Saturday, October 13, 2018

Life, Be Still! – H.A. Manhood

Life, Be Still! – H.A. Manhood


LIFE, BE STILL! and other stories
by H.A. Manhood

Introduction by Mark Valentine
My reviews of other older or classic literature HERE
When I read this book, my thoughts will appear in the comment stream below…

19 thoughts on “Life, Be Still! – H.A. Manhood

    “The garden had a parched, desolate air, as if it had suffered a rain of vinegar. Dead flowers trembled like sad ghosts among the living, trampled multitude.”
    I received a very strange new book today, as I just told someone in an email. The first ever collection of stories by H.A. Manhood (1904 – 1991). Just read the first story (NIGHTSEED) and it has a very florid style, with many peculiar metaphors, listed hypnotically, anthropomorphic and otherwise, but in some ways it all seems to work! To work on some unknown path of meaning! Absolutely unique,…. and rare, till now, I guess, with virtual acquaintance Mark Valentine presumably having worked on gathering these stories together for some time …(not yet read his introduction.) If you ignore the young male and female couple’s Christian names, their eventual sex and sense of God takes on a slant unthought of except by Manhood, no doubt, alongside the story’s earlier child with a china doll under the table and the old man with a flute. He previously tucked the flute away “as if afraid for its morals.” Yours, Des
    Another refreshment seeker at a wayside purveyor of such, this man called Chance makes this seem to be a distillation of a huge John Cowper Powys novel as if written by Samuel Beckett… and a cage or cager and caged, the chaffinch blinded with needles so as to sing better, a slice of life from some past that never existed but seems all too true and natural to have done so. As if expressing things with these words that could not be put readily into hand movements or even into scryings of living creatures’ spontaneous movements as a new language.
    “‘Poor little bugger,’ he murmured.”
    “It could not be said that the cottage faced the sea; rather did it look sideways at it, a little patronizingly, it seemed,…”
    ‘Dafternoon, I said. Or someone said it, later in the tale. You know, I already knew I had discovered for myself a new classic fiction writer in this HA Manhood, and this story clinches it! Yet another story about seeking wayside refreshment, a cup of tea, perhaps, and this a tale about the woman in this sea-girt cottage who has herself a tale to tell to the narrator, a simple tale of poignant loss. And her husband — separately — has the same tale to tell. Both tales identical but utterly different. A simple gem of a tale of these tales, one that should often be anthologised, I say. Plus a glimpse of 33 pairs of eyes and talk of what spiders’ webs can be likened to.
    “His head was uncommonly large and crowned with dry, sad coloured hair; always was it tilted insecurely in the too-small cup of his collar as though he were listening for the voice of the long dead Queen.”
    Sad coloured, not sand? Yes, sad, I say, as this tale and speech of an old-timer lodgekeeper confirms my belief that this is a very special book of stories too long out of the public gaze. A true belief. A belief that this old God-unbeliever has his own road-just-for-the-sake-of-being-a-road, a road that is a given, a road for this old-timer who believes our world to be a spinning top, ever on the brink of unspinning, a road that is a Zeno’s Paradox, perhaps. A major word portrait of a character, any character, but especially this character, as couched in astonishingly rich and sometimes constructively unruly metaphors and similes. With unwieldy penknives carving cone-birds, a belief that belief — as well as unbelief — leads to unconsolement.
    “All great literature gives such a choice — that is why it is great, immeasurable in effect. After three hundred years they are still discovering new meanings in Shakespeare’s work.”
    But scrape that ambiguity off God with one’s penknife and we reach just the word God?
    This story is a classic that exceeds even the classics of John Cowper Powys whom, for me, Manhood most resembles – and the story will continue to resonate with its own untreated ambiguity, untreated till now? Till the top topples or the road ends.
  5. And the next story could also be entitled LIFE, BE STILL!
    “You do talk damn queer.”
    “That is my privilege. Unless one talks damn queer nowadays, nobody listens.”

    You won’t believe this, but it is true (ask my wife) — an hour or so ago, here, I developed a new phobia for synchronicities arising from gestalt real-time reviewing and then I pick up this book to read the next story and find it is called what it is called! My last significant cough was in October 2016 that lasted a few weeks. I seem to have a weak chest. Well, overnight, last night, I happened to develop a cough, one that I fear is also set to be long-lasting! Anyway, that aside, this story is worth the subject-matter, another classic, grotesque and laughter-inducing (between the coughs); a man who is a writer is nightmarishly plagued by a relentless cough from the tenant in the next building. He ends up paying a mercy visit with medicine, after earlier cursing the cougher, even considering shooting him from a tree opposite the cougher’s window. I will not tell you the outcome, as that would indeed be tempting fate. Suffice to say, that the writer (as the character in the story) probably wrote this great story as a result of his experience in hearing the cougher. A happy paid ending? The book’s prose style goes into even more tumultuous overdrive of idiom and ultra-idiosyncrasy, and the characters involved here are pungently hyper-Dickensian.
    “Upon the floor by the bedside were many clots of phlegm looking exactly like so many wandering slugs.”
  6. Pingback: Synchronicity rampant… | DES LEWIS GESTALT REAL-TIME REVIEWS Edit
  7. Sadly my cough and cold no better today, but am decidedly inspired by…
    “Words didn’t matter much after that.”
    The story of Pomega, daughter to a father who exploited her labour and wants to marry her off to one of his cronies. The downbeat style of her abode, the interpolation of a narration by a young man who decides to save her from such a destiny, the sappy, sinewy, synaesthetic nature of nature where country matters, are couched in the most superlative richness and creative rawness/ instinctive contiguity of phonetics and semantics that I have ever experienced. No exaggeration. A blend of Coppard, Bates, Powys, Lawrence, Bowen’s Apple Tree and Farjeon’s Martin Pippin in the Apple Orchard, and much more, including much that is unique, including the idealised manhood of the narrator come to this culmination or crisis. And who believed whom? The perfect ending. Can you tell I am mightily impressed by this writer, whether come so late in my life or not? Life, be still, while I try linger.
    “The boy often walked along the towpath down by the canal at night after his work in the factory was done. There was nowhere else to go, and he liked the oily quietness of the place. No din or hurry down there between the warehouses; you had time to think over the little there was to think about.”
    (cf the nature of THE CANAL in a simultaneous review here).
    A vignette about a crudely holed vinaigrette in one of the most tactilely fish-and-chips-oiliness in all literature, after a boy takes a dry-lipped, hungry-enough-to-eat-cigarettes old lady from the towpath for a meal, having felt desperately sorry for her. Thirsty enough to allow vinegar upon her lips, while waiting for her tea…like Christ, I wonder? A very powerful work.
  9. Cf Helen Marshall’s “sluggish, bottom-dwelling sturgeon” two days ago here.
    “But luck had driven into his net a most royal sturgeon nine feet long, with a girth of forty generous inches and a snout like a lighthouse…”
    Royally rich with the fish-and-chippy oil of the previous story? Maybe, but this is more about Tom, who dresses foppish or womanish when he’s not hard out hauling, hauling, hauling, hauling church bellows and ugly snoutfish mannish work fishing, rescuing souls from wrecks, now proving he he can play an organ, too, with a woman, himself, or in a church or other more carnal ways; this has utterly beautiful oxymorons of literary haulage, in this community of slick talk and feudal customage of purveying fish or bodies or love…and the hard lust of trawling. Church organ to church bells? A wedding of wrecks or just people swimming with the tide to escape the undertow? A church roof sweating with its own “holy burden.”
    “First and Last We’ll Ever Be”…

    “Her hands came together like mating gulls, chafing each other, but it was like clay attempting to warm clay. Easing them apart, Tom brisked them lightly, fearful that his own horniness would rip her soft skin.”
  10. SEAHOUSES — An Old Rhythm
    “As snuff scattered in jest will startle a crowd, so did the soot of the railway startle the town.”
    …and as these words will even startle the literary aficionado already with a taste for such wordily pungent portraits of a town and its community, legends, history and future. This is rare stuff, no mistake! Grit your teeth afore reading it or visit now the railway town on the opposite side of the estuary’s “tonguing of fresh and salt water” – “to wrench his useless teeth from his blue and swollen gums.” Seahouses is the town on the side of the estuary without the railway but with an infrequent ferry to the town opposite, and we watch it decline. We relish the nature of its pub and remark what a good Christian name for its landlord – Amen. And the coach that comes and goes called the Ark. The characters literally live on the page. The words, too, like real living creatures. Words like “strakes”, “cloam”, “cloop!”, “tunegar”, “yarn-parlour”, “skelderers”, “cheapbrides”, “treacle-ball”, &c. &c. (See my prose poem published in Stand Magazine in 1990, ‘The Brainwright’, shown here, as a then unknowing distillation of such words?)
    There is so much here, about both towns and their characters, and Seahouses itself reminds me of the scenario in the fishing community and laddish emotions and sense of earthen gestalt in a story I happened to read by O’Meara earlier today, reviewed
    here, a SF scenario that inadvertently synergises with aspects of Seahouses fishing lore…
    Nothing I can say will do justice to this Manhood work and its old rhythm. Direct portraits of impending and fulfilled eschatology and indirect, but inferred, scatology, all siphoned into the reading veins, bypassing the art of story itself. The nature of the bell in Amen’s pub, included.
  11. From SEAHOUSES “: the Hewlers, Gogronds, Kiddens, Shacklejons, and the rest.”
    And now we have Squaler Adams, a dealer in dogs, dogs that “howled mournfully’, a character direly to die for, a spiv or conartist, “Muttering angrily at the crawling progress of a hawker in his path,” as he heads towards a gin-binge at a pub, where he bullies the pub owner to give him sanctuary with his numbered dogs for racing, from out a cage of whips, and then Squaler dickers with Jimmy the Dose for two more dogs, eventually getting his comeuppance of whip-cracking from a gang of boys… all good stuff, all bad stuff, stuff that makes literature blench. All in a Manhood style direly to die for. Prose that has its own crack of whips as words.
  12. There will now be a delay of a few days before continuing this review of what increasingly becomes a review about a major new writer experience for me to cherish alongside my once cherishing the now distant experience of starting to read Dickens, Lovecraft, Robert Aickman and John Cowper Powys.
    “…I was waiting for Timely, dressed uncomfortably in my best.”
    Nobody should need wait for Timely, I guess, if you know when he is coming. I have had to wait all my previous life, though, for the chance to read this story. Seriously unbearable in places, once you read it, you, too, will know you have been waiting to read it, without knowing. And if you did not know you were waiting, it could hardly be called waiting, could it? Timely in this story starts as a Mr Barkis giving a lift to David Copperfield? No? Well, this substantive work, that surely should be on all lists of great literature, starts with its own confession and penance. And then we hear what led up to it. The imaginative boy narrator’s journey to stay with his aunt, while his mother had an operation, the boy taken by Timely and his son Gabriel who happened to be going to the aunt’s place where her husband Malpas was the baker in their bakery home. Timely and Gabriel going there to operate on the broken Malpas oven. There are “crumb patterns” throughout this story. I cannot retell it all. I have waited long enough. You will need to wait, too, till you read it for yourself. Suffice to mention the eponymous nails: Christ’s nails, at least two of the characters deem them to be. Religion as an illness, to be operated on. The outcome is devastatingly deployed, the words themselves becoming as sharp as those nails. The nature of the motivation, passion and obsession clear as a pike staff. The boy narrator imagines his own battles from history in his head. And the inchoate battles in this story will not only seem real in your reading head, I warn you, they will stay there too, perhaps nailed there. As well as the characters and all the bakery lore of short-dough and harvest festival wheatsheaf. An army of screws to bowl over.


H.A. Manhood

LIFE, BE STILL! And Other Stories
Gestalt Real Time Review continued from HERE.

My on-going thoughts in the comment stream below…

  1. 12th story in book…
    “He looked like a boy flying a kite upside down.”
    A good-hearted tale of monstrous fishing, a monstrous haul of salmon plus a monster, as a gratuitous gift to the hungry Irish who had suffered enough from their three-nails priests, judging by the tone of the backstory of O’Fluddery and his Dad. Probably the first use of the words “we’re a long time dead” anywhere! The tale itself is a fishing party presumably from England: the narrator, Rich with his trusty pipe, and the Novice, three men eventually not in a boat but in a currach. Having come to the sea on the Irish coast, unimaginably close to the dreamcaught Gulf of California (!), the three them come to fish the sea since some Irish folk had poisoned the river of fish ‘cause of their hunger. The three of them having first met lame O’Fluddery in his cabin who takes them out. What a haul! How many times the word ‘haul’ is used I lost count. And it is a mayhem of slipperiness and lobster-pot and tugging, hawling, dreamcatching, grappling with words as well as fish. You will not credit how the saltiness laced with fishscales is injected straight into your veins. What a rollercoaster of a reading experience! Tantamount to a Noyes Fludde…
    “We crossed a second great bog and O’Fluddery stretched in his seat, pointing out where he had once cut turf and the place, famed in legend, where the women of two villages had long ago fought with prong and slaney over a matter of morals which had seemed merely amusing to their menfolk.”
    “Swine! Catch him out when he moved though.”
    I remember two-shilling bits well, sometimes called florin. As if it had two souls, or a choice of two morals for a fable like this one. A portrait of a boy with a well-earned florin, eager to treat his mum and himself, suddenly feels sorry for a blind beggar. Drops it as an impulse into the man’s takings. Then obsessed that the man isn’t blind. Stalks him most of the day, to test out his blindness. All a creeping and a darkly spying. Till the creeping came to running. But I never see God even hardly move, though. Can’t catch Him out, I guess. A gestalt of two shilling morals.
    “…after a thoughtful licking of lips, he picked up the florin, wrapping the scarf again about his thick neck,…”
    “— the shelter between the piers had become a chapel to them, a kindly holy place from which life, out of which they had so nearly slipped, was viewed with a sympathy and mellowness which had been impossible in their old state of loneliness.”
    “Their toothless mouths watered at its rosiness and they decided recklessly to eat it, chumble it…”
    Two old women, who seem to have lost their own children to death, as happened in those days, as it can happen today, too, both of them with a new companionship of slipped-away life, sitting in a seaside shelter, a sort of shelter where they might see me sitting on odd days. They see many others come and go, too, others of changing personage or demeanour, in this touching vignette, including a pretty girl who passes nearby, and the windfall of a rosy, juicy apple in the two women’s hands happens to roll away from them … to change destiny if not for themselves, but for others. A sort of vicariousness to be cherished.
    Life, be still!
    “‘Nothing wrong with you except boredom,’ he said. ‘You’re living too tamely, too securely. Your nerves and senses are only half-awake. Go and live under a volcano or on a floating island. Live dangerously and you’ll appreciate life.’”
    I walked to the one-sided island of Jaywick today (about an hour or so ago); a place that is my own volcano-equivalent to the eponymous rocker. My photos posted here just before I read this story, including a photo of the the pub ‘Never Say Die’…equivalent to the ‘The Merry Moment’, a cosy but wind-wrenched pub islanded in the middle of nowhere as it were? And the cottage its landlord rents out to a woman who is part of a death-dicing love triangle involving two brothers. Under the huge rocking rock, rocking like the pub in the wind. The story itself is the advice the doctor gives above at the start, and it is the job of doctors, if not priests, I guess, to make us never die, but at the end he is the one that the word ‘never’ never really was never. We who remain, always, meanwhile, believe that never lasts forever. Probably off our rocker!
    Life, be still!
    “‘What the hell do you mean by interfering with the kids?’ I asked him.”
    A brief tale told to the narrator by his father about his own tooth aching and going to the dentist. A tale about seeing, while waiting for the tooth appointment, a man in the park who was so hungry he tried to eat the coloured tissue from the kids playing with it in the park. Just like the woman earlier in this book eating cigarettes. There seems some sort of connection. Both dying from this hunger, being at least one connection. A tale about moral weaknesses and countervailing obligations laid out obliquely. Good teeth alone won’t necessarily stem hunger. Seemed at least half-significant that the father’s job at box-making entailed using 16 nails per box…
    “…like a rubber stamp of a rubber stamp,…”
    A spinster finds her art in the found art of the flowers in her garden, her father having been, she at heart realises, merely a chocolate box painter, not a true artist at all, his art still born, even if the author’s words to describe her father’s art are a literary art indeed. Yet, miraculously, my mind takes fire at the happy ending of this title story, but not the first, nor last, story in the book. The loveless spinster finds vicarious love beyond the thorn bush on the hill-top. Sees something religious as well as passionate beyond the crown of thorns, as it were. The keeping of the book of preventatives she now sees to have been pointless. Being still born is, I feel, life still being born again and again as if born forever.
    “, like hounds eating the fox that was the reason for their existence, and being sick afterwards.”
    …the hounds or the hunters? Being sick afterwards. This most floridly and circuit-breakingly textured text has handholds or wormholes offered for the sophisticated reader, and is narrated by a young writer after when that young writer’s recently adopted mentor writer Begoney was killed by somehow inheriting his (Begoney’s) own boy child’s anger management problem in crashing into things. Begoney’s crash was in a car, though, a car as a faulty cocoon, not a bike as it was with his son. Backstories of Begoney’s bygone burnt hut with his manuscripts in it. Unrequited love with a counter girl replaced by a woman called Naomi for a disciple to adopt following Begoney’s death. It was as if the whole thing was all panned out before Manhood had even offered Naomi his manhood, with pen to this paper, and became Naomi’s surrogate husband now as a lover and writer transcended… says something important about the nature of fiction. Fiction and life. Fiction and life crashing into each other like an ill-suited oxymoron, but sometimes with a synergy only great writers can manage. I think I grasped how this work works, reading it like worming through wood, sometimes like climbing, and it takes a toll.
    “That sounds like a poetic belch, but I mean it.”
    “There were stacks of neatly roofed timber on all sides, oak and elm and walnut, too, more than he could ever use, but bought simply because he could not refuse fine wood of any sort.”
    A good-hearted tale about an old heart on its last legs, the narrator’s carpenter uncle, down to earth and pungent. A gambler man, too, who tells his nephew to ask the local shoemaker who also acted as a bookmaker to put some money on Walnut Will, a horse running that day. Good will, free will, of simply the will in philosophy or religion, there are so many synchronicities of deaths and happenstance that come together in this eventually and ostensibly tragic tale, it did not really seem tragic at all but a sign of a goodly share of wholesome destiny to those who are connected with and homing towards some wonderful gestalt, I guess. This book its own maker that way.
    “That was what belief was for, unexpected and only worth something to those who had it.”
    “I certainly hated that ladder — it was like travelling around with the skeleton of your worst enemy —“
    Maybe you should not be allowed to publish a retrospectively reprehensible short tale like this one. But it certainly is seasoned with good-hearted mischief. A sign painter abandons his ladder-cum-bike for a hi-jacked lorry and takes up with a ‘Professor’ selling miraculous healing ointment from fairground to fairground, but anything but fair this fare. A “faith” in fairtrade of a half-crown for this book’s earlier florin? No, the exchange of faith itself. A confidence trick in every sense. And a fable with a new expression for being dead: “wrapped in hymns.” Goose cooked. Hawled, not healed, by his own petard. A fable with an amoral not a moral.
    “, afraid that some bloody horror would gape over the high brick wall of the garden at them. All imagination, of course, but maybe it is good for simple folk to gather all their fears in one place, to be able to avoid them.”
    A striking concept that. As is this work’s title as a description of seeing the best in things. My theory, however, is that the title is a strong clue this is a ghost story after all, not one about plain philanthropism. A story of a house that has been abandoned by the elderly couple who lived there, one of whom at least is dead. A house feared by the community. A young couple break into it regularly for their trysts. Their life together promising to be a hard struggle against poverty…
    A beautifully engaging story about an atmospheric venue for a tryst and trust in the future. A ghost story, despite what the author tells us.
    “…sound seemed to be galloping loose on some crazy errand of its own.”
    I had not looked ahead to this story’s title when writing the previous entry!
    A story about some enthralling experiences of ghosts that turn out to be rationalised as not ghosts at all. Until we are told about the death of fox-lover Stuffer Martin. With an ending I will not divulge here, but will add that its nature seems to be the essence or gestalt of H.A. Manhood fictions as I have grown to love them while reading this book. A tinge or echo of a Mark Valentine essence, too?
    “…sound seemed to be galloping loose on some crazy errand of its own.”
    “…jackdaws wheeled away like something scorched by the sight of us. We slowed by the dew pond on Gaylord Tump, coughing and sputtering to a standstill.”
    A moving and inspiring story of a family’s first encounter with a horseless carriage and its oily power. One of them has moribund health but he takes on a new lease of life when able to set it going with the others aboard.
    “That ride home was like a swift dream shared by every tiny bit of us.”
    “His interior design was all wrong, he said; doctors had wept over him, saying it wasn’t possible for a man so muddled inside to live. But he managed it all right, and how?”
    This was the eponymous character’s sales pitch to Moses Lodden about his miraculous medicine, saying he thought Moses only had two months to live, otherwise. Moses does not buy the medicine but believes the prediction and adjusts his life accordingly. The engine of life is as muddled as many of us believe that engine in the previous story is! Well there are many more machinations of plot leading to a good-hearted end, as I hope we all have. Each of us our own version of impossibility. I reckon Moses’ eleventh commandment was Thou Shalt Not Die, one that was suppressed by a worried God.
    “Moses hauled and bawled, not understanding for a moment. Then he shoved the limp, lanky Human Impossibility back on the bed much as a dog might drop a peppered bone. He peered close and began to laugh.”
    “They’d an engine to run the mill and they pulled and pressed ten ton of apples quick as boiling kettles.”
    A ripe pungent word-roistering tale of ugly mischief and righteous recrimination, and double dealing, concerning a man called ‘Pendent (short for Independent) keepering or poaching, a thin line, pocketing a hare for a bet, then a fine cider press, cider barrels supposedly topped up with animals’ meaty bits as thoughtless tinkering, like the earlier medicine bottles bottomed by half-crowns, well not exactly, but you will know what I mean, if falsities as to crimes committed become no crimes at all. Or vice versa.
    The word ghost as a verb is not unusual in its figurative sense of a fey gliding gait. Here, though, it means to create, for sometimes selfish or nefarious reasons, ghosts … or, indeed, to encourage haunting by any existing ghosts that are believed to exist. Here a little girl is assumed to use “soot and mice, water and fire” to deter people buying Presamber Grange where she wants to stay living. But cherubs are fickle. Children, too. An unmissable tale for ghost story enthusiasts. Quirky like Reggie Oliver. Perhaps the only ghost story in the whole book? Although many other stories in this book do ghost.
    “peculiar, seaweedy tweeds,”
    This story has the most hilarious ending you will go far to find. I even laughed out loud, something I rarely do. The story of two surviving brothers out of five, one a collector of stamps, the other a writer of incredibly popular detective fiction, that might do GK Chesterton proud. They have guests as part of these activities, ending with billiards or snooker in the eponymous room, only just big enough to accommodate a choice of cues and the resultant required potshots. If I tell you any more, it would spoil this undoubted comic classic. But what, I ask, is “an ill-in wrestler”, “a complicated still which looked like a brooding family of pelicans”, and dusty “Bume-Joneses”?
    “Independence could be good or bad. People needed each other, but most times they were too proud or stupid to admit it. Ah well, regret never showed a profit.”
    Aunt Tom (Thomasina) a widow, sees the eponymous vision outside her house, and a gradual friendship builds up. Touching, moving, poignant, roughshod, rueful, clownish, and all that these words mean, with more meaning on top, replete with idiosyncratically crepitating observations. With another brilliant ending, not to die for, but to double and do for.
    What a Manhood orgy of relatively brief tales I have experienced this afternoon!
    “Hadn’t seen him like it since he photographed Hitler in a bathing suit eating ice-cream.”
    A long time dead, as this book coined earlier. I didn’t conjure that quote out of thin air. It’s real. But it is just as unbelievable, I agree, as this story, as this whole book, in fact. This one is a of a ten year old boy (told to you when he was older and you have now told it to me), a boy who was once diddled by a legacy in an envelope from Hereward Unless, told not to open it till he was sixteen. “It was like having an oyster swear at you while you squeeze the lemon, but I didn’t weaken.” You must not weaken when you read this book. A sort of poetic belch or literary cough induced in anyone who dares to review it! I am an old big-headed man myself now, and a quote from this last story had me in stitches – judging by the photo I chose above several days ago. “…and while he was looking the old man woke up, his big head rolling and his pig’s eyes staring.”
    Let me treasure this book in silence at least for a while.