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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