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The Satyr – by Stephen J. Clark

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

And it is of the novella entitled ‘The Satyr’ by Stephen J. Clark (Ex Occidente Press 2010).

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

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

All my real-time reviews are linked from here: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2010/09/07/df-lewis-real-time-reviews/

All my Ex Occidente Press real-time reviews here: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2010/09/24/ex-occidente-press-real-time-reviews/ (30 Nov 10)

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THE SATYR – BY STEPHEN J CLARK

From the Publisher’s website: “The Satyr is a sewn hardcover book of 108 pages with dust-jacket, silk ribbon, endpapers and a full-colour frontispiece. Edition limited to only 100 hand numbered copies. $55 inc. p&p to Europe and USA, $55 to the rest of the world. This is a collector’s edition. The book can be acquired only via Direct Order.”

I. TRUST

“…some city that I’d yet to imagine: a capital for ghosts and dreamers, improvised in miniature.”

I offer myself as a trusting reader to the book as it unfolds, and I am immediately entranced, as the situation coheres like sketching a picture myself of it.  A London under Blitz with the atmosphere of Elizabeth Bowen’s masterpiece: “Mysterious Kôr” and with, dare I say, at least some elements of Machen’s “Fragment of Life”.  Marlene – with help from her pictures and sketches and sigil-signature and spoken contexts, pictures that the reader can actually see for real in this book – is built up as a waif and stray and busker artist, I don’t know, but who takes up or is taken up by an ex prisoner (Mr Hughes who happens also to be the narrator of the book so far) as she searches for reunion with her artist inspiration, a man (Austin Osman Spare) whom she calls The Satyr, as she talks through her dreams of the Danube… and much more in addition that helps me cohere my own picture of her, and adumbrates my own dubious relationship with the narrator who makes me feel uneasy. Perhaps I make him feel uneasy, too?  (30 Nov 10 – two hours later)

II. THE SÉANCE

“She explained that the Danube was pushing at the seams of the fabric of London…”

[CF:ish – Agra Aska]

…in parallel with London having “its throat ripped out” by the Blitz. Indeed the penultimate sentence of this chapter is the perfect crystallisation of “Mysterious Kôr“…. whether it was authorially intentional or not, I’m pleased to have been party to its narrative ‘discovery’ in this review.

…as Marlene and Mr Hughes negotiate these brilliantly described scarred streets (embued too by Dickens and Ackroyd) in search of the Satyr … via sigils and Spare-scored street-clues – and via a sixpenny séance. Marlene is after the Satyr but someone, she’s told, is after her, apparently.  The reader, no doubt, or at least this reader?

This book is simply taking off for me.  And I’m in keen pursuit whither it may take me. (30 Nov 10 – another 2 hours later)

III. Ms CHARNOCK’S FIRST REPORT, MONDAY 5th MAY 1941

I simply think, at the current precise moment, that – for me – this is the most important chapter in any book I’ve read in recent years. I feel as if I’ve read it before, although I know I haven’t. It’s rich with quotable quotes I could quote. It seems to crystallise everything I’ve thought about ‘The Synchronised Shards of Random Truth and Fiction’ since that appeared as a subtitle of the ‘Weirdmonger’ book in 2003.  Suffice to say, Marlene Dietrich (as she calls herself, it seems) is now effectively described by a new narrator and – internally within this new-angled narration – Marlene is shown narrating about herself … together with more of her own striking artwork for readers actually to see for real. Meanwhile, I fear Mr Hughes (the original narrator) is coming too close for comfort… as if tantamount to making me compete with the head-lease or freehold author himself!  (30 Nov 10 – another 4 hours later)

IV. THE MANSION HOUSE TAVERN

“I was holding her hand across the table when the swelling moan of the siren interrupted.”

If the previous chapter confirmed my initial trust in opening myself to this book’s “revelatory images” being “coaxed into being“, in tune with Marlene’s coaxing, I am now returned to the original Mr Hughes narration, at least for a few moments, as if his hand is a glove for mine.  Air raids brought hands together in 1941, I’d say. [My mother still tells me of the time she slept on an underground station as a bomb shelter.] (30 Nov 10 – another hour later)

V. Ms CHARNOCK’S SECOND REPORT, THURSDAY 8th MAY 1941

“…cowled shadows crawled up his limbs to whisper old forgotten phrases in his ears.”

Narrations crowd in like characters, with double agents, one called Bloaters, between  narrations. History versus history. Geography versus geography.  Regression, retrocausality, Danubian / Southwark Borough cross-sections of time and space, self-mythologising – all this, but none of it – threaded though with a simple sad quest by artist for artist (but which artist and for whom), with readers intervening with their own differing malicious interpretations.  [I spotted myself in one of the earlier pictures.] 

It’s getting late. Hopefully, when I next engage with this book (tomorrow?), I shall be able to reconcile some of the above thoughts I’ve thought tonight. (30 Nov 10 – another 3 hours later)

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VI. THE UNDERWORLD

“She was deciphering signs again, finding patterns that were not there, at least to me.”

All depends who ‘me’ is!

This chapter starts as a more linear audit trail of Marlene’s search for Spare’s Satyr-self in my Mother’s underground (tube station) shelter from Bowen’s Blitz – scattered with almost items (litter?) of her ‘found art’ – danubes and demons cohering from the darkness, until I am – with mixed feelings – literally accosted by Bloaters.

I don’t want to give the wrong impression. This book is linearly compulsive plot-from-prose; it’s just that I have to beware pitfalls.  It’s as if I have (or am due to) become one of the characters. Nobody’s default.  I am simply perhaps another of those faces on Henry Moore’s visions of the Blitz underground (7th and 8th paintings down on the page HERE). (1 Dec 10)

VII. Ms CHARNOCK’S THIRD REPORT, SATURDAY 10th MAY 1941

“A paint-daubed table cluttered with creased pages…” Or danubed?

I have become one who now surely meets Spare for real. Anything else about this meeting (the conversation, the environs) would be a spoiler. And as a reader, you can also see, I remain entranced, if not entrammelled.  Also, “…I’m no stranger to the spaces between … those veiled … subtle regions … those slippages and furrows. The strangest tails can be our own.” Or ‘trails’? (1 Dec 10 – another hour later)

VIII. BLOATERS AND THE ONE-EYED BOY

”  ‘You’re not going anywhere. I’m keeping my eye on you now, Hughesy.’ ”

Or ‘who’s he?’?

Who am eye?

Dickensian / Ackroydian machinations lead into fireworky air raid. Machinations that I dare not impart in detail. At least you did not need to be prematurely privy to things you should not know to know that the Satyr-seeking artist’s real name could not be Marlene Dietrich. Although she appears on posters. (1 Dec 10 – another hour later)

IX. FIREWORKS AND FLESH

“Piles of posters bearing Marlene’s face were stacked on the floor.”

Breathless narrative – amid effective mass-hysteria and Horror genre and Bowenesque images of the effects of the Blitz – echoing my utilisation of the trust I originally took (or offered) by reading this book in the first place.  By taking on the plot’s pursuit itself. Outside in. (1 Dec 10 – another 90 minutes later)

X. WISH YOU WERE HERE

“…she’d kept repeating something Spare had told her: ‘The strangest tails can be our own.'”

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?

That rhetorical question is thus writ all over many of my real-time reviews and has at last been answered by THE SATYR. You will have to read this involving novella to find out how wonderfully it does so.

“…sealed so far inside myself…”

END (1 Dec 10 – another 45 minutes later)

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