Tag Archives: tartarus press

Drowning in Air


This is to notify its would-be readers that I’m currently reviewing HERE the remarkable anthology STRANGE TALES IV.

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Real books on this morning’s sunlit shelf…


Sculpture by Tony Lovell

Sculpture by Tony Lovell

bigbookbooksrock3 booksrock2 booksrock1


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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Wormwood and Frances Oliver

The latest ‘Wormwood’, Issue 18, has just been published by Tartarus Press.  A regular journal dealing with Literature of the fantastic, supernatural and decadent.

I am delighted to report that it contains not only an article about the fiction works of Frances Oliver (a ground-breaking event in itself) but also a fascinating article that has given me much new food for thought about her stories and novels. The article is entitled  CULTIVATING THE DEMON WITHIN: AN APPRECIATION OF FRANCES OLIVER and is written by Paul Newman

I believe Paul Newman once published a story of mine many years ago in his magazine entitled ‘Abraxas’, but I have not been in touch with him since then.  He may not even remember the event!  Whatever the case, I would like to thank him for his reference in the article to me and my Frances Oliver review site.  I am very pleased to see his own  endeavours to obviate the scandalous lack of recognition regarding the Frances Oliver canon.  One day every lover of good literature (mainstream or genre) will be reading her work.

And thanks to Rebekah Brown for first introducing me to the work of Frances Oliver via the All Hallows discussion forum.  And to Ash Tree Press for publishing three of her books.

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BLACK HORSE and Other Strange Stories

I’m due to start below another of my gradual real-time reviews, turning leitmotifs into a gestalt, drawing connections…. A book I recently purchased from the publisher and received a few days ago.

BLACK HORSE and Other Strange Storiesby Jason A. Wyckoff

Tartarus 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 are linked from here: http://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/ (3 Mar 12 – 8.50 a.m gmt)


An author whose name is completely new to me. But I relish the promise of ‘Strange Stories’, being, as I am, a ‘sufferer’ from Aickmania.

The Highwall Horror

“…he hung his North American wildlife wall calendar open to April and briefly considered the mallards in flight.”

Joe is a young ambitious architect – with a “honey-do” family of wife and daughters at home – and, at work, he moves into what I see as a glorified carrel or here called ‘cubicle’ whence its predecessor architect had left the firm suddenly.  Ranging between Ligottian ‘corporate horror’ and a Kafkaesque feel, we are suddenly tipped into a Lovecraftian panorama through the cubicle wall…. The prose is textured, sophisticated but easily accessible and highly effective. I sense we  have a significant Weird Fiction writer here – sensed even this early in the proceedings of reading the book.   A story that I am sure will linger with me as emanating from its power of what I gradually felt I was made to see as insectoid wordprint within the “oblong rectangles” of white walls … lingering until I read this book’s next story? “Terrible connections in his head were trying to come together while his sanity strove to keep them apart.” (3 Mar 12 – 90 minutes later)


“Down beneath the carpet the small people in the floor creep over electrical wires to the walls…”

Sometimes in my whole reading life – and in latter years, my reviewing life – I wonder at the displacement of a particular work of fiction. Is this the work for which I have been waiting all these years to discover: originally stunned by Lovecraft in the 1960s, next  stunned by Ligotti in the 1980s, now to be stunned by Wyckoff in the 2010s? I have already (only) made a single deliberately concentrated reconnaissance of ‘Panorama’, but it feels more like a passing glance than an act of concentration. It surely needs far more effort and time for cumulative passing glances – just as the panoramic (Sistine roof?) work of art in the story itself needs its own various channels of passing glance to be travelled, created as this work of art happens to be (a cross between Bosch and Escher and more?) with separately autonomous and unsimultaneous ley-lines of tugged eye-path (or, in story-terms, reading’s audit trails)…  all mingled with vital considerations of the artist himself who perpetrated it, of the artist’s model (the artist’s loved one who is tugged herself into the canvas’ ley-lines (or paper insect-trails of print?)), and of the artist’s agent or, here, surrogate third-person narrator who is also in love with the model and who travels to the artist’s studio after failing to raise him on the phone and, after fearing the worst, eventually discovers this ‘Sistine roof’ (that expression of mine does not do it justice)  and the various entrapments of both word and word-evoked images, in turn mingled with images of an erstwhile gallery-showing of this artist’s work. Is this a major, landmark story fundamentally to shake the Weird Fiction world or something of which I shall never reach the bottom however many passing glances I devote to it? I keep my powder dry.  The text, meanwhile, is stunning: and incommunicable to anyone who has not directly experienced the work itself. (3 Mar 12 – ten hours later)

The Walk Home

“It was always the best party they’d ever had.”

A touching, haunting, exquisitely worded vignette of sprites as ghosts or ghosts as sprites, with a death-enduring feminine loyalty theme in the face of everpresent masculine dangers or poignantly masculine protections: a moral ‘thin ice’: hinting to me again of the vaguely adaptable formula for humanity’s selfish/unselfish motive-tussles that I identified in a real-time review that I just completed about another new (to me) writer here.  (4 Mar 12 – 8.35 am gmt)


Who says a ghost has to look like the body it fell out of?”

An intermediary is a broker. So is a fiction author. Without hopefully transgressing my much long-cherished view of The Intentional Fallacy as a literary given, here one of the protagonists – the archaeologist Barclay following aptly the architect Joe in the first story – has his own implied ‘honey-do’ family back home: back home while he is dicing-with-danger-or-amorality (possibly equivalent to writing dangerously weird fiction) so as to wreak honour or benefit for that family. This story, as foreshadowed by ‘The Walk Home’, is concerned with (what is here now called) “moral integrity“, with Barclay also dangerously faced with his own self-perceived edgy job and the archaeological ‘riches’ he and his colleague have found in Ecuador:  wrapped round with guilt, anger, mixed motives of greed and fellowship (even murder!), reminding me of much well-seasoned high-quality literary fiction I can’t put my memory’s finger on (later filmed by Hollywood for Bogart et al to appear in?): as their tent, in the middle of the Ecuadorian nowhere, is ‘invaded’ with their apparent permission by a large poncho man carrying a  shrunken head: with morality to broker and requesting coffee to drink as the excuse for ‘invasion’ [cf: amazingly, the exact same coffee reason given in a parallel edgy situation in another of my recent real-time reviews: i.e. of the story Fake in ‘Nowhere to Go’].  Only at the end does one begin to think. Thinking is thought-provoking. This story in itself is thought-provoking — as well as retrocausally atmospheric with a prose style to die for. “While you can only see fragments of a terrible future, he is weighing options and considering outcomes.” (4 Mar 12 – three hours later)




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Morbid Tales – Quentin S. Crisp

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

Morbid Tales – by Quentin S. Crisp

Tartarus Press 2012

Previously published as a hardback by the same publisher: 2004

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

CAVEAT (1): Spoilers are not intended but there may be inadvertent ones. You may wish (i) to take that risk and read my review before or during your own reading of the book, or (ii) to wait until you have finished reading it. In either case, I hope it gives a useful or interesting perspective.

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

My previous real-time reviews of fiction by Quentin S. Crisp: All God’s Angels, Beware! – Quentin S Crisp ; “Remember You’re a One-Ball!” – by Quentin S. Crisp ; Cinnabar’s Gnosis


The Mermaid

Prelude: Philosophy in the Underwear Drawer

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

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

{later} Chapter One: Beachcomber’s Delight

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

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

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

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

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

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

{Later} Chapter Three: The End of the Tail

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

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


Far-Off Things

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

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


Cousin X

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

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

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

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


A Lake

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

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

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

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


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

The Two-Timer

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

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

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


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

The Tattooist

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

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

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

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



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

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


Autumn Colours

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

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



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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)


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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