me of my own tour of Norway nearly four years ago, including Bergen, and a statue of a composer whose work I do not like: Grieg. And lots more, including the photo by the side of this review, one that I took in Oslo.  I view this story as a holding one in the journey of this book. One with a background of Nazi crimes, Quisling matters bubbling in the past but now affecting the present, via shapeshifters, business corruptions, uncanny feelings of legend and foolhardy explorations (that seem a common habit of Bell protagonists!). And a sudden bereavement at the end of the story that does not seem to impinge as much on the one bereaved as you might expect,..? Very well-written. But a stock story as if taken off the shelf. Or perhaps it will demonstrate a “persistent intermarriage” with the rest of the stories yet to be read … a ‘hatchment’ dividing (or a filter facilitating?) those from (or with) those stories that went before? [I note the story starts with a quotation from Sabine Baring-Gould who wrote ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’ and once lived many years ago as rector of an off-beaten church in a place (East Mersea, Mersea Island) nearby-familiar to me. Cf the Mersey of the previous story’s Liverpool? And note the parallel geography of Scotland and Norway, as well as divided by a narrow iconostasis of spirit, a special relationship expressly relevant to this story?] (25 June 12: 1.40 pm bst)

Merfield House

“…indeed, she doubted if he had even heard of M.R. James.”

I am not the best MRJ-orientated person to review this section. I hesitate to call it a story, but it is definitely some form of fiction relating to antiquarian research regarding an unfinished story by MRJ, I infer, one where we have gone from ‘Mersea’ mentioned in my previous review to ‘Merfield’.  To “swine flu” as an answer to the famous Spanish Flu Epidemic of the Great War, and in view of the parakeet, shrike and ‘urban pigeons’ earlier, we now surely fear for the avian version? Another amorality tale? Seriously interesting with reference to a mysterious amulet, medieval Templars and (topically, today) Aleppo and Syria, and involving epistolary ‘foolhardy explorations’, as it turns out, by our lady antiquarian who seems to think that MRJ’s fiction is of no value compared to his antiquarian research!  The Assassination at Sarajevo – and Peterborough Cathedral with its own ‘weeping chancel’? Antiquarian abstruseness as another ‘hatchment’ or filter: to guard us (or entice us) against (or into) knowing too much, with some very nice evocative writing that will cause me to re-read this ‘story’, whatever the danger! Tittle-tattle and hard-nosed facts.  “…as if a deep shudder passed through Nature.” (25 Jun 12: 7.45 pm bst)

Archangel

“Why was it that the wings of an angel looked so much more terrifying than those of a bird?”

A fine, eerie, meticulously documented tale of the protagonist’s exploration of a Cumberland church, its graveyard (sometimes more fitting for Highgate and Highwaymen (Michael Row the Boat Ashore) than Wordsworth’s Grasmere), its history, its denizens both living and dead: being a ‘slant of light’ upon its dark history from the coordinates of distance and closeness, re-depicting the book’s erstwhile ‘vandalism’ theme here through Cromwell (again) and Miltonic/Caspar Friederich ambiances of Heaven versus Hell.  The reference to Nutwood was also a feeling of Heaven and Hell, nostalgia and a frightening sense of fear that not even nostalgia can conceal but even enhances.  Christian soldiers, Eastern Orthodox Church, Perpendicular style of panes, Grünewald: these mentions and more that accrete fear and growing creepy alarm, as well as the paradoxically accompanying nostalgia and a pleasure in reading a great ‘ghost story’, but like other Bell’s protagonists, one fears, often justifiably, for his or her fate (even if otherwise their lives may be miserable back home like Anita Brookner’s characters) – and, here, hardly pre-hinted at, I wonder if the detail in the ending is justifiable, or even believable. Both a good and bad sense of ‘dying fall’ [from Sorabji’s MRJ music that I listen to when reading this wonderful book, this wonderful story. Reminded me of my visit to Chaldon Church a few years ago when I lived in Coulsdon.] “…except high in the firmament, where beams of the descending sun were forging an avenue through the massing cloudbanks.” (26 Jun 12: 9.40 am bst)

Only Sleeping

Full-faced, however, her beauty was seriously flawed by an odd asymmetry of features.”

…describing a Russian woman as another form of iconostasis… but I am leaping ahead of myself: this is a spooky tale, sometimes self-consciously so or even satirically so, like ‘Lamia’, with all the trappings of a ghost story that would please MRJ fans (and the boy who is haunted in an Isle of Man guesthouse by the long corridor leading alongside his non-ensuite room surely deserves being spooked by reading MRJ stories just before going to sleep!) – but, artfully transcending that feeling of mine, the story is genuinely scary. And the ambiance of Douglas, the Russian woman’s ‘Don’t Look Now’-type bereavement, the decor of the guest house, with shreds of Robert Aickman or Elizabeth Bowen…  Mentions of the River Mersey, of beams in the rafters as well as beams from a lighthouse, of a “screen” of sycamore and privet, all lend to the symmetry/asymmetry of this book, enhanced by Lowe’s excellent drawings, one with what I saw as a confessional screen like a barred cell or railings around gravestones (here “caged-in tombs“) ….and the dreaded “unconsecrated ground” ie unscreened by God? And the millennium ball toing and froing upon these tides of fiction. This book, I recommend to any reader wanting to be scared. No facelift can relieve that threat, I suggest, from the twisted visage within you or represented by the mask you hide under the normal face, a mask that upstages any talisman of self even if only by dint of ‘superstitious awe’. I wonder if this book is the prime example of what I call ‘ghorror’ (a word I coined recently as a result of a typo, pronounced ‘gore-or’) where ghost story trappings are accompanied by gory upstagings of one’s very soul. But that is just me idly rambling from the other side of the page. Or foolhardily rambling like Bell’s protagonists …  to seek some oxymoron of destiny. A fate that is only sleeping. Or slanting from the vandalised past toward you with some mixed hope and despair for the future. (26 Jun 12: 12.05 pm bst)

In tune with my lifelong interest in ‘The Intentional Fallacy’, I shall now  read any extraneous matter from this book (including the Afterword) for the first time, as is my wont when real-time reviewing.  I am sure it will give me additional food for thought, but I shall not be back here to review it.

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Flowers of the Sea

Trying to forget my own natural bias with regard to this story, but judging by the reviews it has generated (shown here: Flowers of the Sea | The Nemonicon) – I am surprised that FLOWERS OF THE SEA by Reggie Oliver has apparently not been chosen for any BEST OF volume or nominated for any award. I only hope that its presentation by me within the HA of HA has not contributed to this otherwise surprising neglect, a neglect for what is, I feel, a truly great and disturbing horror story, one that ought to go down in literary history as such.
I am also in love with all the other stories in the HA of HA, of course, but judging by the nature of the uniform praise for FLOWERS OF THE SEA and my own instincts stemming from such public demonstrations of appreciation (as well as from other private notifications to me from readers), I am so minded to make the statement above.


Artwork: Tony Lovell

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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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Flowers of the Sea

Reviews of this Reggie Oliver story (so far):

Reggie Oliver juxtaposes scenes of quiet tenderness between husband and wife, with a deep sense of loss and frustration, helplessness and existential dread – depicted literally or in the mind of the narrator through terrifying glimpses of a vast, churning abyss of wilted flowers and nightmarish form

Flowers of the Sea by Reggie Oliver follows that story and is my favourite of the collection. A slow burning story it uses a first person perspective from a not entirely sympathetic narrator and conjures up images in its climax that are truly unsettling

And the haunting “Flowers of the Sea” by Reggie Oliver uses a particularly upsetting homemade anthology to reflect on the ravages of dementia and grief.

Flowers Of The Sea by Reggie Oliver is a typically, beautifully written and moving tale where a woman sinks into the wilderness of dementia.

Reggie Oliver’s contribution (“Flowers of the Sea”) is even darker than his previous work , a masterly told story of desperation, helplessness and loss of identity with a deeply unsettling horrific taste.

An artist with advancing dementia creates works that mirror her deteriorating mental state. It seemed a little contrived once or twice, but the imagery and metaphor make for a powerful and affecting tale.

We are drawn in by a true and skillfully depicted human tragedy, hypnotized by visionary weird elements, then stunned with the horror of a climax which shockingly melds the tale’s ideas and emotions with a vivid physical presence

And I think “Flowers of the Sea” has perhaps the slightest of edges on all the others: rarely has a story torn itself out of the page and taken on a something-elseness, a state beyond writing and reading. I was seriously wondering (correction: I continue to wonder) whether Reggie was employing some sort of hypno-word rhythm to lure the reader’s mind into another place

Reggie Oliver has a story here, and I’m beginning to fall head over heels in love  with his writing.  Reggie is one of my discoveries of the year. Flowers of the Sea, is a heart breaking, moving, and poignant story that will move you when you read.

“Flowers of the Sea” by Reggie Oliver follows the physical and mental decay of an artist, as told by her husband, whose slowly dawning consciousness of the process of the disease has a haunting emotional depth.  The narrator’s realisation of his own mortality is rendered with great skill.  The story seems to draw out the themes of the collection’s other narratives, to focus their sometimes only half-expressed ideas, with a disturbing clarity.

Ah, another person who was so hypnotised by Reggie’s story in the Ha of Ha! I consider it to be one of the best short stories I’ve read in years. In fact, possibly THE best

“…the itinerary of a journey into the depths of hell, the story one of the most disturbing in the book, with its unnerving imagery and account of the slow inevitable loss of self…” Black Static #25 (TTA Press)

After 19/1/12, further reviews on this story will appear in the comments below.

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Mrs Midnight

I’m due to start below another of my gradual real-time reviews, turning leitmotifs into a gestalt. A book I recently purchased from the publisher and received today (its official launch date). And it is entitled:-

Mrs Midnight and other stories – by Reggie Oliver

Tartarus Press 2011

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.

CAVEAT (2): ‘You Have Nothing To Fear’ – that I feel proud is appearing in the above book – was originally published for its first appearance during 2010 in my edited anthology NULL IMMORTALIS. Incidentally, in the latter book, there remains uncollected an anonymous item of quite separate text that many of its readers have credited rightly or wrongly to Reggie  Oliver.  Furthermore, very recently, I have published his ‘Flowers of the Sea’ in ‘The HA of HA’ anthology, a story that – among some other candidates for greatness within that very book – I seriously deem categorisable as the classic Horror Story of all time.

All my other real-time reviews are linked from here: http://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/ (30 Sep 11)

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Mrs Midnight

“For about a week or so I put the Old Essex out of my mind. I was heavily into meetings with some producers about hosting a new Reality TV show called Celebrity Dog Kennel.”

A hilarious, frightening pan-horror-in-a-trepannier, rough-diamond monologue-narration – pickled with ‘pillocks’ as well as grand guignol – about a trannie Rippertime Good Old Days act who (“fitting together the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle“) dabbled in something called Zoophagy now hauntingly coming back to life as an Old Essex Dale Farm type gypsy or bag-lady amid modern media folk, steeped, as such folk usually are, in much from-off-the-top-of-the-head ‘reality’-humiliation and ambition.  [Very apt because only yesterday I watched the latest episode in Big Brother now on Channel 5 where Housemates concocted a mock-task for themselves of being pet-dogs following the previous day’s King Kong type ape act that the housemates (seemingly) believed was a real ape. I’d eat my own brains rather than miss this programme, watching it as I have done since 1999.] (30 Sep 11 – two hours later)

Countess Otho

“‘He kept saying that you were his “bairn” and that if it weren’t for him you wouldn’t be there.'”

For a moment, I wondered if that was a typo for ‘brain’ and we were in for some latent trepanning because, like the previous story, this is a haunting fable of ‘celebrity’ – with some pretty wicked digs (from a real character in the story if not from the fictional author himself) at autograph-humters and “Book People” who crowd round the ‘stage-door’ of Fame ready to entice inscriptions as marks upon permanence. I am a Book Person as many who were involved in the recent Ebook Wars will attest – and this very Tartarean book is, in itself, a stiff-paged, aesthetic tome of some irresistible, if not immoveable, ‘weight’.    And this story of the near-past deals with the ‘mothballs’ of a more distant past when life was cross-sectioned with real objects and art-deco weightinesses and tangible pages of playwright-manuscripts that literally affect you with their bulk as well as their more airy-fairy words. With Ebooks, everything is airy-fairy, I guess. So, this is a tale of words transcending time itself by dint of their printed form as a bequest from those who have died but can, seemingly, return to life using such ‘weighty’ words as vehicle.   Treat this review of mine as a madness ‘speech’ on the stage of literature via electronic means. Imagine me straining through the computer screen at you with the words as pungent memorabilia-mothballs … and shudder!  [Well, this theatrical story of an acting-Poe-understudy in the pre-internet 1980s evoked all that in me.] (30 Sep 11 – another 2 hours later)

Meeting with Mike

“The night before I flew to Switzerland Princess Helen took me to see Parsifal at Convent Garden.”

Meeting with Mike or with Mr Millar is a moot point. Suffice to say this is a ghost writer’s mission to represent the autobiography of some East European ex-King in the face of some deeply secret psychological clinic in Switzerland – a sort of King Kong in traction of terminal self-will. It just had to be Switzerland, I guess. But I cannot convey the power of this story (the first real story story in this book so far) because I am infected by the same desperate inability to communicate, an inability inherent in this quote from it: “The notion that a human being might possess a personality which could be conveyed to the reader was quite alien…” and “It looked like a great cauliflower, or possibly – the thought occurred to me – a brain.”  The same piecemeanl dismemberment implied by this book’s earlier Zoophagy?  And now the book’s page-paper is a posh hotel’s more tenuous ‘onion skin’ headed note-sheets – through which one can see further than just the membrane?  (30/9/11 – another 4 hours later)

The Dancer in the Dark

“‘Never trust old men in a hurry.'”

A substantial and charming (up to a point) story of theatrical doings, the ‘darling’ and temperamental and ‘oft-living-in-the-past’ cast of a lacklustre production that tours, inter alia, to a  Brighton theatre.  A spooky ghost story (“seance on a hot afternoon”?) mixed with sexual ‘farce’ and an old-devilment of grotesque proportions, but that’s not the play, that’s the story surrounding the play! With ‘The Emperor Waltz’ as ‘leitmotif’ – and the hard-copy, non-pixel appearance of Mrs Thatcher and her husband Denis from the eighties, the latter making ghosts realler than real ebook people today!  Only Oliver can bring off all these ingredients and still send me to bed (later) dreading to glimpse aickmanites or fur-coated shadows in the corner of my bedroom. The gay scene on Brighton sea-front late at night will also stay with me, much against my will…. [Recommended further reading: the ‘Dancing on Air’ story by Frances Oliver reviewed by me here.] (1 Oct 11)

I first read the next story in April 2010 as part of my real-time review here and I copy below the text of that part of my review. (1 Oct 11 – thirty minutes later)

Mr Pigsny  “Very few of us are good at finding ourselves funny.” I am already a big fan of Reggie Oliver’s fiction that has appeared in the last few years in books from The Haunted River, Ash-Tree Press and Ex Occidente Press. This story is a very worthy addition to the Reggie Oliver canon, one that I enjoyed immensely. It tells of the interface between my own ‘all mouth and trousers’ home territory of Essex and Academia, through family and other odd connections to the funeral of a well-known gangster. At that interface is the Pan-like Mr Pigsny. This story crams in much MR Jamesians and Aickmannerisms and Guy N Smiths. But essentially Oliveriable. It also serendipitously echoes many of the themes in this book’s previous stories. The aftertaste is wonderful. As if I have met someone real who has visited my office. “‘Well, what if there isn’t an explanation? Or what if there is one, but I couldn’t make you understand it, not in a million years? What if just there aren’t words in the poxy English language to express a meaning…’” (3 Apr 10 – another 2 hours later)

The Brighton Redemption

There is a very great deal of vice in Brighton. Even though I arrived here only a few days ago, I have already seen it with my own eyes.”

A diary account from 1885 of dark and disturbing ecclesiaticism, conveying Christian redemptive traditions when allied with Dantean fatalism and with the shocking implications of, inter alia, unending pain when soon-to-die children are delayed baptism… No Brighton farce here.  Very effective.  Too effective.  [I am unclear exactly why but further recommended reading: my own story here.] And several versions of ‘bilocation’, e.g: “My ordinary self sleeps while my inner self is alive in the words of the liturgy.” (1 Oct 11 – another 2 hours later)

From my review here:

You Have Nothing To Fear: The title is the essence of Ligottianism. This story is a substantial story – like Lucien’s Menagerie – and may be considered as a lost leader. But, no, it is the essence of Nemonymity and Null Immortalis; it needs to be read deeply as well as shallowly. It conveys much with great character studies, the slippage of personality through folly, the uncanny infiltration by celebrity, a satire as well as a horror about solitary existence in attempts to rescue any relationships from a Jungian nightmare that is us. A Warholian wellhole. English Society in an angst of autumn leaves plastered against the wind-screen. Bloody Ada. “Did you notice how her face suddenly comes alive when she’s frightened?” (4 Aug 10 – another 3 hours later)

Indeed we have nothing to fear.

From my review here:

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

From my review here (in the current book re-titled as The Mortlake Manuscript*):

The Black Metaphysical*: A substantive fiction artfully combining an acquired sense of theatrical absurdity with serious MR Jamesian-like, Cabbalistic, Antiquarian, Christian-mythical revelation with what I instictively know are Meyrink-Praguesque concerns nibbling away at the back of the words. Spiced with scholarly sex. And shadowy Aickmen seen out of the corner of the reader’s eye. A complex viewpoint via text and inner-text by exegesis. But it flows better as an entertaining story than those observations portend. A delight to read today just before Christmas Eve. A Reggie Oliver treat. In the Golem Heights. “Evening light filtered through the armorial stained glass windows at the end of the long room, painting the polished floorboard with azure, gules and or.” (23 Dec 09)

The Look

“This ought, I suppose, to have been a moment of supreme drama, but somehow it was not.”

Indeed at the point of reading that sentence just now, a magazine was delivered through my front door called ‘Look’ (a free local community advertising paper that has not yet transmuted from being junk mail in real life into junk mail on the internet).  And I wonder if this story is a sort of practical joke. A commercial break for fiction as contrived theatrical drama, fixing action as something nostalgicaly available in hard print having appeared from a stylised world beyond our own?  This is where a lacklustre play becomes a lacklustre story with all the requisite twist and turns and cardboard characters of a past-laden whodunnitish melodrama.  It does have a splendidly conveyed ‘genius loci’, however, in Kenya, an ex-pat snootiness of a social crowd surrounding a ‘white’-based theatre set up amid natives.  But I am fooled, perhaps. There is a half-breed, half-blend theme here I can’t truly fathom, i.e. a mysterious corporal punishment that is not only dealt out to one of the characters but also to any reader who steps out of line by mis-appreciating the art that creates it.  I shall need to re-read this story one day so as to try harder as currently I am unworthy. (1 Oct 11 (heatwave day) – another 3 hours later)

The Giacometti Crucifixion

“…a whole crowd of rooks, a ‘building’ of them, if I may use the correct ornthological term, rises as one from the elms and begins to wheel about above the trees uttering their distinctive ‘kaa, kaa’ sound.”

Dependent on your own upbringing and temperament, you may need to turn a blind eye to the implied political / artistic intentions (‘intentional fallacy’ or not) of the narrator / author, but, notwithstanding such considerations, this is probably – based on my own wide experience of it – one of two genuine masterpieces of modern horror fiction (i.e. together with, in my biased view, ‘Flowers of the Sea’) with its unseen back stylishly carved as well as its seen front. There is a story-within-a-story that is MR Jamesian and outdoes the best of MR James (and I  don’t say that lightly). The fact that it is ‘spoken aloud’ on such stiff paper adds to the rook-‘building’, ‘mystique of an artist’, anthropomorphic puppetry as reality (and vice versa) – together with a puckish near-farcical humour that, incredibly, enhances the horror rather than diminishes it.  It sort of encapsulates all the previous themes (spiritual and ghost-story and pan-horror and human frailty and reincarnation and/or redemption and/or revenge) and more. And the last line of this story, if original, should become a seasoned proverb credited to this author. How on Earth or in Heaven or by Hell can the final two stories in this book (as yet unread by me) follow this one! [There is a fragile bi-ped frame of eternity not only within us but also within the books we read. The ka that is a swarm-instinct as well as a singular culture.] (1 Oct 11 – another 2 hours later)

A Piece of Elsewhere

“I should have got meself a blotting paper coffin.”

This is what I call retrocausal British 1950s horror – where a nightmare about a stream-of-consciousness catchphrase comedian leads to worse nightmares in real life.  A boy stays with his twin Aunt – and all-mouth-and-trousers characters and spiritualism… An early codswallop coda for this book that makes a grab for my own party piece.

[Regarding the previous two stories, further recommended reading: two of my own short fictions: here and here.] (1 Oct 11 – another 2 hours later)

Minos or Rhadamanthus

He knew even while he experienced it that the strange unburdened interlude was to be savoured, bitten through to its core.”

…until reaching one’s nemonymous night. The boys of St Cyprian’s (or, in my case, Colchester Royal Grammar School of the 1950s and 1960s with all its slipper-thwacking prefects designate) were due to meet – Whovian style? – the Head and Mrs Head or, simply, their own version of Flanders Field. I cannot do justice to this final codification.  But it does explain, perhaps, the choices that one has regarding the earlier mysterious punishment in ‘The Look’:

All Artwork in the book by Reggie Oliver – including that above on the  inner back-flap.

“The boys of St Cyprian’s became oddly familiar with the geography and personnel of Tartarus.” (1 Oct 11 – another 4 hours later)

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The Master in Café Morphine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Nine Exhibits – by Mark Valentime

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

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

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

Beloved Chaos that Comes by Night – by Jonathan Wood

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

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

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Behemoth’s Carnival – by Stephen J. Clark

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

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

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The Princess of Phoenicia – by Colin Insole

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

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

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The Cadaver Is You – by Michael Cisco

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

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

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The Darkest White – by Rhys Hughes

Chapter 0: Prelude / Chapter I: The Magnifying Glass

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Magnates had bribed the coalition authorities;…”

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

Chapter VI: On the Terrible Lake

“Nothing is what I hope to find.”

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

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

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

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

Chapter IX: The Map /Chapter ∞ : Redemption

“They had reached the other café.”

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

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A Country Doctor – by Adam Golaski

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

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

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Archaic Artificial Suns – by D.P. Watt

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

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

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

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

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

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The Fearful and Wonderful Phantasm of Time – by Charles Schneider

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

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

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The Black Swan of Odessa – by Allyson Bird

“Fiction does not feed my body.”

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

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

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The Heart of a Man – by Justin Isis

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

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

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Chaconne – by Nina Allan

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

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

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The Tsarina’s Wintercoat – by me

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

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

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

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

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

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Café Morphine – by  Eric Stener Carlson

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

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

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The Philosophy of the Damned – by Reggie Oliver

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

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

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Red Green Black White – by John Howard

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

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

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The Immortal Death of Ivanov Ivan Ivanovich – by Mark Beech

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Farewell Letter  – by George Berguño

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

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

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

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

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

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

END (25 Jul 11 – another 45 minutes later)

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THE DRACULA PAPERS: Book I: The Scholar’s Tale

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

THE DRACULA PAPERS: Book I: The Scholar’s Tale – by Reggie Oliver (Chômu Press 2011).

The Dracula Papers - Book 1

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, without first reading the book’s introduction or knowing as little as possible about the book other than it was recommended to me by people I trust.

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I – III

“…means of divination, through the tossing of coins and the examination of entrails, the contemplation of stars or the patterns and hues in decaying cheeses.”

Firstly, let me say, that having only just started this hefty book, I can already tell that the head-lease author of this book  – or, perhaps, his appointed  Narrator, Martin Bellorius, a doctor and scholar reviewing (retrocausally?) in 1632 incidents in his previous life – is a born story-teller, drawing the reader straight into a compelling picaresque and often rumbustious tale, a tale of the start in Germany of his commission to travel trans-Transylvania and the characters he meets and with whom he converses.  A beautifully limpid prose laced with an edge of scholarship and an original puckishness of barely hidden humour together with the sensed tangibility of archetypal human mythos often involving the act of scourging.  [To some extent, so far, it reminds me of ‘Melmoth the Wanderer’ by Charles Maturin.  And I now realise what I must have already known: that Maturin is short for Maturing – the act of always falling short of the perfect climax that is your death…till, apparently, you succeed.] (11 Feb 11)

IV – V

“We hate most what we least understand.”

Eventually arriving in Prague, the Narrator’s retinue of two grows to three potentially, but are characters accreting to stick fast or simply to spear-carry?  The story unfolds with a degree of prudishness that does not actually hide the unprudish things happening!  Elixirs of life, the accrual of immunity in poisons, dwarfish and giantish folk, slight cannibalism, masked balls, and swashbucklery of filmic proportions. Gorgeous convulsions of plot, bawdy or lovesome, but still Undercurrented with scholarly temperateness / spiritual passion, recurrences, visions involving cumulatively or separately some Undercurrent analogous with (my analogy, not the book’s) a Synagogue within a Christian cathedral or vice versa … or a Masonic Mezquita?  So far, while the Narrative wins, the Undercurrents keep their powder dry, I’d say.  So those who love a great story and nothing else will not be disappointed. And those (like me) – who seek leitmotifs whence a gestalt is eventually to be accrued – feel they will also not be disappointed. (11 Feb 11 – three hours later)

VI – VII

“The fact that I did not trust her does not mean that she was in fact untrustworthy.”

This is the second time I’ve mentioned the word Amazon in this review, and here, as our ‘heroes’ descend into Transylvania via the Carpathian Mountains, they are captured by a band of brigands led by a woman, almost a jekyll&hyde character (Cf: Odetta & Detta about whom I’ve been synchronously reading and reviewing today from Stephen King’s ‘The Dark Tower’ series) – and the unravelling plot of conspiracy and counter-conspiracy leading to her being potentially impaled, a punishment common to this area and one that the Narrator compares to the Crucifixion – echoing my earlier analogy of things-within-other-things: Barabbas within Christ, and vice versa? I also like the way this book seems to have its own internal spoilers (an extreme example existing in this section), being types of spoiler blatantly presented as Aristophanic leaps in the dark to gather the truth of retrocausal surprise.  But I’ll continue trying to avoid spoilers myself. (11 Feb 11 – another 5 hours later)

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[I already anticipate this book being a genuine popular and literary classic in the Gothic arena, while tantalised by humour and theatricality and adventure.]

VIII – XIII

I earlier called this book rumbustious. Now with much conviction, I shall also call it ingenious. An amenably adventurous style to read, but a trenchantly secret passage to negotiate. Our Narrator arrives to fulfil his commission at Castle Dracula as teacher of scions Vlad and Mircea. “There is no neutral territory here.” Full of inventions to describe the plotting by the author/narrator but also specific inventions within the plot itself.  Full of bawdy generational repercussions.  Concupiscent antics and sexual retribution by servants. Artistic Goyesques as palimpsest to the individual reader’s impinging tabula rasa of daily concerns outside of the text. Full of ‘Marriage of Figaro’ type machinations.  But above all full of well-told Horror – the implicatory impaling of or by oupires and so forth. And a Levantine Turkish Rug in the Castle’s secret passage – as the Ottomans threaten to impede…an Alchemy of opposites within each other. The narrative also proves that Charles Maturin’s dictum: “Terror has no diary” has no foundation in truth. 

“…a perfect combination of imperfections.” (12 Feb 11)

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XIV – XVII

The young Vlad, blooded by this book’s narration, is probably portrayed here for the first time ever in such early detail by the ‘breaking news’ in hindsight of our once on-the-spot reporter who proves that terror does have a diary.  The Castle Dracula is like this book itself – more Gormenghastly than Gormenghast itself without being like Gormenghast at all.  Creatures from a Bosch painting: growing their own musical instruments self-bodily. The Ottoman Turks’ siege-making, making me think this book is potentially the Cordoba Mezquita itself from within.  Even, when compared, the brotherly amorous (and otherwise) rivalry between Vlad and Mircea is just a light zither on the strings to deeper themes just welling to the surface. The Beaumarchais machinations: a froth on the daydream. “True evil always smells of madness.” Yet this is fundamentally a great story well told.  This Story of the Egg has blank pages I imagine being full of words. Skaters like giant lizards from Capek. Shape-shifting horrror conveyed by fable, metaphor and  the sheer reality of the concept beyond even the reallest-seeming ‘waking dream’. Full of contraptions, one Aeschlyus theatrical contraption in particular, if true, that you will just simply LOVE. Greek tragedy morphing into tragi-comedy.  Plus some of the most horrific scenes I’ve ever read – leading to a so-called rat vanishing up the chimney. Meanwhile, the Amazon become just one more recurrence or internally presaged spoiler…

“I noticed that the brown snout had only one nostril and remembered the saying that the oupire or murony may be identified by his monomycterous nose.” (13 Feb 11)

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XVIII – XX

Vlad’s character evolves almost as a force within the book that the book fails to channel: he is master of his own universe and any author or narrator is not going to change that! Nothing will change or shape-shift his one true love: “a shape that would have been perfect in itself if it had not promised even greater perfection.”  The Narrator pretends he doesn’t see her charms. An interesting contrast with the book’s dwarf lovers who when “Separated, they once more became rootless freaks set down in an alien court to entertain jaded appetites.”  But then religion starts to expand its undistributed middle: an important passage that I shall quote: “Against one wall was a prayer stool, above which was a crucifix of wood, crudely carved in the Transylvanian style. In a corner I saw another wooden statue, this time of the Madonna, black with age. The face was coarsely rendered, heavy and powerful like an old peasant woman. It was quite a shock to one who had become used to the delicate Virgins of the Italians, or those of the Dutch School, intense, febrile, refined. It spoke of a faith that was ancient and reposed in the common people’s heart, rather than in the splendid institutions of the West. Below the Madonna’s statue was a narrow wooden box, open, in which rested a leather scourge.”  This makes a telling backdrop to the fact that, during the miseries of war, it is recognised that the Turks share a common humanity with those non-Turks they fight.  [In my 1950s childhood, I read comics about fighting against the ‘evil’ Huns and Jerries.]  A message for today. Meanwhile, the two brothers, Vlad and Mircea,  wield an (instinctive, plot-secreted?) alliance with each other against such ‘evil’, a subtle alliance transcending their otherwise overweening rivalry or transcending any ‘evil’ they currently harbour or will later demonstrate when eventually treading the ‘scorched earth’ of emotion as well as (unchangeable?) history itself. There are many literary references and subtleties I’ve noticed that I cannot cover in a review, so I will merely now draw attention to this book’s enjoyably and thought-provokingly compelling thrust of story or plot that transcends these subtleties: and here this plot conjures up bloodthirstily the battles and the mechanics of tactics and strategy in war, i.e battles between the forces associated with the denizens of Castle Dracula and the forces of Islam, nothwithstanding any hidden treaties that may or may not exist.  But not forgetting the Frog Maiden as an absurdist symbol intrinsic to the root causes of any wars amid our common humanity throughout the ages.

“As I watched them I found it impossible to look on the Turks as individual beings. The army looked like a great crawling plague  quivering with life, sending out long trails of slime to infect the land around it.” (Cf Capek’s Newts book) (14 Feb 11)

XXI

“Fear, as the poet says, is the handmaid of uncertainty;”

During the aftermath of the erstwhile battles, the Narrator and his retinue (including increasingly multi-faceteed Vlad and Mircea) are helped by a mysterious and monkish Sylvius who shelters them in a cave from the hounds of the Turks and whom I won’t spoil with description of him or you (if it is you), other than, for me, Sylvius is possibly the essence of Transylvania and  intrinsic to my concept of Nemonymity (a possible fact that tells you nothing at all!) but Sylvius  is perhaps a representative of (or is) the book’s head-lease author who invented – like one of the book’s contraptions – the book that contains those very contraptions: this Sylvius who inverts Plato and is tantamount to being his own self-portrait. I do not wish to bother plot-seekers with Sylvius so please rush over these scenes and simply follow the book’s exciting plot towards another contraption that may save the the Castle itself from being potentially subsumed by a singular plague of Turkish hordes.  See, you’ve already forgotten Sylvius, as I have. And reached a blind spot like those blanks in the Book of the Egg that you cannot forget for fear of reading it forever…. (14 Feb 11 – three hours later)

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XXII – XXIV

“These men were fanatics and believed that, by dying in this way, they were going to Mussulman heaven full of fountains and nightingales and delectable houris.”

Is the Rat King in this book an original character of literature – like Ben Gunn? Yes, I say. Even though the Rat King has appeared elsewhere before under that name, never has he really come home to us as here in The Dracula Papers. A tour de force, a coup de theatre, a plague upon us all. Many characters now come home to roost, much politics, history and religion in cross-section. Siege and counter-siege. Ruse, confuse and counter-fuse. “And without historians there is no history.” Angles on Fear. Terror has no Diary because Terror cannot write, I say.  An engouement of horror. This book is a massive talent in itself, give or take the odd Author or Narrator who fiddle at its edges.  And the novel – if that is what it is – becomes the Mezquita that I earlier predicted, since earlier discrete or exiled material by the Author is introduced, figuratively, as a Trojan Horse of literature (my term, not the book’s) within its own later larger Trojan Horse ethos as our heroes (minus Mircea as the ultimate spear-carrier) are taken as hostage to Vathekian lands as a means for Castle Dracula’s obeisance to the Ottoman’s eventual negotiated victory.  And a new wild fantastical tale in an erstwhile version of Constantinople takes its swing at us. [I’ve missed out a lot, but please! How can one review everything,]

“…that great Christian temple, the glory of the Emperor Justinian, now turned traitor and become a mosque…” (15 Feb 11)

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XXV

I stand back, for the sake of my own self-preservation, from this – for me today all too relevant – sheer Lovecraftianly cataclysmic chapter … except for making two quotes:

“…the corpse can be locked into the cycle of death and continue to repeat it until Doomsday.”

“The corpse seemed to drink it; I saw the muscles of the throat move, but the rest of her was like stone.” (16 Feb 11)

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XXVI

“The sleeping demon of Ottoman cruelty had been aroused and would not rest till it had tasted blood.”

Adventurous, disguised and waterborne escape from the danger of Stamboul’s conspiracy and counter-conspiracy – towards joy of the present moment then to captivation and eventually to capture by pirates, and this chapter takes us to an even deeper Trojan Horse or metaphorical Mezquita: one that lurks within the Narrator’s companion: Prince Vlad: a particular rhetorical question on page 403. This book seems to be not only the once-in-a-lifetime pioneering revolution in the retrocausal telling of the Dracula myth from scratch, but also its grotesque involution, it seems.  And its first bite.    (17 Feb 11)

XXVII

“I longed for madness or death, or some kind of mental numbness to lift me out of such endless torture, but it never did.”

Well death never did, presumably?  This chapter is full of hardship and torture for the Narrator and his retinue, mixed motives, a Russsian Zoo on board a ship, self-sacrifice, potential love and Vlad paradoxically both selfish and selfless in his lack of compromise. I sense that Vlad begins (via the text he inhabits) to encompass a belief of himself as a growing reality exploiting the Narrator as intermediary or two-way filter or sucking-drain between truth and fiction.  It is Vlad who grows stronger as a rounded character of both strengths and weaknesses…and of potential history.  Alongside him, we even become more rounded characters ourselves as readers with our strength to distil truth from fiction and our weakness in being unable to dispel fiction from truth. (17 Feb 11 – two hours later)

XXVIII – XXX

“–a vellum codex of the lives of the Coptic saints–“

Are the dead dead or undead or simply never dead by subterfuge? This rolling news of conclusion contains the power of a mother’s confession as the inner chapter of chapters, inner chapel of chapels, the skater (not a giant lizard this time) among Wagnerian ice sculptures disguised as cracking, alongside heaving, almost S/M concupiscence at early and middle age, some black monkery, implications of the double-headed coin of Christ’s stigmata upon Satan’s cloven feet (my expression, not the book’s as if chiropody is the worst kind of dentistry with drills) and the Narrator’s pangs in giving painful, yet cathartic, birth to this still ongoing Narration, his ongoing ‘confinement’ of the inner truths… 

Full of imaginative contraptions, wild scatological and eschatological conceits and the hurly-burly of visionary fiction-on-the-hoof (controlled and uncontrolled at times, if not controlled all the time to seem that way) – this is as I earlier anticipated: a genuine popular and literary classic in the Gothic arena, while tantalised by humour and theatricality and adventure. (17 Feb 11 – another 3 hours later)

END

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The whole of my lifetime work with Elizabeth Bowen Quotes is now in a book

The Megazanthus Press Book: Real-Time Reviews Vol 3 is now out and in my hands. It looks wonderful. And there is a real treat within. Please see the end of the contents list below.

As is common with this series, it is a direct imprint from the internet and contains no contents lists. The list is therefore below.

This contains RTRs for:

LOST PLACES by Simon Kurt Unsworth….3

THE WOUNDS OF EXILE by Reggie Oliver ….22

MINDFUL OF PHANTOMS by Gary Fry….27

XARGOS by Frances Oliver….40

OBLIVION’S POPPY by Colin Insole….42

OCCULTATION by Laird Barron…57

THE SATYR by Stephen J Clark….70

THE AUTUMN MYTH by Joel Lane…..79

THE COANDA EFFECT by Rhys Hughes….83

MAD MATINEE IN BAKU by Albert Power….98

NORTHWEST PASSAGES by Barbara Roden….107

THE SONS OF ISHMAEL by George Berguno….121

THE GHOSTS OF SUMMER by Frances Oliver….132

THE DEFEAT OF GRIEF by John Howard….148

My very popular, many years’ worth on-line work at quoting from Elizabeth Bowen’s fiction. You will not quite believe the power of these extracts from every novel chapter and every story…… Pages 158 – 415 inclusive

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This is the book and further details by clicking on it:

 

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Occultation – by Laird Barron

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

And it is of the collection entitled ‘Occultation’ by Laird Barron (Night Shade Books 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/

The Forest

“The smell reminded him of hip waders, muddy clay banks and gnats in their biting millions among the reeds.”

It is as if we are here to gather, by the sometimes hard-reached tenacity of reading mature fiction, the occult motes – from Nodes and Nadines – yes, to gather the Snail Cone truths  that cohere from the backhead masks of this memorable story’s words themselves: the cosmic cancer of retrieval through memory or photographs or re-modelling, through a highly satisfying texture of prose and dialogue alchemically made to breathe real situations and filmic dramatis personae in exotic heat that wavers for me from the work of Mike O’Driscoll towards Graham Greene or Malcolm Lowry or Ian McEwan laced with Lovecraft or Henry S Whitehead….perhaps ending up with a Barronial style I have yet to fully explore and nail…. (26 Nov 10)

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Occultation

“– I think you might have an enlarged prostate.”

Almost can be seen as a continuation of the previous story (soaking up more styles), now by co-whoring rather than cohering, benchmarked by a psycho-delia-cooked Henry S Whitehead reading his own lips, with continentally punctuated dialogue as a couple in a Barton Fink room watch an <again dangerous visions ‘title’ is a black blob> grow inferentially into further cosmic cancers between the stars, except the claustrophobic ending is probably the most frightening I have recently met.  Only beds ride on the back of snail cones, not universes, but that may be irrelevant to the story.  A story I loved. (26 Nov 10 – three hours later)

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The Lagerstätte

“The crimson seam dried black on the bedroom wall.”

A substantial story of a being haunted by a survivor’s guilt regarding two late loved ones, husband and son.  I am incredibly impressed by the traction of text that this book generally so far presents, with horror for horror’s sake, a bit like all our lives … yet with a meaningful undercurrent that horror thus transcended into an art form of character/plot machination makes one’s own life another satisfying, if painful, traction beyond the trivial it would otherwise be. That’s the only way I can explain it. However, there is almost a glut of horror images here, albeit horror images quite beyond the run-of-the-mill gore, skirting poignancy that has not quite yet brought tears to my eyes. Cf: the ‘external os’ and ‘worm-cored rod’ of the two previous stories respectively and here the lagerstätte… (26 Nov 10 – another 3 hours later)

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MYSTERIUM  TREMENDUM

1 & 2

“I sometimes wondered if it’d been accidental or closer to the protagonist’s opt-out in that famous little novel by Graham Greene.”

So far a more ‘compos mentis’ story than the previous three, one about two modern couples as a foursome of friends  – one of whom (the narrator) is dreamy while also naturally searching (as we do) the net as part of life’s own plot . They are presumably preparing to use their chance discovery in a shop of ‘The Black Guide’ book (aka ‘Moderor de Caliginis’ 1909) for an already planned trip…  [I idly speculate: a Strantzaic trip as in ‘Cold To the Touch’? – but my sleepiness intervenes as it does with the Narrator.] (26 Nov 10 – another 4 hours later)

———————

3 & 4

“Every channel  was full of snow and shadow, except for the ones with the black bar saying NO SIGNAL.”

Fulsome sexual-laddish characterisation by protagonism and dialogue; premonitions of their trip-to-come, via the gavinostic Guide, possibly story-ripe with dolmens and occultation; eventually the  past backdropped and projected by the dialogue’s cleverly spawning the ghosts of people previously spoken of  … and protagonists as they may become one day, given the foresight that fiction, ‘in media res’, cannot fully achieve, except possibly in the head of the narrator or reader, if not officially in that of the author himself. (27 Nov 10) 

5, 6 & 7

“A city boy was always a stranger…”

I continue travelling story-pleasingly with the lads as they trace ley-line diagrams of outdoors plot-action along with our narrator’s more inward, arcane diagrams from the fatefully-owned Guide – and I wonder if the erstwhile <‘external os’ and ‘worm-cored rod’  […] the lagerstätte>  are here soon to fuse as a boner in unending circle? (27 Nov 10 – two hours later)

8, 9 & 10

“He recoiled like a worm zapped by an electrode.”

Powerful stuff that is blair-witching even me out.  Like its style. The brash encounters with gut fights, the spunky, spooky elements. The tooth wrenching out, the nose bone being put back into joint, nearly shooting oneself in  the foot. The nether-pit that seems somehow to be waiting for me to fall beneath the words into it, like the one old humpin’ Tom fell into before he became a ghost?  The ‘animal’ shapes that ‘drain’ away into that pit? Mighty stuff. No spoilers. Only wrenchers.

“From there the anonymous author claimed it to be an hour’s hike to the dolmen.” (27 Nov 10 – another two hours later)

11, 12, 13, 14 & 15

“‘This is weird,’ said Victor. ‘You guys think this is weird?'”

Journey’s end. But my ‘vanilla life’ does perhaps need to release its deadbolt and let the weirdnesses in, ever since nearly being enticed as a small child by an oldish person (or oldish to me, then) into a shrimp-hut on the quagmirish backwaters where I lived in the Fifties.

But that gives no clue to the ending of the happenings of this story. Its bottomless pits where lurk McMahonites and Strantzals and Cardinals and Gavinals and Unsworths and Gaffries and Duffies and Barronial Lairds: their faces in the the pit, enticing me towards darknesses I cannot credit.  Or, rather, me enticing them back out, but to what?

But that gives no clue as to the ending of the happenings in this story. Or the way its striking prose ignites its denizens and their musical ‘dying fall’, their symphonic coda’s endgame-expedition of lads-into-men. You will need to read it for that. Just be persuaded by an older person who has read it. Even if he hasn’t lived it for himself … yet.

[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?] (27 Nov 10 – another hour’s hike later)

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Catch Hell

“…priests walking with their heads on backwards…”

Much of Barron is generously sown with wonderful sentences that make you think that’s neat but then it expands in the mind and means even more. Also there is strong sense of ‘genius loci’ as there is in this story – a hybrid European /American lodge in America with statues, folklore-rich, run-ins with ruins, a place of a weekend-away feel where a child-haunted couple visit (difficult to summarise their abrasive relationship and past, their Satanic algorithms that develop with the plot exponentially) – a ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ and Paul Finch (eg ‘The Baleful Dead’) and Reggie Oliver (eg ‘You Have Nothing To Fear’) catch-hell-all, with nightmarish-mutant Romance Fiction elements…. “I’ve never seen so many weathervanes in one place” – “occasionally he meets up with a lost hiker” – “What the fuck do you know about academia, Cock-ring?” – “It wasn’t the end though. There’s no end to hell.” (28 Nov 10)

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Strappado

“A password!”

This is a story where the author’s skills truly come together. Literary prose style to die for. Horrors to work out.  Another ‘dying fall’.  Kenshi and Swayne’s sexual reunion in an Indian tourist resort. Characters not to die for exactly, but to keep in abeyance in case you need them in a lucid dream.   And a ‘dangerous’ art installation or happening, that the protagonists foolhardily approach with ‘Eyes Wide Shut’. I just wonder which colour-of-door reader I am of this whole book as it leads me further along its audit trail of leitmotifs….? (28 Nov 10 – two hours later)

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The Broadsword

1 – 7

“…an old school radical who’d done too much Purple Haze in the ’60s…”

The Broadsword Hotel – a sort of ‘House of Leaves’ where Pershing lives with bugged paranoia and other buggage from his life – and the prose flows so sweetly (is it because I’ve been drinking wine this evening?) and there is Updike here, too, and Beat poets and more.  I think Barron is either the Nadal or Federer of Weird Literature. And I’m not sure which of these he is nor am I sure which writer is the other one? (28 Nov 10 – another 4 hours later)

8 – 16

“…spent months hiking the ass end of nowhere with a compass and an entrenchment spade.”

Pershing exchanges his House of Leaves for a House of Stars, amid his tangible-in-the form-of-his-guilt guilt as a previous trip’s dead friend speaks through vents — and his own age generation of once fearing ‘A bombs’ and green men from Mars – the darknesses or spaces between the strantzaic suns and the emotions as transparencies or palimpsests and a reprise of the Mysterium Tremendum trip as a trip indeed. They had trips in the 60s they never came back from, I guess. Maybe, I did. Maybe, I didn’t.  The choice of red or blue door notwithstanding. (28 Nov 10 – another 2 hours later)

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–30–

“In the animal kingdom, paranoia equalled sanity.”

This is essential Barron, I guess. Substantial and very effective, a remote research station where, alone, another exponentially abrasive couple seek more from fleshy interstices than from corners of any loving affection, all mingled with lucid dreaming (I hope or fear this whole book is a lucid dream or at least a mutant Thing movie that will not take my eyes out one  by one but only if I am willing to believe in it or is that disbelieve in it?) with afForestation, coyotes, weird insects in potentially cosmic swarms, a lagerstätte os as trip-discovered horn, occultation…

He covered his good eye…” (29 Nov 10)

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Six Six Six

Despite its title, I had a confident feeling this would be a gentlin’-out, a coda to this enormously impressive weird symphony of a book – and in many ways this haunted house story about a young couple, a house inherited after the husband’s father’s death, could easily have been a fulfilment, a rounding-out, a gestalt-confirmation. But instead I’m left shaking.  To the flickering of a Muybridge and a Reichian drumming.  It’s as if my lantern will be pushed out as a catharsis of impulsive ricochet between author and reader. To the sudden sound of a helicopter crashing…

[I shall now read for the first time Michael Shea’s introduction in the book, but I will not be back here again to say anything more.] (29 Nov 10 – two hours later)

 

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