Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Kafka in Brontëland

Kafka in Brontëland

My real-time review of this book will take place in the comment stream below as and when I read it…
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11 responses to “Kafka in Brontëland

    and other stories
    by Tamar Yellin

    The Toby Press (2006)
    “Her sentences are to die for.” – Jeff VanderMeer

  2. Return to Zion
    “The floor was a mass of trampled charts, the walls a campaign; beneath the window with its dead geraniums lay the big atlas strewn with spider trails.”
    You won’t believe this story, but you will, I claim, find a higher truth than simple belief.
    Right, I’m yelling Yellin at you. No half measures, here; to die for, yes, and maybe that’s how it will turn out. She’s herself plus a cross (excuse the expression) between Anita Brookner, Elizabeth Bowen (Bowen long confessed as my favourite writer ever) and an interstitial Rhys Hughes and something Jewishly indefinable, and I am not the right person to define it. This story is constructed upon a family in our ordinary world as a classical set of characters like Odysseus and Penelope, but mundanely entrammelled by endlessly contrived goals where the contrivances are more important than the goals, a mum’s flirtations, her dad’s mixed up maps of littered routes as well as emotions, as the imputed child narrator poignantly characterises him as erecting a craft for travel, a roundabout Magic Realism that we readers fear will never work towards any culmination that the story’s title portends. Utterly unforgettable. And I haven’t.

  3. Kafka in Brontëland
    “When I was a girl I wanted to be Emily Brontë, but this summer I am reading Kafka with all the enthusiasm of an adolescent.”
    A sentence in the direction of dying, as all sentences are.
    A story that starts with the previous story’s ill-focused litter of parental possessions. And ends with some crystallisation of recognition.
    This story seems to give a palimpsest of ‘literary obsessions’ and a mundane Yorkshire Moors community, like, one minute, seeking all references to Jews in Brontë novels, the next studying some local puckishly called Mr Kafka in the village, studying him at a distance between bouts of teaching English to a multicultural world the Brontës never knew,… A similar palimpsest in the previous story was Classical Greece and mundane life. Trying to reach those Wuthering Heights beyond one’s dizziness with feet still on the ground. A story about resisting kinship. But I have found another kindred spirit for Yellin: Pflug. If you enjoy Yellin you will enjoy Pflug. And vice versa.
    “…lit up like Christmas. I am filled with nostalgia for something I never had.”

  4. The Other Mr Perella
    “He was both quintessentially English and essentially foreign.”
    …which is the ultimate palimpsest of pedigree, I guess. Pale, pearl, real, repel…Perela, Perella. To fix by the lapel…to reap…
    I hope I am not going over the top, but, for me, this is one of the great literary stories in English, resonating into areas uncovered by any genre, literary or otherwise. It is is a perfect pearl, meticulously crafted, sad, knowing, aware, covering this book’s collections of bric-a-brac, maps of life, growing, seeking that ultimate pedigree of self, via the magic of nemonymity and nameship in mutual transcendence. This story’s characterisation is sublime.
    A book left unread, is a treasure to keep. You will ever be able to anticipate it, ever on the brink of book. This book.

  5. The Girlfriend
    “She kept the curtains drawn in the front room, to prevent the carpet fading, and it seemed, more than any room I have ever known, to be inhabited by its silent furniture.”
    I love front rooms, but this is the best front room I have ever encountered. A Jewish family, seen via the eyes of the daughter, with an older brother who fails the strictures of such a family. The sad fact is that they all fail such strictures as well as themselves, but the brother makes a show of it. Again, the making of plans or the imagining of destinations that never work out. Another immaculately characterised scenario, where sentences keep the only direction that they can keep, and the girl’s long hair is plaited and unplaited so very meaningfully without (until the very end of the story) any meaning at all. Curled, too.

  6. Dr. Stein
    “So I abandoned myself to those void Sunday afternoons of childhood which give us our first taste of futility and make us long for death.”
    This is *the* masterpiece of Anti-Natalism as a precisely crafted miniature of that modern rebellion against life, a rebellion that didn’t have a name even when the author wrote this story only a few years ago. It is simply so supreme on this subject, it gives some mileage to positive Natalism itself and for taking life by the scruff of the neck paradoxically to produce such exquisite depression … although, all the time, this story remains perfectly depressing. No mean feat. A character study to die for. And a time of quiet ticking parlours or slow moving piano sonatas.
    I am convinced that this author is both the disciple and furtherer of Elizabeth Bowen, and I can give either of them no greater compliment. I recently renewed my acquaintance with Bowen: Shadowy Encounters of a Third Kind.

  7. Uncle Oswald
    “Is there no escape from our heritage, […]?”
    A Jewish ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’… simply that, combining all the angst of furthering families, including people like ‘velour-voiced’ Uncle Oswald, a bit creepy, coming and going within the pattern of your life, but someone you need to absorb into a family map or tree, to make sense of it. Someone you need to rubber-stamp, keep in touch with, despite what he is. His smug entitlement that never dies as long as there exist memories of it, like Doreen’s, to further it. But Doreen is not the main protagonist; she is a bit player. Yellin’s fiction is wonderfully a bit like this story’s Shoematic: just put your reading mind inside her fiction, then wiggle it about…
    Loved the idea of a Rolex going for a dive, as if it does this separately from Uncle Oswald who owned and wore it!

  8. Mrs Rubin and her Daughter
    There is so much in this story, it’s like the white elephant of its vast house, a practically uncleanable, ungardenable house and grounds in miniature, a visionally unmargined elephant in the room of literature. So much to tell you about, you would find it far more satisfying to read for yourself, and far more cleanly, succinctly absorbed, with no need to weed around Mrs Rubin’s greenhouse. The almost love affair of mother and daughter, the seeking of references to Jews in that vast room of literature, the unsuitable suitor for the daughter’s hand, the inscrutable finances, the unknown outcome that resonates on after the story finished. The perfect characterisation: they seem like real people walking inside the dollhouse of your mind.
    Tamar Yellin is the disciple and furtherer not only of Elizabeth Bowen but also of Anita Brookner, Elizabeth Taylor, Katherine Mansfield, Ivy Compton-Burnett … And of something far more inimical than even those writers as a gestalt, something untoward but gracious that underlies the words. Something awesome that the author herself might not recognise. Her eyes do not frighten like a deer’s. Her foot firmly on the pedal, despite appearances.

  9. An Italian Child
    “Sometimes she likes to be a princess, sometimes she plays at being a peasant. / Yes, I said, but me she expects always to be a prince.”
    A finely tuned tale of miscegenation between the English narrator (unless I misremember, the first male narrator in this book) and an Italian woman, a union with one child. Considerations of finance, religion, custom, outlook, that crisscross this text with this book’s amazingly pointilliste particularisations expressed in a smoothly textured literary language. A reconciled miscegenation of language and subject, pixel and purity. Found in translation.
    This book also stays on the screen of your mind like TVs used to stay switched on in the early days of its novelty so as to disperse loneliness or embarrassed silence. Even if only with the test card showing.
    “It is easier to tell lies in a foreign language. Which is surely why so many people pray in Latin.”

  10. Waiting for Rain
    “She watches the clock as it slowly peels off its hours. Every fifteen minutes make eighty pence. Fifteen minutes have never seemed so long.”
    It’s as if the female protagonist has plunged her hand into Elizabeth Bowen’s ‘Inherited Clock’ for the pain of its stigmata. This is a story textually racier than the others, a SF dystopia of drought amid our English mundanity of dentists and supermarkets. Yet it resonates with the finite and infinite of earlier palimpsests, the dependence upon finance ticking away: a mouth of money, a sense of anti-natalism, the sentences reaching their point of dying for. Each work with its own musical Dying Fall.
    “To Greta, pain is not a matter of degree. Once it starts, it may as well take over.”

  11. Mr Applewick
    “Very gently, Mr Applewick let down the lid, which sloped in now like lips do when the teeth are gone.”
    Even before I read that sentence, I had already compared this story’s eponymous piano tuner to the dentist in the previous story, reiterated by Mr Applewick’s ‘teething troubles’ in setting up a makeshift telescope to study the stars when he was younger. His treatment of a ‘sick’ Broadwood piano owned by careless people, itself has the meticulous (astrological?) harmonics of this whole book, and one worries that, as the years go by, one will lose track of which felt words the author of this book put in which drawer, especially after all of it is retuned eventually. Thankfully, though, this is not an ebook and nothing will have changed since these words were properly printed. A universal cataclysm is the only factor that could possibly affect this book that otherwise will outlast us all. The only tuning required is that of my own life’s resonation with age and the compartmentalisation of approaching death, especially in this reality of Applewick’s (God)forsaken universe of diminishing returns and vanishing stars. I felt comforted at least by the prospect that, even if Applewick turns out to have done a botched tuning job, the result still might be the sound of one of those dincopated Avant Garde pieces of music I have long loved!
  1. .Reply
  2. Moonlight
    “He was fifty seven years old and perished of a painless cancer.”
    You know, these stories seem to get better and better, but I know in my heart of hearts that they are all equally good as separate entities, it is just that their growing culmination or gestalt gives me that impression of leapfrog by excelling. This story tells of more disorderly accretive objects as a collection as well as multi-‘objective correlatives’ in union, as we follow the path of an artist of ‘minor fame’ within ‘minor frames’ via the insight of another male narrator, one named Norman who reminds me investigatively of myself and my real-time reviews. Not a hearty reminder, but one that imbues me with the ‘beauty of failure’ as this extremely evocative story finally conveys to the reader. The minimalist moonlit paintings, beyond and behind ‘financial disaster’ or Ruskin’s ‘morality of detail’, grow in my head as if they are photographs applied with the story’s textually explicit palimpsest of paint. ‘A cry for meaning.’
  3. A New Story for Nada
    “There is no point in reading those old stories any more. I could give them to you, but you wouldn’t learn anything about me from them. / Sometimes I think I give people the old stories in order to protect myself, to prevent them from finding out who I really am. Those stories are safe and complete, they are polished and published. They hold not one scrap of danger, nor one glimmer of discovery. They are so old now I have left them so far behind, they live in another life, they breathe in another country.”
    You hope that the author and publisher will forgive you for quoting such a long passage from the beginning of this story, but you feel it encapsulates not only this whole book so far and its envisaged author as envisaged (perhaps differently) by you and the author herself but also an earlier preternaturally predictive sense of the nature of this your real-time review itself in 2015.
  4. A Letter from Josef K.
    At first I wondered if this was Mrs Rochester speaking from her perception of Kafkaesque confinement. A confinement by birth towards ‘the rediscovery of death’ (to quote the title of a Mike O’Driscoll story). Sentences to die for.
    “I fully anticipated a death sentence.”
    This is a remarkable book but – possibly because of that very remarkability – it seems to have been imprisoned in a forgotten library just as the letter-writer is imprisoned in the last story. I hope this review at least helps toward the book’s full release. From the penal colony of self toward a trial by readers, then, by some form of metamorphosis, gaining its due of dizzy heights…

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Whitby and Rock Bay

Whitby and Rock Bay

vanderwhitbyJeff VanderMeer’s public record (link) – tellingly entitled ‘Deleted Scenes’ – of Storyville’s visit to Whitby and Robin Hood’s Bay (Rock Bay?) in 2004. Fixing the memories, as mentioned in my review (link) of AREA X. (JeffV from that public record link: “They take awhile to fade. If you’re lucky, you write them down before they disappear entirely.”)
Relevant to a reading of AREA X? e.g. cf Monkey’s Fist folk group with Monkey’s Elbow. Whitby has two lighthouses in its harbour. My contention that Area X is AREA X the book not the Area X described within the book, cf the word Storyville? And more… Much more.
I feel the author entices such connections with his wonderful book, literary or real. Or both literary and real.

Phil Raines - Iain Rowan

EDIT (a few hours later): It was apparently 2001, not 2004!
See other accounts and photos of this event:

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Revival by Stephen King

Revival by Stephen King

REVIVAL by Stephen King
Hodder & Stoughton November 2014
My previous reviews of Stephen King works (including ‘The Dark Tower’ series) HERE
My real-time review of this book will appear in the comment stream below as and when I happen to read it…
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13 responses to “Revival by Stephen King

  1. (1) Pages 1 – 22
    “On that day in October 1962, with the fate of the world dangling by a thread over a small tropical spit of land called Cuba,…”
    In life, a human catalyst comes along, for good or ill. For this book, perhaps for its author himself, such a catalyst is a real-time reviewer, this one being called DF Lewis (now Nemonymous) who had LOTS of small horror stuff published in small places in the late 1980s and 1990s, as Charlee Jacob once did, too, and, since then, like me, she has stopped submitting for publication her excellent multifarious small stuff, judging by on-line evidence. Where is she now? And that is all quite irrelevant, probably, other than the fact that I was reminded of her by the sudden ominous arrival of one of the world’s catalysts (a young new church minister named Charles (Charlie) Jacobs) in six year old Jamie Morton’s life. Jamie is one of four brothers and one sister, and he, like me, enjoyed using his imagination in the playing of toy soldiers etc. I was 14 in 1962, at which time this chapter takes place. Is Charlie a type of grooming predator, of whom today we are made increasingly aware by the encroaching internet? Trusted as a minister, he takes Jamie to his garage to show him a partial blue-painted religio-landscape tableau called Peaceable Lake built, I infer, as Dreyfuss built more instinctively a landscape model of a mountain in CEofT3rdK…. Charlie’s model is more methodical and is lit by premature battery and electric tracking systems to allow a model Jesus to walk on water. I am already intrigued by the easy, nostalgia-fluid language, drawn, as I am, into a web, a something or other about which recent scandals in the UK make me feel wary that one day this will be another hindsight scandal, another self-igniting of genuine recrimination or false regression? I will try not to further itemise the plot of this book as I delve further into it, as that may spoil it, but I shall recount my reaction to it. And now with Cuba in the news again at the tail end of 2014…
    “And I wonder if you could manage to call me Charlie.”

  2. (2) Pages 23 – 48
    “But writing is a wonderful and terrible thing. It opens deep wells of memory that were previously capped.”
    …writing dreamcatchers as gestalt real-time reviews as well as writing the books themselves, or the diary leaseholded by the freehold author to the capped oil well of Jamie Morton. Impending over Jamie’s hindsight narration, I infer, of three years, is the outcome at the end of those three years that we are already told about, making this not quite a diary, but a novel, or someone telling us things in hindsight like a loaded diary. There is a wonderful characterisation of Jamie and his family, their trials and tribulations, the miracle performed by Charlie the Minister upon one of Jamie’s brothers, stemming from a loaded deliberate guided experiment (as noted by Jamie’s older sister) with electricity, Charlie’s obsession with electricals, with antenna, things with jump leads, and static electricity from balloons rubbed and then stuck on a boy’s jumper, or boy balloons…? And elephants in a room.

  3. (3) Pages 49 – 70
    “Any day could be the day we go down, and we never know.”
    We never know what time scheme of loaded destiny we’re working with here, retrocausal or otherwise. All I know is that this book is very powerful stuff, as we learn of gory outcomes ahead of times. Minister Charlie’s loss, then his giving of something that loses him even more: the religious respect of his parishioners amid the cross-currents of Christian sects. Jamie and his siblings growing up, a hint of their own loss by cancer, then back again, as they listen to Charlie’s fateful sermon three years after Jamie first met him. Now those may be a spoilers from me. But the art of this book is that it cannot be spoilt by any book reviewer, even by a catalytic real-time reviewer like me, having entered this book in a devilmaycare fashion. It is a bigger book than that.
    “But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.”

  4. (3) Pages 70 – 82
    “I wonder how much of my life would have been different if I’d done that. I wonder if I’d be writing this now.”
    Or whether my brother would have discovered ‘Goldilocks’ in 2011, or I’d have lost my faith along with the float-walking Jesus, or the lightning at Skytop would have been created for real from the fiction I write when role-playing as Stephen King…?
    A character-perspicacious, touching, time-transcendent, electric and haunting text. At one level something beyond even its freehold author to control.

  5. (4) Pages 83 – 118
    “But there was never a better name for a band, in my opinion, than Chrome Roses.”
    And back in the nobbut middlin’ sixties onward, that was true… This is not so much Jamie’s diary-in-hindsight with near-forgotten Charlie as its Joker card, but it is more his autobiography, with the emphasis on AUTOnomous. This chapter starting with Hector the Barber, a King-archetypal ageing character who makes us accept the death process with a gritty socialist sense of humour, we now enter Jamie’s teenage years, his getting into rock n’ stone bands, starting drugs, and a girl friend (“She was wearing frog earrings. Blue frogs that matched her blouse.”), and the chapter ends with his lightning rod at Skytop…ends, before it tails off, that is.

  6. (5) Pages 119 – 144
    “Some claim to understand it, ladies and gentlemen, but none understand the secret electricity, that power which binds the very universe into one harmonic whole.”
    Quite randomly, I am listening now to a Charles Ives symphony, and an hour or so ago, for no real reason, I posted, before I entered this chapter of ‘Revival’, a Tweet that the TV news stations are constantly warning about reported items containing flash photography (or at least they do in the UK where I live). I have gatecrashed this chapter as The Spoiler, in the guise of Charlie Jacobs, now working in a fairground with electricity tricks, photographic prestidigitation, except in 1992, it wasn’t commonly digital digitation, but a more flamboyant cameras on stands with black capes…. I meet Jamie again, battered, as he is, by life and drugs… Someone dear to me in the 1970s had electric shock treatment at that time. This book makes me feel blue. It is clever enough to make me feel such real emotions.

  7. (6) Pages 145 – 164
    “Electricity breeds electricity…”
    …like literature breeds literature, Against the Day when it doesn’t any more. I feel that, by this ‘review’, I am placing Charlie’s electric treatment ‘headphones’ either side of this book, morphing it, dislodging bits I already remember from earlier in the book, bigging it up, even reducing it by necessary distillation. Something happened. Then it didn’t happen. As Jamie proceeds through life, filling in his fluid backstory as he goes. Tesla rocks, OK.

  8. (7) Pages 165 – 200
    “‘…you know how epileptics can tell a seizure is coming by a tingling in their wrists, or some phantom smell?’ / ‘Precursors.'”
    This book is full of ‘precursors’, like the jagged shape of the lightning on the front cover being exactly the same as the precursor in my eyesight before a migraine. I also prefigured Jamie’s dream of the dead ones from his past life, as, with this chapter, the pivotal year is now 2008, the very year I started gestalt real-time reviewing of books, leading, in this review, to a catalytic symbiosis between reviewer and reviewed. Also, I discover (or am reminded) that one of Jamie’s brothers died of prostate trouble, trouble that is potentially relevant to me in recent weeks. And Charlie’s internecine or internetine healing gigs … His revivalist meetings, all prefigured, and now I wonder whether there are forcefields to this book that even its freehold author or leasehold AUTObiographist would disown or refuse the opportunity to control, for fear of something or other. I note Charlie is called ‘Rev’ by one of his past healees, someone who becomes significant to Jamie’s recording music ‘career’. REV the first three letters of the book’s title. LA (joie de) VIVRE, any irony notwithstanding.

  9. (8) Pages 201 – 217
    “Here they were, falling for a story that made Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy look like gritty realism. […] There were those who twitched and rocked helplessly as their CP-impaired brains did pissed-off jigs inside their skulls.”
    Charlie performs his big Tent Show of healing – reminding me synchronously of the gestalt dream sickness (as I called it in my 2011 novel) that was depicted, with Santa Claus, in the strikingly good Christmas ‘Doctor Who’ a few days ago, with its ‘ice-cream pain’ in the head waiting to be healed like the lady here with migraine, and we have here Ants instead of the Dream Crabs or Face-Huggers. But that’s just me. You will probably compare this scene to something else, so what I say above is not me taking on the role of The Spoiler. Whatever your dream, this is amazing stuff.

  10. (9) Pages 219 – 252
    “His lips were drawn back in a smile that looked (to my eye, at least) rather predatory.”
    Precursors and predations are connected, I feel. This is now fast becoming a run-of-the-mill ‘mad scientist’ yarn, as the financially successful healer is tracked down by Jamie to his secluded redoubt. Or is the author himself the predator predicating the mad science of fiction-making, Ludwig Prinn notwithstanding? We are each someone who has suffered healing at this writer’s hands? His redoubt never in any doubt. At least he did not forget that he left a pumpkin on the backseat of his character’s car.

  11. (10) Pages 253 – 277
    “I was just another frog in a pot.”
    …which reminds me of Jamie’s first loved girl friend earlier quoted by me in connection with ‘blue frogs’…and this chapter, like its demonstrated ‘wheel of life’, brings us at its end to news of that girl again, now a sick woman. I probably could do with one of Charlie’s miracle cures myself!
    Notwithstanding all that, this chapter also includes a poignant reunion with Jamie’s brothers at a family celebration, where all have changed but all with that gritty sense of humour about ageing I mentioned earlier. In other hands, this would have been over-sentimental. Here it is spot on. Especially when Jamie’s one year old Gand niece takes to him, seemingly looking at him with his mother’s eyes.

  12. (11) (12) Pages 279 – 314
    “Up a couple of times every night to squirt half a teacup of pee, but I guess that’s par for the course at my age. Although…you want to hear a funny thing? Only to me it’s more of a spooky thing.”
    I’m now at the stage of this book where if I tell you anything, I will be the Catalyst Fifth Business itself, the Spoiler who haunts books he reviews. Rest assured I shall hold your hand throughout with my handshake version of the ‘limp-fish musician’s howdy’, while the upslope of Revival’s climax and, later, soon, with probably each miracle cure having its inverse, its downslope, too. Strong stuff ensues, I guess. Or is this book itself the miracle cure, not any of the ‘miracle cures’ it describes?

  13. (12) (13) (14) Pages 314 – 372
    “…as if in death, she dreamed.”
    One can forgive the pulp, one can forgive the contrivances, but one cannot forgive the inability to spoil this ending, as I yearn to do. I do not wish to protect it from you because I have a cruel catalyst in my heart; you will be grateful that I did protect you, however. Jung is mentioned toward the end, and I am now gratified at my mentioning ‘dream sickness’ earlier in this review. In all seriousness, however, the Lightning and the visionary Bosch of this book’s ending is stunning. At the start of this book, I did not tell you, but there is a quote from HPL and a list of dead writers (plus one living one) who may themselves have glimpsed this book’s ending for themselves even before its freehold author suffered that his leasehold autobiographist named Jamie write it at all. To that list I would add Thomas Ligotti (who is not yet dead but says in public he wishes that he was never born) and Charlee Jacob (my own pumpkin that I nearly forgot was left on the backseat of this review). C. Danny Jacob (as Charlie called himself) and a disease, among many others, called CJD…
    “Man is born to illness and sorrow, as you know.”
    The Workshop of Filthy Creations – Mary Shelley
    *The* anti-natalist novel. With ants, too.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014



I have just received these purchased copies from the publisher…
wraiths1 wraiths2
A DISTILLATE of HERESY by Damian Murphy
WRAITHS by Mark Valentine
Les Editions de L’Oubli MMXIV
My reviews of other Zagava / Ex Occidente Press books HERE
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  1. I have just started reading the Mark Valentine text in the ‘Wraiths’ book, where I have read about the nature of slim volumes to this extent of ‘ad absurdum': “That is, to be the author of a volume so slim as not even to exist.” Which reminds me that I published a non-existent slim volume in 2006, a record of which publication is shown here.
    This Valentine slim volume aspires to such a worthy rarification without slipping into the danger of being nothing at all. It has 32 pages on luxurious paper, with the Valentine text filling 18 of those pages and the remaining pages being constituted of splendid artwork and design. The book itself has thicker board covers wider together than the width of the paper pages between them, a book sumptuously built. It is a hard-wired miracle of tenuous substance. No irony intended.
    My copy is numbered 62 of 106.
  2. Wraiths
    Pages 7 – 17
    “…drifting from one sad hospice to another…”
    A spinning together of real, barely known, often eccentric poets (in the Yeats and Swinburne era), poets fugitive enough not to have their works in any slim volume at all, together with intriguing anecdotes concerning these poets and the more famous people, like that Everyman Bookman named Ernest Rhys, who knew these worthy rumours of once living poets, poets who are now miracles of tenuity along with their non-existent books. A crystalline non-fiction work with a flair enough to embroider itself with the garments of fiction and the inferred madness of its subject-matter.
  3. What Became of Dr Ludovicus
    Pages 23 – 31
    “The letter ‘v’, as has been observed, was a favourite of Dowson’s, and he often invoked viols, violets and vines.”
    Here, Mark Valentine interestingly adumbrates the circumstances and plot of a lost collaboration by Ernest Dowson with his lesser known friend Arthur Moore, as inferred from their unlost correspondence about it. This work, we are told, was what the Victorians called a ‘shocker’ and that set me wondering about the many different ways with which any book can create shock, including this very Valentine book itself that tells us about it all. Content and form. By the way, I note that Valentine, in this slim volume, invokes the words ‘vivid’ and ‘verve’ in his last paragraph.
  4. =====================================
    A DISTILLATE of HERESY by Damian Murphy
    Another luxurious book, one with 144 pages. Mine is numbered 54 of 85.
    I intend to start reading and reviewing this in the New Year.
    Seasons Greetings to all my readers.
  5. An at least temporary change of plan in starting today the Damian Murphy book…
    A Book of Alabaster
    Pages 11 – 29
    “His lot was to play, to immerse himself in the wondrous creations of these underappreciated poets.”
    …and indeed this is an amazing correlation to the Valentine book above, this story with a ‘chapel of sand’, a correlation not only with ‘underappreciated poets’ but also,with a book that ‘grew smaller and smaller’! I had already thought about the nature of an ebook when earlier reading Valentine’s conjuration of non-existent books and the ‘wraiths’ who wrote them. Now, we watch Murphy’s protagonist seeking nostalgia in buying off eBay an electronic game (a genre of entertainment of which I have little knowledge), a remembered game that had inspired his past, thus bringing this correlation fully home to roost. But the story is an antique in itself, with a delicious yet easy prose, a seasoned decadent prose that is craftily written about such a modern phenomenon, and the rite of passage into this electronic game and then back to the environment (a tower appendage on a non-descript property) in which he is playing it is very well done. That circular path from tenancy to tenancy, as it were, via a screen, reminds me constructively of the work of Mark Samuels, and vice versa. In fact I have sensed before that these two writers have kindred spirits, a compliment to each of them, but with their respective work being quite diverse otherwise.
    • In the interest of synchronous comparative literary criticism, there is some mileage in ricocheting the work of Mark Samuels against that of Damian Murphy, and vice versa…
      I don’t want to make a big thing of this, as their work is quite diverse from each other, and any comparisons are Jungian rather than deliberate. But it is an interesting comparison, nevertheless.
  6. A Perilous Ordeal
    Pages 30 – 42
    “Let the flavor of the tobacco linger in your mouth. Let yourself become familiar with all its subtle nuances. A cigarette should be gated as if it were the body of a lover which you wish to thoroughly explore.”
    As in the previous story’s ‘game’, this beginning of a novella has a similar rite of passage, here an initiation of an Adept in some secret society or something mutantly similar to the Catholic Church, surrounded by some diaspora connected with a German city. This initiate, with eyes wide shut, as it were, suddenly finds his journey through the rite sliding away into something possibly more sinister (a role-playing game or in earnest?), as he thinks of his family left behind in the city and the city’s secret destiny. But, more and more, the rite seems to become connected with smoking and later with the cigarette and with the symbolism on its packet… (Cigarettes, coincidentally or not, are also important in much Mark Samuels work.)
  7. Pages 42 – 54
    “…having passed through several initiations, each of which had seemed to open doors into progressively deeper levels of truth and revelation.”
    This city is not an exact city, I infer, but one straddling ‘cartographies of the soul’. A passing mention of Der Fuhrer followed by Blakean visions, and a theosophical sort of McGoohan Prisoner scenario whence escape seems possible, even enacted, all make the readers, via their own rite of passage through this story or game, more and more compelled to reach a still ungraspable personal form of truth and revelation, cigarettes and cigarette packet notwithstanding.
  8. Pages 55 – 67
    “In any case, he wasn’t sure how comfortable he would be dressing in another man’s wardrobe.”
    This end section of my reading of this novella spans a Proustian memory of childhood followed by various steps towards his as yet unknown goal, in an immaculately expressed Marienbad of Houses, each of the three parts of the text being subdivided by Onyx, Amethyst and Pearl, as if a continuation of this book’s earlier Alabaster, a mineral hardness thus underpinning the gossamer visions, theosophical yearnings and the mission of duty to recent History itself, our personal history, too, spread across the cartographies of each mind that chooses to absorb this text, sometimes understanding it, sometimes not. As before, the protagonist passes from tenancy to tenancy, a phenomenon mentioned earlier in my review, reaching toward new tenancies, trying on the clothes of others as if reaching an essential self via a pixel pointillism of words expressed by smoothly joined-up ones. A perilous ordeal, in itself.
    “The other library obtained two tall bookshelves filled entirely with thick, untitled volumes containing maps of every major city in the world, all arranged chronologically, spanning from ancient times to the present day.”
  9. The Scourge and the Sanctuary
    Pages 68 – 71
    “…an angel of solace amidst the atrocities of bedlam.”
    cf the atrocities of soot, in another review of mine dealing with Murphy.
    This start of a long short story, one with a great title for Boxing Day, is word-thick with antique city decadence, as Theodora, I infer, writes a letter (that is the only thing we can read) to Sebastian about a seemingly derelict penthouse appendage to a building (cf the earlier tower appendage in this book) with which she becomes obsessed, intending to use a fascinating key technique to enter, guided by astrological harmonics, as I am, in life as well as reading books such as this one. It is ‘in media res’ letter as part of a series of letters from Theodora to Sebastian, I note, that we take as a slice of some unknown gestalt.
  10. Pages 71 – 78
    “I’ve taken to carrying Joyce’s impossible magnum opus, Finnegans Wake, around with me in the mornings. It’s an unwieldy brick of a book, but it’s not too much trouble for me to carry in my shoulder bag. I can’t imagine reading the entire thing through from start to finish. Anyway, the text wraps around from the end back to the beginning, so where to start? I prefer to open the book at random and treat it as a form of bibliomancy.”
    cf this brick of a book with Valentine’s wraith-like slim volume…
    The second letter from Theodora to Sebastian, where she compellingly describes entry to that penthouse appendage. Page-turning.
    A version of the name Bartholomew was that of the previous novella’s protagonist’s name, the name of the saint who carried his own flayed skin. Cf the hard thick rind of the slim volume that housed the Valentine. Here, I wonder if Sebastian is meant to represent St Sebastian…?
  11. Pages 78 – 83
    “How is the relationship affected by my relating these discoveries to you,..”
    Indeed, Theodora’s letters to Sebastian are like my own gestalt real-time reviews of books, except she hints at not completing the Finnegan circle with the complete gestalt, having found a map in the penthouse that does not match this city wherein she wanders, a city that the map is meant to cartographise…complete with ‘nonexistent squares’…
  12. Pages 83 – 94
    “Theodora’s back is screaming, and the skin on the backs of her legs is still red hot,… […] ‘You’ll have some lovely scars to carry with you once you’ve healed up,’…”
    In these final sections of the story, we catch a glimpse of Theodora outside of what she writes in her letters. Whence she writes them – River Station South (cf Southern Reach) – seems a contradiction in terms of fluidity and status quo, but we learn to absorb the clues from lunar patterns or, as I infer, Alice A. Bailey type esoteric astrology (does this Alice own the Penthouse?) and the path being followed, in communion with someone existent or nonexistent whom she calls Sebastian… And you need to follow the path of this book, too, whether painful or pleasurable, game or reality, wake or otherwise.
  13. Permutations of the Citadel
    Pages 95 – 116
    “There are ways of losing yourself within familiar places.”
    There are many real and false cartographies earlier in this book, and here two well-characterised wags or hangers-on working at a large hotel have a prank or jape or game with meticulously, John-Howardly, adeptly replacing the hotel map with a slightly altered one. This includes what I see as a citadel appendage, to match that of the earlier tower and penthouse. It is a fluid, compelling novella so far, where these two dabble in reading books, like ones by Jan Potocki and Gustave Flaubert, and one of these two wags philanders with a hotel guest called Miss Pataki who wields a planchette… And there is more constructively lush smoke from cigarettes and smoking accoutrements, leading, via disturbingly visionary Alice Through the Looking-Glass machinations, smoking (a fire?) for real in the hotel and more…
  14. imagePages 116 – 141
    “Clinging to the lower section of the wall several doors distant stood a black and yellow salamander. It scrutinized him with cautious curiosity before making its way into one of the heating vents.”
    I will not itemise the happenings and visions of this last section vis-a-vis the characters, but it is a satisfying ending to this novella and to the whole book, as if, all this time, we have been inescapably negotiating an intriguing role-play at many levels of situation and self, scaling several Houses, Mansions of the Mineral or the Moon, a gnostic game, toward this final Citadel, after combining door codes and matters occult and Occult. With a Mark-Samuelsian, John-Howardian, but essentially and uniquely Damian-Murphyan set of adaptly palimpsestable reality-rules, while, on page 131, “It is little consolation to us that the Caliph has fallen. We have yet to find the space left by his absence. Now leave this place. I have nothing more to offer you.”