Monday, May 28, 2007

My review of Thomas Ligotti's major new work

This is my on-the-hoof review during my first reading of The Conspiracy Against The Human Race (CATHR): a major 'non-fiction' work by Thomas Ligotti that has just been kindly presented HERE prior to book publication.:


I have just returned from a short holiday with my wife ... 'distraction'?

And got on straightway with reading The Conspiracy Against the Human Race at the first opportunity. Thanks to TL and Dr B for making it available here.

I thought I would make some brief passing comments in media res - and I have reached the text up to Footnote 8 on page 7 (including the reading of footnotes). I don't want my passing thoughts to shade off into hindsight as I read on, so this is why I want to comment periodically as I read it (not guaranteed how quickly).

I have enjoyed this TL's 'sublimation' by means of the text so far ... more 'distraction' by means of such 'enjoyment' on my part?

Sublimation is indeed how I read it .... so far.

I wrote a line of poetry in 1965: "It is futile to call life futile as it is."

Not sure how this will pan out. Enjoyed it and been instructed. Instructive that such thoughts could be thought at all .... and made current in the context of one of my favourite 'fiction' writers ever ('anchoring'?). (I've put fiction in quotes as a safeguard pending my own further thoughts.... if any there be).

I feel as if I am swimming. But I can't swim, have never been able to swim, despite having been brought up in a seaside resort as a child!


I've now reached reading to the end of 'Thinking Horror' and I see I shall have to re-read the whole magnificent tour de force one day, but, meanwhile, to comment as I promised: piecemeal ...
I'm currently unsure whether we are being made to imagine the most selfless numinous (nemonymous) self (in connection with the Proustian selves described in this section of CATHR) or to affirm one's identity so that one can doff it with grander effect!
For example, by wearing identity one becomes even more identitiless when one does become identitiless after having an identity once (a single self not doffed in favour of separate selves within the same headlease (if powerless) self but in favour of the non-technological 'singularity' of an unself) ... and writing fiction is thus the identity (or job) one shall later doff in this way??

Is the fiction writer the potentially suicidal God?

PS: Meanwhile, I hang my head (with its self snailed within it) in confused dismay for having been a 'breeder' during my lifetime.


"You live a day a day to put life in" is another line of my poetry from the sixties.

I have just read 'Enlightenment' in 'Facing Horror', and I somehow thought of the word 'Zencore' (a word I chose to be the title of an anthology of Horror (nihilist?) fiction (at the printers as I speak)), as well as Zencore already being the name of a herbal 'medicine' with the advertised effects that 'viagra' has on male 'performance'. Seems somehow appropriate! Or misappropriate in an appropriate way!

I think literature is a religion in itself. And TL's CATHR (so far) is an (advertised) non-fiction (a Short Life of Horror) description of the nullities of ego, life's futility etc. and layered descriptions of thinking of the nullity of ego etc. (and then thinking of that thinking...), and all the ramifications that thinking has for death wishes, spiritual seeking ...
TL's non-fiction, so-called, in this essay, is also literature, I feel ... highly honed, professionally couched, fascinating, fulfilling, satisfying, basically 'true' (so far) to my own unarticulated thinking, and thus making my life more worthwhile (intrinsically worthwhile?), and presumably TL's life, too, by having written such a life-changing tour de force.

Just a mid-term brainstorming. More later. I don't want to give birth prematurely ... if at all.

No place for smileys here.


I have now reached the end of 'Intolerance' in 'Facing Horror'.

This rings loud bells with me for my relationship with blood relations and even chosen friends vis a vis conflicts of religious temperament. I am not even on the same map of (non)-belief as most people I know. It is a hard cross to bear. Pretentious, too.

I see CATHR is subtitled 'A Short Life of Horror'. This is reflective, I feel, of Peter Ackroyd's history of London entitled LONDON: A BIOGRAPHY. This is the essence of it (so far): we are talking about someone's life, a biography, an overview by the life itself of itself. An eternal philosophical dilemma of a mind examining itself with unknown and unknowable filters between. This is how the author of CATHR is so clever in bringing puppetry into the equation. But as yet I fail to see how he will eventually solve this conundrum. He may have of course even cleverer prestidigitations up his sleeve as I read on.

I think 'potentially suicidal gods' (the thread title given by Dr B to my original post) sums it up neatly .... but will they remain for ever 'potential' suicides as most reckonable suicides are, because they are not suicides ... yet? And to 'reckon' a true suicide one would indeed need to be a God to come back and tell us about a true 'happened' suicide. (All other sucides are just hearsay). And without a 'true' God in the equation, the whole CATHR falls apart. But it also falls apart with a God in it, of course.

addendum: here: are my own gauche thoughts that were published in 'Roadworks ' (1999) under the title 'Beyond Death' as gathered and trimmed by exegesis frm my earlier wildly immature thoughts in several 'Tentacles Across The Atlantic' columns in 'Deathrealm' during the mid-nineties.


I’ve been thinking more about the title of this thread: What is Natural is Futile.

Having now read to the end of the ‘Facing Horror’ section, I feel unhappy because nothing further naturally flows to my mind to say publicly at this stage about my reading of CATHR. “Keep quiet then, till you have!” I hear shouted. But this very thought has made me question whether my earlier posting of comments actually made me feel happy – when I (in fits and starts) ostensibly had something natural, instinctive, organically-subsequent-to-what-went-before, to say. In contrast, it is dreadfully downbeat to have to say something, i.e. to force yourself to concoct something to say, rather than depending on the natural flow of thought in life’s discourse-of-least-resistance.

But expressed thoughts-at-length are generally not natural, not auditable except, possibly, in rare moments of genius or inspiration that only ‘magic non-fiction’ such as CATHR can produce – and this is probably why and how its author does not break down into tears of despair (as one would otherwise expect with any author) during the polished treatments of blinding futility, cynicism, pessimism, visions of frightening nothingness, cultured barrenness etc. that he is managing to articulate so manfully, so meticulously, so learnedly, so downright calmly for us to absorb. Because it is a natural flow, not concocted, and this makes him (arguably) happy.

No natural flow in this thread, however, unless someone else enters it with his or her own flow of thought to channel me away from false concoctions.


My first readng of CATHR has now reached the end of 'Fictions' in 'Consuming Horror', with some disconnnected notes ....

I am beginning to wonder if the nemophile and nemophobe are the same person.

Did you know that on the Titanic there was a musical band that continued to play in the lounge right up to the very moment of the ship's final sinking?

Is there such a thing as a gratuitous act?

And if one takes the thrust of CATHR (so far) to its own rational conclusions, would a mass killing (or mass suicide pact) in the ultimate (if hopeless) hope that universal cleansing would then ensue - even within the constraints of an ostensibly logicalised philosophy - be untouchable by laws that were intended to prevent such events? This may be something that any publisher of this work would have to be wary of. But, of course, anyone studying CATHR should finish it before making any such judgement of speculation.

The Suicide of a God by writing philosophy about its Godhood?


I have now reached reading to the end of 'Supernaturalism' in 'Consuming Horror'.

I like the concept of the sense of the supernatural, as opposed to the supernatural itself.

What is SuperNatural is not Futile (to coin a new thread title)?

Mention of Joseph Conrad makes me think that 'Chance' is the plaster that our dire wounds (described in various ways in CATHR) need, ie. wounds inflicted upon us from simply having life - plus bandage-layers of narrators or of ego/id/nemo viewpoints that we can scatter around like placebos or decoy-puppets or shadows.

Aren't shadows on the wall sometimes more revelatory than seeing the people that cast them? CHANCE is a novel by Joseph Conrad. Here, the characters and particularly the heroine are drained of any motive or sympathy because of the layering of narrative: we hear a spoken voice telling an inscrutable narrator of someone else’s view of someone else’s view of certain events, mix and match between. But it does not seem to lessen one’s interest in the book: it is character-driven and sympathy is allowed to take a backseat in preference to exploring one’s own motives for assigning certain motives to certain types of people just on the basis of hearsay and chance. Conrad writes in introduction to CHANCE: “And it is only for their intentions that men can be held responsible” and this novel seeks to show, I think, that any intentions are essentially unknowable. I propose that even one's own intentions are unknowable: being shadows, too. The heart of darkness.


Overnight I've wondered if the title - Conspiracy Against The Human Race - is double-edged (whether intentional or not, multiple bluff or not), inasmuch as CATHR itself is to become a conspiracy against the human race and/or, even, the author's own conspiracy against himself.
I intend to have a short break from reading CATHR today as it is, I feel, the sort of work from which the reader needs respite - a respite from its headiness of texture and its cocktail of shadows. However, I may be tempted back into its enticing maw sooner rather than later.

What is SuperNatural is not Futile (to coin a new thread title)?

Maybe this is an echo of my earlier thought: 'magical non-fiction'.
Magic Fiction turns fiction into reality (non-fiction) -- please see separate thread on Magic Fiction and Magic Realism -- whilst Magic Non-Fiction is vice versa. The only way, perhaps, for CATHR to counter any charges of incitement towards despair etc. is for it to call itself Magic Non-Fiction rather than a plain 'non-fiction' as it calls itself at the moment.

Style outdoing the subject-matter by means of being outdone by the subject-matter (as tendered on the 'Potentially Suicidal Gods' thread re Lovecraft)?

I shall later try to rationalise some new thoughts of mine regarding 'word clones' or 'word clowns'.


Well, I couldn't keep away for long from this unique reading experience that is CATHR. It is both deeply serious and laced with a deep cynical humour (I sense), a humour which does not relieve the dark seriousness but alters it like a pungent spice would make a stew a curry.

I have now reached reading to the end of 'Consuming Horror' - 'Style'.
Lovecraft is not a writer, I feel, but a phenomenon that is his writing. If you read his letters to Kleiner, you might not wonder how he needed his future reputation as a person to be blotted out by cosmic horror! His prose style is aso blotted out by the same cosmic horror; so his style autonomously creates the cosmic horror with blatant over-dramatic coagulants of semantics, graphology, phonetics and syntax ... indescribable reams of adjectival feasts ... a lurking fear that outdoes its style by, paradoxically, being outdone by it! And this paradox relates to the cocktail of shadows that is CATHR. It is more than its parts. And I genuinely believe (and I repeat) (with the sole current reservation that I have not yet finished my first reading of CATHR) that we have a God here who is destroying Himself by writing a cogent work of Philosophy to prove His own non-existence*. As Lovecraft needed to do, whether intended or not.

*And this is the prestidigitation I predicted earlier, perhaps, whereby the author of CATHR is solving the conundrum of a mind examining its own mind...


'Something unforeseen must have happened. You know, even grown-up people cannot always do what they want most.'

'Oh! Then why grow up?'

From Part 3 (1) of 'The House in Paris' (1935) by Elizabeth Bowen

Is that not a better question than "Oh! Then why be born"?
Something to be said for being childlike (not childish).

I have now reached the end of the 'Living Horror' section in my first reading of CATHR. My ambiant self continues to be attuned to these (self-confessed?) self-righteous articulations of morbidity and futility and cynicism. I am glad I have been able to live long enough to read this genuine masterpiece. I have (always?) believed - but not articulated - that I was born simply to make bowel movements, assuaged by my (only) drugs of alcohol, art and family-building.

I shall make more comments when I've finished 'Creating Horror'. The greatest despair of all has not yet been articulated within CATHR, the despair of Namelessness. Perhaps that's why Lovecraft did not major on the Unnameable but on Azathoth.
To doff one's name, to remove it from the authorship of CATHR for example, would be the way to bring a Death-before-Death as trenchant as one could hope, a meaning to meaninglessness so meaningless it would no longer seem important to reach it. One's Name is the last God to write out of existence.

I call it Nemonymity. I, for one, have failed to reach this Heaven.

Addendum: For Easter (a short novelistic take on death):


I have now completed my first reading of CATHR up to the end of 'Sickness' in 'Living Horror'.

Maybe I can be forgiven being a 'breeder' during my lifetime, by having named my daughter Berenice in 1974. :-)

Under this thread title, I think it appropriate to quote this extract from Stefan Grabinski:

"Wrzesmian wasn't too popular. The works of this strange man, saturated with rampant fantasy and imbued with strong individualism, gave a most unfavourable impression by inverting accepted aesthetic-literary theories and by mocking established pseudo-truths. His output was eventually acknowledged as the product of a sick imagination, the bizarre work of an eccentric, maybe even a madman. Wrzesmian was an inconvenience for a variety of reasons and he disturbed unnecessarily, stirring peaceful waters. Thus his premature eclipse was received with a secret sigh of relief." FROM "THE AREA" BY STEFAN GRABINSKI.

Re Nabokov and metaphor, is it a metaphor that what I consider to be his greatest novel is entitled ADA but pronounced ARDOR?


The fiction and the non-fiction by Thomas Ligotti are symbiotic. But which is which?

Is CATHR, in view of its articulations formally here labelled 'non-fiction', going to entail that the printed book of CATHR is going to be anonymous, i.e. when all traces are removed from this site? Authorship will then be a rumour ... like death.


I have now finished my first reading of CATHR. I can't tell if I am a changed man as a result of reading it other than, perhaps, by having the foresight to record my initial thoughts piecemeal during the reading! Is this a new way to review books - a whole review spread in time split between two electronic threads, i.e. this thread (Potentially Suicidal Gods?) and the other thread (What is Natural is Futile), both of which badly need other posters than me to complete the Jungian circle, the universal review in time and electronic space. But these spaces (infinitely wide threads?) have remained mostly far.

I am enormously impressed by CATHR as a whole. It is original and thought-provoking, encouraging the readers to become even more original in their reactions. It is a template for us. The author of CATHR calls us you in the long seemingly heart-felt Shakespearean soliloquy at the end of 'Plot' which is about losing the plot. You to us to them. How do we know we are the only creatures on Earth who are aware of our future death?

Death is Natural. But we are Supernatural, immune within our body-car, till it crashes...

If there is the sense of the Supernatural which is tantamount to the Supernatural itself, why can not there also be a sense of our immortality, where we learn all the mistakes of life and become essentially happy forever? A sense of fiction. A sense that is magically stronger than reality. A regaining of the lost plot. A regaining of Proustian lost time. A casacade of selves that is us.

I am, however, ominous:

How can CATHR infer a mind that writes CATHR as well as being the same mind examined within CATHR? Perhaps by disassociation created by word clones and word clowns. Puppet strings tied to the letters before the post-performance letters become indelible insects squashed to the page in deceptively neat ranks ... and by brilliantly 'anchoring' (to recoin that word) the thoughts in CATHR to a learned array of references elsewhere in the literature of morbidity.

Would this also solve the danger of CATHR - in some hands - becoming its own Bible of multi-destruction?

Is CATHR a conspiracy against the world, rather than a description of that conspiracy.

Is it ontologial suicide?



Something I wrote some years ago below. It's a bit dated. Now I'm gone neo-ominous!

The Ominous Imagination

My greatest love in fiction is the 'Horror/Dark Fantasy' core that I find in most sorts of literature, old and new, literary and otherwise.

For me, this core should be and is being expanded by the current vogue in fiction genre-crossing and genre-betweening (Interstitiality), i.e. acting like a magnet, and making other fiction traditions conducive to the 'Horror' spirit or, as I would like it to be called, 'The Ominous Imagination'. Indeed, I believe, most good fiction is (and has always been) imbued with and steeped in this type of imaginative spirit, in any event.

Those who publish genre-specific outlets in the Horror fiction field, for example, perhaps allow the hard-fought beach-heads of 'Horror/Dark Fantasy' to crumble and separate out, thus allowing these particles of fiction already gathered for the 'Horror/Dark Fantasy' core to escape from that core because such genre-narrowing outlets tend to crystallise that core AS a core rather than as a magnet.


I hope Thomas Ligotti will accept being the high priest of the magnet, not of the core.


Friday, May 18, 2007



First published 'The Night Side' 1991

The music was a backing track: the sound of the military brass band in the park nearby.

Johnny liked the library for its quietness, broken only by the odd bluebottle or by some other reader's fingers flicking pages for a moving image. Today, however, Johnny was on his own. Even the lady with the stern expression, who usually sat at the front of the reading-room in a high desk, had outstared herself into a state of ever-increasing nothingness.

Johnny enjoyed browsing through old photographs of the town, particularly brown ones of the Market Square during wartime and of Temperance Street when the school was for infants only. Any old photographs, come to that, were appealing. They conjured up past eras better than the eras themselves. Better than words, he mused. Definitely better than any words. He often brought in his own family albums, since the ambience of the ancient library lent a tantalizing dimension to the memories that the photographs contained.

Not all the snapshots in the albums were real memories of his, however. Johnny had been born long after, for instance, the time of that yellowed oval of his great grandmother, in stiff wide skirts and a look too stern for the passage of time to diminish. One showed his parents sitting at opposite ends of a large family gathering. In later albums, he saw his mother, big with himself, sitting proudly beside the father he was never to know, she in the frilly clothes of her period and her husband in what appeared to be a religious get-up.

The library was hot today. Being a bank holiday, he had been surprised it was open at all. It was a pleasant refuge from the people in frolicsome mood outside. He turned the pages of the albums quickly, so as to allow the pages to breathe, seasoning the stipply grain of the images whilst they flashed by cinematically. He knew them by heart as well as eyes, so there was no real need to study the detailed backgrounds to the main subjects. All were pictures of people, formulating a dynastic flow of faces, amid a panoply of weddings, christenings, first communions, confirmations, Christmases and, last but not least, funerals.

Johnny finally arrived at a little nipper, bringing him to a halt. He never liked to stare at this photograph, there being something deliciously unhealthy in delving behind the tiny eyes, seeking the creature that twitched within, all the time knowing this was but a younger extension of himself Johnny by another name -- perhaps a realer Johnny. Tinged with sadness, this child�s soul he once owned was just outside his grasp.

As the brass band struck up their rendition of Oklahoma! he abruptly decided to return to the library book which had taken his fancy before resorting to the familiar albums. This contained a photographic history of the Falklands War, where Johnny's brother had been killed. In fact, one of the professional shots showed his brother in a group of other smiling marines only a few days before they were all burnt to death. Johnny wondered why he did not cry upon looking at this. It must be something to do with being the younger twin, he supposed, if only just.

He eased his club foot further under the trestle table, striking up chords along his ratchetted spine, which made him flinch. He shouldn't be here at all today. The lights were off and he had not seen anybody, except perhaps the shadow of the stern lady.

He concentrated back on the snapshot of himself as an infant. He was shocked to see a detail in the faded background which he had not noticed before. This was unbelievable, in view of literally hours upon hours of scrutinizing its every angle and facet. He was standing there with seaside bucket and spade clamped within a tiny hand. His sharp-creased white shorts showed no sign of blemish nor underlying manhood. His large-for-its-age face was poised in unassuming manner within what he then thought to be the all-encompassing innocence and safety of the world. The lips that formed the mouth pursed quaintly....

But the sign of the shop in the parade across the road from him, which he had always seen as CHINA AND CUT GLASS, actually said POGROM PANJANDRUM. Johnny put his nose nearer to the colourless surface and managed to discern a faint image in the shop window of a puppet on strings, rather like Muffin the Mule, but with bigger ears and a distended udder of tubes dangling from the belly-bottom.

A spider crawled across the library table, looking from side to side as if it were crossing a busy road with only the rudiments of kerb drill.

Johnny could no longer hear the brass band and, with the growing darkness, he could hardly make out the only door from the reading room.

Things crawled and slithered across the photographs, some even seeming to emerge from the frozen images themselves, things which should have stayed in the wings: thumb-sized monsters with hairy-ended backs, never photographed for posterity since they were ever beyond the range of the widest-panning cameras: living toy soldiers with red bubbly skin from over-exposure, twitching in the darkness like half-crushed insects: dollish women stuck halfway in giving birth, finger-holing eyes in the babies' beads, which reared from their red nests: creatures of every conceivable sex, in coitus interruptus, squeezed out from between other album pages, with sticky corners. And real children, who would never have lived at all if it were not for Johnny, pushing wormcasts before them in the shifting egg-sands of existence. And one who was Johnny now, or maybe his double, fleeing with flailing limbs but caught inextricably in its body's own knitting.

The brass band struck up the opening chords of Rule Britannia, while, unknown to those who would never know until too late, Johnny froze into black and white images little better than words on a printed page.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

The Regency Cafe

First published 'Memes' 1991

I always returned to the Regency Cafe. There was nowhere else like it.

Many of my friends said they didn't know where it was and even after I'd given them exhaustive directions to meet me there after dark, none of them arrived, later telling me that they had searched high and low, turned right where I'd said, and equally left where I'd also said, but no sign of the Regency Cafe.

This was quite beyond me because, of an evening, its music (usually Edith Piaf) echoed loudly down the surrounding side-streets. Its lights shone out and yellowed the wet cobblestones like old-fashioned diseases. How could you miss it, I wondered.

Still, there were times when even I found it more difficult to locate. I put this down to the weather - because the elements often alter the way the land lies as well as one's own frame of mind. But I always did find it in the end. Those were usually the evenings when a big football match was being held in the city, with the consequent lack of customers drinking black coffee.

The city was ever full of mist. One wondered if the floodlights penetrated sufficiently to pick out the players and the ball.

The air could be seen to coil upwards at street corners. This was indeed a feature of our city, something to do with disused underground railways, I'd always thought.

My mind was wandering. I had no set goal in life. The visits to the cafe were, believe it or not, the highlights of each dark afternoon which imperceptibly turned into night. When my friends didn't turn up, I began to suspect they were not friends any longer or, even, that I never had any friends at all.

The steaming coffee urns were a comfort to watch, however, as was the waitress who tended them. They had a beautiful shape. I'd never seen urns like them. The steam hissed gently, the tenebrous fluid gurgled, as the whole of my life scried before my very eyes within the dissolving coffee grounds.

One day, the waitress looked beautiful herself. I'd never really examined her closely. I knew her general demeanour was one of the positive things of life. But there it had ended. So, on a particularly misty afternoon, with the street thermals more than a little active, I turned my eyes towards her, as towards a recently polarised magnet. The other customers had already become shadowy glimpses bent over lonely cups in every corner. She became the fixation: a paramount image of one I should have loved all these months, rather than ignored. I needed to speak to her: and she opened her mouth as if to speak to me just as kindly...

There were hearty slaps on my back. My so-called friends had at last discovered the Regency Cafe and I spent the rest of the night entertaining them amid the loud French music. I hoped none of them would ever come again.

The following dark afternoon, there was a waiter on duty. He told me that the waitress had left the cafe ... for good.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Fall From Grace

First published 'Song of Cthulhu' (Chaosium Books) 2001
Written in Sark 1992

There can only be more fear coming with the words. But I simply write them to keep more worrying ones at bay.

"This is where the hinge would have gone," announced the well-endowed woman as she passed her arm up through the hole. A tongue of stone, near the top of the Cyclopean boulder, was a protrusion which her demonstration proved was not entirely solid. Judging by the difficulty she had withdrawing her arm, the dimensions of the aperture were evidently not great. I could imagine the wooden pole that was inserted there years ago and the huge gate hung from it across the lane. But why a gate here?

"Why was a gate needed here?"

Somebody else in the group had beaten me to the same question. In any event, 'hinge' didn't strike me as the best word, the one the buxom woman had decided to use, but I could not think of a better one. Whilst I was thus day-dreaming, my mind slipped a gear upon this and other preoccupations - and I had missed the answer to the question. So I provided my own answer: the road once needed to be blocked to prevent the easy transit of things that should not have walked the Earth.

I sucked my Polo mint from the middle outwards and trudged after the tassel of tourists as it coiled in the woman's wake. The day was hot, a fact which, based on the summer so far, was quite extraordinary - but ever since I'd arrived for a holiday, the sun had not failed to disperse the desultory clouds. The island was 3½ miles by 1 mile, irregularly ringed with back-breaking climbs down to craggy bays. And the lack of cars was a heaven, despite the few tractors to which it would have been uncharitable not to permit the five hundred inhabitants to have access. The tourists pedalled along the island's dusty lanes on hired push-bikes or clip-clopped around in horse-drawn buggies. The names of the bays rang alien to my English ears, with words I had seen written on the island map, like Leng, Rl'yeh and Tekeli-li!

In any event, the islander woman who chatted to us batches of holiday-makers on foot, as we accompanied her in constituent groups of twos and threes, was an expert on the gossipy sights of the island, including tales of an Occupation, which I took to be the German one during the Second World War. It was strange to believe that some of the old inhabitants had actually been subject to the Iron Heel of the Nazis ... but even stranger to hear said that the oldest ones had submitted themselves to other invading forces which were somehow softer, looser and, paradoxically, crueller.

One sight to which the large woman trooped us along was the very hotel in which I happened to be staying, a hotel that boasted a room where Victor Hugo had once slept. Yet some of the poems she read aloud to us spoke of things like Yuggothian Fungi and were, to my mind, as far from Hugo as it was possible to get.

In any event, the group tagging behind the woman guide was treated to coffee at this my hotel and I was delighted to see that some of the waitresses (who attended my table during dinner in the evenings) were milling about amid the clinking cups and saucers. The waitresses were indeed attractive: one in particular with boyish looks and confident mien, some others in the early blossom of womanhood, a few younger than I would have thought possible in such an occupation, all dressed smartly, if sombrely, from silky shirt to short skirt to black stockings - most with bashful looks on their faces, some more than others. In the evening, one or two of these waitresses seemed to sink back into the shadows of the dining-room wall to keep careful watch over us eaters, so that, presumably, they could the sooner clear up used crockery, whilst the other waitresses were in the kitchen making girlish noises to whomsoever prepared the excellent French-style cuisine. The diners themselves were predominantly French and it was a delight to hear the waitresses stutter in neither English nor French but some hybrid of both. Shyness incarnate, those waitresses. Prettiness personified. But I often felt a fear that they were not quite what they seemed: a feeling with no evidence to support it. Even the boyish waitress could not have looked sinister if she tried.

As I finished my Polo mint earlier in the day, I realised indeed that word association had caused me to think of 'pole'. 'Post' was better. Gate-post. I determined to repeat the question regarding the mysterious need for such gates on the island, since I had indeed spotted a few of those stone tongues elsewhere. I hastened after the female guide - but that was when we had, surprisingly, via paths I had not previously traversed, reached my hotel for coffee and for a Victor Hugo so foreign he ceased to be simply foreign.

So, the question of the hinge, ineluctably, faded from the forefront of my mind. I vaguely recall that I dreamed that night of a long pork snake that threaded the stone hole with the consequent squeezing of a moveable thinner section along its malleable extent. And its snorting noises seemed like a mixture of Welsh, French and German, with backsliding gutturals that belonged to none of these languages.

It was peculiarly difficult to sleep on the island, with its background of silence. This was in contrast to the quietest spots on England's mainland that were endemically infected with an insidious hum of traffic, the most distant of which seemed to be borne in on you by all means of mental and physical channels. But, here on the island, with the sea's insulation, paradoxically accentuated by cry of gull and wave's watery whispers, there was silence in its true sense - except for the occasional light footsteps of waitresses heading to their beds in their hotel annexe. Yet sleep, once established, was all the more powerful in its grip, resulting from its own satiation on such silence. Sleep was blacker than I ever remembered it on the mainland, but not without vague hints of impending curses and of echoes that leapfrogged words whilst retaining some nagging meaning which only a pukka language could convey.

The pre- and post-prandial drinks in the bar, with which I often tended to indulge myself when on my holidays, added to the initial restlessness as I tossed and turned upon the squeaky wooden bed-frame - but, then, with a single click of night's fingertips, I would drift into seamless slumber. The day's energetic clambering of crags and sunlit rock-pools also enabled the body thus to slip the mind's sticky spider-web more easily. All of which could not account for the incursion of that particular dream I later tried to recall but which, now, I've completely forgotten without rereading the worrying words I have written above.

When I woke in the morning, peculiarly unrefreshed, I found it troublesome, for the first time during my stay, to meet even the tolerant requirements of the hotel's availability of a cooked breakfast in the dining-room. The waitresses were not so pretty in the mornings, I had already noticed - and their attentiveness was imperfectly maintained. Still, young girls are infamously inconsistent. The boyish one had had her hair cropped even closer upon her day's leave yesterday across in a larger island nearby called Guernsey. However, I eschewed mentioning her change of hairstyle - not that I had ever held any meaningful conversations with her (or with any of the other waitresses) before this morning, so she probably didn't notice I was off colour and untalkative. I normally requested more toast after consuming the full English breakfast, but not this morning. I overheard the French conversations mumbling around my central table and, uncharacteristically, I did not bother to stumble through a clumsy translation. The difference between hearing and listening, I suppose.

Today, I determined to visit Derrible Bay (thus pronounced in the French way), one of the very few locations (named on my map) that I had not yet explored during my stay. I suspected it would be as similar to the other bays as they were to each other, such as Dixcart Bay (again thus pronounced in the French manner) and, yes, the ones whose strange names I had forgotten.

One such newly nameless bay had a particularly steep (even for this island) climb to its sandy cove: close to the causeway that led to a nearly separate peninsular of the coast, one which reminded me of an annexe or, in a more physiological likening, an appendix. It was almost as if it had been left unsqueezed at the bottom of a shapeless toothpaste tube.

In any event, Derrible Bay was to be my venture today. I would save my visit to the peninsular until my last full day on the island (tomorrow). Even so, I was sure there were other parts of the coastline I hadn't visited even once. But, for the first time, I noticed that the whole island was becoming slightly claustrophobic, yearning, as my subconscious probably was, for a good stretch in a train journey and a refresher course in resorts. A number of bikers nearly knocked me off my feet and I mentally shook a fist at their receding backs, as they pedalled off, no doubt, to the gardens and maze at La Seigneurie. It was then I noticed another of those stone tongues poking from the side of an islander's house. I decided, for no obvious reason, to put my own arm through it, as if, in hindsight, that would complete a circuit between me and the island's heart: an attempt at reconciliation.

The place had seemed so idyllic when I first arrived on the small ferry from St Peter Port, I had imagined I could stay forever in such a Shangri-La as this island. Now, I wasn't so sure. My arm just fitted the hole in the stone tongue but I could wobble it about, my hand emerging from the top like a five-feathered head-dress on a totem. As previously with the woman guide, it was more difficult to remove the arm than insert it. However, once accomplishing the withdrawal, I touched the outside of the stone that encompassed the hole. It vibrated, I'm sure, echoing my own metabolism. With some reluctance, I continued towards Derrible Bay and my assignation with yet one more alcove of contemplation. I couldn't get certain words out of my head, although, as I write, they have entirely vanished.

The path spiralled down towards the rocks where I could see somebody sun-bathing, draped across a rock in what I considered to be a most uncomfortable position. I soon gathered it was one of the waitresses from my hotel, respectably, if scantily, clad. This was the first time I had see a waitress out of uniform and I was surprised how surprised I actually was at such a sight. So surprised I almost slipped.

Her vulnerability as a human being was particularly striking. I decided to return towards the gull-screeching cliff and leave the poor girl in solitude. Yet, before I could accomplish my escape, she raised her head - and smiled. Simply that. All the waitresses in the hotel had often smiled in my direction, but this smile, in comparison, was more focussed - human, yet with an indefinable animal's instinct, if not with a bird's or, even, fish's. Her rearing stance from the rock allowed me to glimpse the tops of her small breasts. I waved, as if to say: "I do recognise you, but it's not fitting for a guest to acknowledge a waitress outside the hotel, especially here, when nobody else is about, not safe, not anything." And I ran all the way back, despite my normal inability even to walk such island paths without stopping to catch my breath.

The boyish waitress - who I later believed to have been that very "creature from the deeps" (as I tend to think of her now) whom I had encountered in Derrible Bay - served me my meal that evening. As I munched through the Duck a l'Orange, washed down with a half litre of dry white house wine, as was my habit, I wondered for the first time why there was no Gideon's Bible in my room (as was the wont in most hotels I had previously visited) but only a strange black-skinned book with Arabic-looking words. I also mused that there had been no yachts moored in Derrible Bay that day - which was strange because I'd never visited an empty bay before on this holiday: being August, there were many such white triangles around the whole island, peppered along its coastal outskirts like mosquitoes kissing the waves. Before the duck, I had struggled with a starter of a lobsterish fish, described in the menu by a French word I hadn't dared ask to be translated, but it was almost alive, I thought, as I held down its unwieldy tail with my fork whilst forcing off, with my knife, segments of pink meat from the central fan-nerved bone. I cannot recall its taste, but it does somehow dredge up another dream that disrupted the deep parts of my sleep that night....

Instead of silence outside the hotel, I heard the trundle of horse-traps and the gentle rumblestrips of bikers. But, surely, that could not be right, it being the dead of night. I dared not move but, in spite of such immobility, the bed squeaked - of its own volition. I dared not move because I simply knew I could not move even if I tried. The boyish waitress walked towards me and I could see as if I saw through her luminous eyes - but then I knew she did not walk at all, for she dragged part of herself behind her, across the carpet, and she held out her arms, with each five-pointed hand like a sculptor's about to mould clay into new shapes.

The next day I could not stir myself to do anything, except for a spot of packing and sitting in the hotel garden reading a Henry James novel. Towards evening the weather finally broke down with doses of drizzly wind. Yet, on the day after that, my spirits returned, as my body returned, as it were, to Guernsey, on the small ferry. I was childishly eager for the bigger ferry that would take me on to England. I now sat inside the ferry, in contrast to my excited sentry-like stance at the bows on the outward journey, waiting for what was then to have been the first glimpse of my holiday island. I tentatively felt all round my neck. Felt the collar bones. And deliciously scratched my back on the deck-rail. The break had been of at least some benefit. I was decidedly more in tune with my own body, with all that climbing in and out of the craggy bays.

I looked down at the tops of my own small breasts. Yes, no doubt about it, the break had done me a whole world of good. Leaner and fitter, indeed, for the encroaching chills of Autumn. And I relaxed my mind, listening to the other passengers drawl and prattle in words I wouldn't care to translate even if I could.


Dark Chintz

Gutger Kyle was to be our spokesman.

"Why him?" I asked, pointing towards the framed yellowy photograph on the wall of our bedsit.

"Why not him?" asked Lucy.

"That doesn't seem to be a good reason."

Lucy and I were ensconced in our love-pad, one where we'd not yet made love but one where we would make love one of these days, given the correct ceremony of foreplay or negotiation by a third party. We'd rented the place to live together in. An unspoken purpose, till there was someone purposeful enough to speak it. But what would a single man and woman rent a place for, other than to live together in? And being sound of limb and mind, what else could living-together mean if it were not loving-together? To live is to love had long been a maxim of mine. But to live together was doubly so. Yet, then, neither of us had accounted for Gutger Kyle.

When we first moved in on that dark, rainy, soggy-leaved Wednesday afternoon, the name Gutger Kyle was unknown to both Lucy and myself. Only gradually did the person behind the name impinge upon our consciousness. But everybody's name, at the end of the day, is a pseudonym for the body. So we should have not been surprised at the outcome, should we?

Lucy had certainly never heard of him before nor, obviously, met him in any shape or form. Me likewise. I suppose it being a furnished bedsit would help us both disown ownership of the photo. But why was this particular photo hiding its own shape of size on the chintzy wallpaper? - wallpaper pasted up on the plaster, no doubt, at the behest of the even chintzier landlady - who recommended the bedsit to us by its view of suburban roofscapes. But London was full of such scenes, I'd thought. Wet shades of grey, as the evenings drew in.

Several weeks passed before we put two and two together, which was never easy when there was only two of you to start off with. The photo was the same as that on a hardback's dust-wrapper - one of several motheaten books the landlady had left leaning against each other - presumably for show, since nobody, surely, read proper books in this neck of the London woods. Except, perhaps, Lucy and I. They seemed to be cast-offs from the time when Boots the Chemist issued you with library tickets as well as phials of cure-all medicine. Foxed and thumbrinted, with a strange label that centuries couldn't unstick. A squashed insect halfway down page 57. Something worse squashed on page 102. The tome in question with the photo was, of course, by Gutger Kyle, or how else would Lucy and I have known his name? Called GHOSTS A MILLION it was. Another by the same author was THE BLACK SPOOK. Another one - what was it called? - WILD HONEY. In fact, as I began to cast my eyes through them, I felt I knew the style of the prose already. Or was that the benefit of hindsight? Whatever the case, I, too, can write just like Kyle. Rubbed off on me. Got my word-wings caught in that damn honey!

In any event, judging by the bibliographical details inside the title pages, Gutger Kyle was more prolific than his lack of fame could explain. However, the most astonishing matter, to Lucy, as well as me, was the smell of the Kyle books. Many book-lovers and word-worms maintain that an intrinsic feature of a book's aesthetic value is the manner its 'nose' can remind one of better days, endless summer holidays, the wonder of childhood, bee-buzzing meadows, the nuances of nostalgia or the cloying of chintz. A cross between mustiness and turmeric. Cough linctus. Newness and oldness combined. And permutations of redolence. Speech-marks and spokesmoke. And whatever. There are no right words. Or all words are right. But redolence is the best. It springs to mind. The only way to convey the colour red in smell? Maybe. Or yellow. Or thick thick dandelion wine. Or liquid bees. Or, even, earwax.

The book which smelt, according to Stanley, strangely - so strong, so strange, it brought back memories you'd never had. The book was by Gutger Kyle, yes. Entitled. YELLOW TEARS.

Incidentally, Stanley was the landlady's - he told us Kyle rented our room in the thirties - hence his photo on the wall - but did that follow? - would Lucy's and my photo be put up, when we left? - yet I never asked the question - I needed someone else to ask. Stanley was a spiv. He sold things on - how shall we say? - like photos, I suppose, to people who didn't want to be taken. He set children on stuffed donkeys. Gave adults the organ-grinder's monkey to hold. Then snapped them. Clicked his fingers and waited for the money to turn itself into foodstuff for him and Mrs Ladle (the landlady). He said he had known Gutger Kyle. Took the very photo on the book jacket. And on the wall. All those years ago, when Stanley first started out as portrait painter of the single brushstroke. And Kyle was a young writer, without a publication to his name.

The time came, however, when Lucy and I started to smell the books purely in the hope of osmosis regarding the plots. But eventually we stopped not reading them: the only way I can describe our negative approach to fathoming their content. In fact, I tried to read them aloud to Lucy,in moments of desperate foreplay. At the same time, I was intent on not looking at the pages, in case I was infected by something in the shadows of the words and in their appearance on the yellow-mapped pages. We spent many a night making the small hours smaller, whiling them, not away, but back, as if summoning up a past that would not have existed if it weren't for us in that past's future: a future created by our very perusal of the pearls of wisdom which a certain Gutger Kyle had once decided to disseminate in the guise of novel ghosts. In short, we laid ourselves open to the serendipities of life and, hopefully, love.

Soon we read more into those books and, if it were not for the blur of memory tinged by dream, I'd be convinced that Stanley and the Landlady were merely characters in the fiction rather than the real people who were our neighbours in the house. Skylady and fancy man.

A story - one in an anthology that included several famous writers such as Joseph Conrad, Henry James, Lawrence Durrell, Ivy Compton-Burnett, Charles Dickens, as well as unknown ones such as Gutger Kyle - was particularly disturbing. Kyle seemed to have condensed his usual free-fall style that often ranged wide in plot, place and people into a more hard-core vision, where word was plot, white spaces and wide margins place and monsters people. In any normal sense, one couldn't relate to it other than as a pure poem which happened to be prose. I often glanced up at the photo as I read the story aloud, wondering how anybody could write like that, particularly a human being, one, presumably, with frailties and a brittle bone covering the brain.

Lucy listened breathless. I needed to breathe, however, in view of imparting the words from the page via my voice-box into her eyes - which eyes, in turn, spoke volumes as to her frightened reaction.

Halfway through there was a sudden knock on our door.

"It's only me!"

Evidently Mrs Ladle.


Lucy broke her breath-fast with this single word.

"There's been a phone call. Didn't say who they were but it was a crossed-line, too, and one of those calling mentioned your names ... but then it went dead - and I wondered if you were expecting a call and would know who to call back..."

Mrs Ladle's voice was muffled by the closed door. I placed the anthology upon the bed-quilt and walked over to grab the handle, in the hope of instilling some sense into the end-game of her visit. Getting rid of the interruption was an art form in itself, even if a hard-nosed priority. I forget exactly the outcome but, apparently, Stanley was worried about anonymous callers. He called them undergrunts. He and the landlady were ex-directory while, by virtue of being tenants, Lucy and I were tantamount to nameless as far as most of the outside world was concerned. The Poll Tax authorities were sublimely ignorant of our existence, and aborted telephone calls seemed more sinister than the possible people making them.

Mrs Ladle had disappeared by the time I had opened the door to her, because she'd heard Stanley shouting - or, rather, banging the dinner gong in the downstairs hall.

"I wonder what all that was about," I said, returning to the anthology.

Lucy shrugged. I wanted her to kiss me.

I forget exactly the outcome, as I said, but, somehow, we had lost all enthusiasm for the Kyle story and its faltering synchronicities. In fact, the dream it described was interrupted by the relentless ringing of a phone which woke the story's protagonist - as I was to discover upon reading it to the end a few weeks later, when Lucy was out job-hunting. It transpired that the protagonist was a monster just like the monsters in the nightmares from which it had been woken up.

While failing to fathom my own motivation, I jumped up from the bed - where I usually sat for want of an easy chair - and peered under the photo on the wall. It took Lucy's absence to allow me to show off my bravado in such an act. Otherwise, I may have failed, with her watching, which would have been the worst of both worlds. Good job she was out job-hunting at the time, then. Well, beneath the framed image of Gutger Kyle (the image that had bedevilled our waking lives together, without us really realising it) was the oblong of wall it had covered for - how many years?. And there resided the faded imprint of the same image. Yet, instead of the sepia of the ancient photo, it was a sort of negative, not black and white, rather shades of grey. Shades of grey. That rang a bell. Ghost were shades of grey. But, no, it was more a mirror image where the mirror itself was as insubstantial as the reflection upon it. Nevertheless, it was proud from the wall - previously sunken, no doubt, into the inset frame's back, the one I'd just lifted up - as if the image was trying to escape the plaster. And, indeed, underneath, the wallpaper was neatly cut away, revealing this nether face, uncluttered by chintz. At the eyes, there welled waxen pearls of sorrow, gummy to my yellow touch.

My description fails because I am no mirror. I am more that type of insubstantial mirror I was actually trying to describe. Lucy would understand.

Of course, I questioned Mrs Ladle about it. She asked me to tell her Stanley. He was the one, she said, who saw to all the odd jobs. Not her.

Lucy never returned. Evidently got a job. Or so I was told by a mutual acquaintance who had a foot in both camps. As to Gutger Kyle, I never bothered to lift up his photo again, in case it had all been a dream. I needed to cherish madness while I could: to help me get over Lucy.

I conducted some research in the local library regarding Gutger Kyle. he did straddle, as I suspected, the turn of the century. He wrote many novels and was, at one time, as famous as those who remain famous now. He struck up a fleeting relationship with the authoress Ivy Compton-Burnett but as that is omitted from her biography, I wonder if it was true. In fact, that might be where I went wrong: believing what I read in books.

Lucy would understand. I can hear her breathing in the wall. Walls can collect sounds as well as memories. Places are people. Plots are pasts without a future. I'll have to get Mrs Ladle's Stanley up here to see to the pipes, I guess. He says he wants to take an old photo of me.

The job Lucy got, I hear, is one of being a real person. Or, at least, a spokesperson. Well, it's a promising start. Pity we never made it together, though.

(published "Dream From The Strangers' Cafe" 1994)