Sunday, May 31, 2020

The Great Nocturnal — Jean Ray

“The Great Nocturnal — Jean Ray

The Great Nocturnal — Jean Ray

Wakefield Press 2020
Translated by Scott Nicolay
My other reviews of older or classic books:
When I read this book, my thoughts will appear in the comment stream below…

    I shall read this seeming novelette chapter by chapter…
    “These eternal words, exchanged for so many years in the same tone, accompanied by the same gestures, arousing identical reactions of joy and mischievousness, gave the two old men a comforting sense of immutability.”
    Me, too. Those eternal words themselves quoting other “eternal words” spoken by one of them. A beautiful atmosphere of a dark town and those wandering or opening shop doors near the Iron Bobbin, including one of them, myself wishfully as Mr Desmet, but just a passer-by. The two old men’s ‘immutability’ feature, I sense, now outside this story, involves a routine game of chess. Do they always play the same order of moves, I wonder! One of them – I think it is one of them – thinks of Captain Sudan’s room upstairs and when he, the old man now, was as a child in love with an older woman, only to have his illusions shattered, hence his need for comforting routine today? But my own comforting read was disturbed by this: “…no good can come from books.” Followed a little later by an otherwise disconnected “…by who knew what secret cataclysm, the book fell from the top shelf…”
    I may have got this all wrong, with Des well met, or not. Caveat review-reader.

    • II
      “But between seeing and seeing into time, as you do at present . . .”
      I am truly captivated already not only by what I see as its literary soul as a continental counterpart to that in the dialogue-crepitating impressionism of people and things as written by Katherine Mansfield (I happen to have read so far most of her stories recently from HERE) but also I feel genuinely affected by the sickness delirium of one of the two boys on the way home from school (the two boys due later to grow into two old men), “biers” and ‘Misses Beer’, pink lemonade, the visual synergy of a man and a sewer rat, and a question as to whether the shadows moved or not. And a place called Alpha Tavern. What is more, I feel disorientated by this chapter’s mention of “wicked coincidences.” Have I reached some ‘seeing into real-time’ sort of book reviewing epiphany, another book found by having fallen off a shelf somewhere?

      “: the taste of the whiskey stagnated… […] The sand that went ‘floc, floc’ when it fell.”
      I found this chapter frightening, particularly the overt horror but also the harpsichord et al, and the connection by the eponymous Great Nocturnal with my review (a year or so ago  HERE) of the book shown in the accompanying image. And, in this Ray/Nicolay chapter, the old man seeks to protect the woman he once loved as a child, or was she a woman he loved as a man would or will do so (cf “when I grow up I’ll be your husband and we’ll go together…” in the first chapter)? I note, as an aside from the book, that H. Rider Haggard wrote the novel entitled MARIE as well as KING SOLOMON’S MINES…


  1. “I dwelt alone
    In a world of moan”
    — Poe’s poem Eulalie
    “…there is evil in the air as in the days of a plague.”
    A dry pope and a season’s first dry leaves, saints in paintings, Hotel Minus and Alpha Tavern, one of the two old men again. Meanwhile, there are mysterious deaths and immolations of Katherine Mansfield style optimally characterised characters, old maids still able to be mistaken as whores, and other spinsters at home, I guess. Perhaps I should tell the detectives on the case that the victims have all been in self-isolation or on an outward solitary exercise in the great open nocturnal but have today their first visitors at home upon running down of lockdown?
    “…at night all cats are gray.”

    • V.
      “, while a terrible face took shape.”
      787A9370-ACA1-4F2C-BCC8-DC6E581C4329This work is horror supreme at its climax, with a final musical ‘dying fall’ where hope still exists? Only you can judge. Transcending bathos as well as pathos.
      Our old man now alone, and I cannot reveal too much about that other old man and the pair’s mutual immutability first mentioned at this novelette’s start…
      Sudan as the ironic ‘Unsad’ of paternal news that “will make you very sad…”
      Roméone as the Someone (the opposite of No-one or Nemo), the presumed virus carrier, once an omen, of Marie. MARIE now as explicitly Haggard’s “SHE” as a counterpart of “HE”, these being genuine upper case quotations from the finished text of this Ray/Nicolay work of immutable mutuality. The “pair of hideous yellow slippers” and “shallot sauce”, notwithstanding.
      As for me I can still hear that horrific harpsichord playing music by Anton Diabelli in my head.

“: sick by the spirit of imitation.”
After reading this astonishing work I somehow felt a whole curse pass through me simply by dint of typing out this story’s title above! It is as if by absorbing a literary gestalt you can BECOME it, as if sea-sickness is catching, like plagues that come in first, second and third waves… perhaps more.
This is such a sea story as told from the drunken ambiance of the Phare Amusant tavern, and a man’s chalk drawings and his knowledge of the numbers of castles of the sea king, seven or sixteen? And the Hawaiian Bird and its cage. And the lockdown of a human prison that suddenly stops this story as if gratuitously, but I sense it is more than just gratuitously, not even obliquely with a petty thief, for the sudden stop is a way to stop us reading it… to stop us absorbing it! Whether that was the freehold author or leasehold translator, or both, I give thanks. I am being half-serious.
As a side issue, this story is objectively another fine example of what I described above “as a continental counterpart to that in the dialogue-crepitating impressionism of people and things as written by Katherine Mansfield…”

“‘Gentleman,’ he said, ‘We are about to relate a tale that does not concern you.’”
Yet, I feel drawn in by mention of Sheerness which is not far across a certain quarter of the sea from where I live on the Essex coast, but I bow to your wishes and go further afield nearer the exit door so that I at least LOOK as if I am not absorbing this tale being told inside this built-up tavern ambiance that I have set up around me, imaginatively, in my own reading room!
I relished what I surreptitiously heard about this story, full of grog, of winches and whistles. A fulminating ship where would-be drunk with a “pig of a German friend” is developed to rifle together the hold’s whiskey supplies on board. 37829FEC-810B-4E38-B60E-0C4B6EA58229And amid surrounding “laughing silence […] horrible as a mask”, there is a terrifying terror (not all terror warrants the word terrifying, but this one does!), a dog or pig or a finger become green hand, later to be palmed off as mere phosphorous, but I don’t believe that. The terror WAS a terror. No rubbish spouted here. “I drank, drank, drank;” amid abundant rodents, a skeleton of green fire, ‘arrayed on tiers of darkness.’
I believe as far as I could tell this is a fair summary. No doubt, any doubt about my hearing increases that terror. Such enforced social distancing affecting my hearing more than any lack of my inherent comprehension, I avow.
    “But She, where might she be?”
    Rather, as it turns out, where is he!?
    Where is David Stone, this story’s protagonist? In this downtrodden town with a mere tricklish river and no sea, but he creates a wharf and ships seen sailing in. Reminds me of the city in Nemonymous Night with a dry dock for huge sea-liners to be repaired, a city even without a river, let alone a sea! And his sudden obsession with a lady singer come to sing at the town’s theatre creates such a major storm of reality, the whole story becomes outrageous and existential. Possibly the most bizarre story I have ever read. And as such well worth preserving in this book’s dry dock. Seriously a story I cannot imagine ever existing.

    “Yo! Ho! Ho!
    And a bottle of fi . . . ine!”
    And if the previous story was a non-starter for existence as anything even as a story, this one is more so! Students drinking, looking out of a window at the eponymous creature in the shape of a coffin, reflecting legends they concocted about newly dead people in the house where the creature lurked. More students with a coffin full of bottles of drink, a vicious circle of belief in fiction as truth. The essence of Ray. A violent effigy like Dickens’ walking coffins. And compare this whole Ray/Nicolay book and its crepitating aberrations with another kindred spirited book, the one by Harper being read alongside it HERE during lockdown.
    I shall now read the rest of this book for the first time: i.e. Translator’s Notes, and Translator’s Afterword which look to be meaty enough to give me further food for thought.

Friday, May 29, 2020

Black Static 75

Black Static #75

TTA PRESS May-June 2020
My previous reviews of this publisher:
Stories by Simon Avery, Daniel Carpenter, Kristina Ten, Cody Goodfellow, Danny Rhodes.
When I read these stories, Covfefe permitting, my thoughts will appear in the comment stream below…

6 thoughts on “Black Static #75”

  1. The ‘Dream Sickness’ made tangible…
    5507AF30-F4F0-43D8-BAFD-5E6FA67EAD1FTHE BLACK PAINTINGS by Simon Avery
    “I’m a cancer, not a fucking heathen.”
    An artist — caught between thinking his own Tate Modern installations ‘bullshit’ and a talkative cancer diagnosed and now self-untreated inside his body and, later, outside it — has an accompanied Pilgrim’s-Progress, as it were, from Beethoven chamber music to a cancer’s concupiscence to the eponymous Goya. The epiphany of having given birth to those who walk the world today. This story is sheer black disturbance in the darkest chasms of literature, I opine. Indeed, as impossibly black as ‘vantablack’ (see my recent review HERE where I first encountered that word: amid much ‘bullshit’ modern poetic em-dashed prose made into greatness from word installations.)
    “, blushes of colour obscured by an all-encompassing blackness.”
    I like accessible, and somehow this story is limpidly accessible, too
    My previous reviews of Simon Avery:

  2. THE STONEMASON by Danny Rhodes
    “Just a cough.”
    This is a M.R. Jamesian Cathedral story gradually morphing into an archetypal Black Static story, as if its pages and its side-images are equally and thickly narrowing and black-cloying it towards the cancer in the first story, not a talkative one, but one he is being paid to sculpt for hoisting on to the cathedral, but instead of creating the visualised image by chipping off lumps of stone it’s more like cleaning a monstrously feminine gargoyle that had always existed or, even more tantalisingly likely, the original cancerous lump his small daughter over whose treatment he and his wife have been agonising over. And both he and his wife are seen to become distanced, even in their bed, by the presence; in fact he even feels distanced from the other staff in the cathedral; he sees black shapes, not people. As perhaps we all do today. Even those together in current closeness. A widening cathedral close?
    “And this thing, he knew now, had never known sunlight or warmth, had never known touch or intimacy or love.”
    My previous reviews of Danny Rhodes:

  3. ASLEEP IN THE DEEP END by Cody Goodfellow
    “Certainly it wasn’t what it looked like . . .”
    This novelette both fascinated and repelled me. It was as if I was hypnotised and couldn’t stop reading it, taken into its world of suburban middle-class American poolside abodes, where the pool grows uglier than the characters. Sixty something retirees desperate to assuage their boredom and anger. And now to assuage their chemical poolcide’s burgeoning sexuality. It was as if the cancerous concupiscence in the Avery has here become extrapolated beyond imaginable measure. The “green Eden they’d dreamed of” become a VanderMeer garden sadly grown prehensile with monstrousness, a Ralph Robert Moore work and this one mutually and gratuitously synergised in some hyper-imaginative real-time gestalt. Real-time, yes, but without any social distancing at all. The work’s language as a text’s appearance, its semantics and phonetics, too, is fulsomely and unstintingly Hellish, in a good or Goodfellow way. A chip off the old block. All Roads lead to Hell, never Heaven, leading even beyond both as blended by Blake. We are all asleep in the deep end.
    My reviews of this author:

  4. ROOTS by Daniel Carpenter
    Does cigar tobacco have roots? No? Well, teeth certainly do. A bush of them as one of Avery’s art installations?
    And people have roots, too, but people may try to disguise them but never lose them. Natives always of where they were born. A story of a naive and ageing workman on city building sites, post traumatic syndrome from finding a baby’s hand when digging, and such a syndrome often magnifies thereafter, as also do the fake news and stories about what he actually found at source.
    Churchill smoked cigars. This Goodfellow’s ‘green Eden they’d dreamed of’, their planted seedlings become the roots of nightmare.
    Disturbing and provoking.
    My reviews of this author:

  5. EXCEPT FOR THE DOWN BELOW by Kristina Ten
    “They shared no common theme, were not good or bad but simply strange.”
    As a chronic seeker of gestalts from unlikely connections, I am now frustrated by the chance that there is nothing I can do to connect such things of ‘no common theme’. But perhaps, as I now realise, that it may be good for my soul to realise that I am not immune from the inability to connect and synchronise certain things, even with my fearless faith in fiction and the art of the preternatural!
    Here, this is a consuming story about an equivalent connector as a pub quiz know-it-all, eventually working in a university where others appear not to appreciate this socially inept man’s know-it-allness, his determination not to be “outknown.” His ‘known’ things are listed here and make a delightful quirkiness of real knownness. You must read them for yourself. I only share knowledge of one of these known topics, i.e. “lesser known composers’, but I relish the thought of all the other topics. Give or take the arguable need for Occam’s Razor. Anyway, this is basically an inadvertent follow up to the previous story of a digger, and there it was a naive, possibly know-nothing workman, reaching towards another one you may have called ‘baby’ (here in Ten: “‘No, baby’, she answered…) And also, here in Ten, to inadvertently reflect Avery above, there is the seemingly gratuitous accumulation of Duchamp ready-mades or art installations (again you must read these delightful descriptions for yourself) that somehow appear in his garden, a phenomenon that seems to prove his inability to connect or ‘know’ such gratuities. As if from Lenders not Borrowers, as hinted at by a TA who befriends him. TA? Some partial version of TTA that has served to make this phenomenon ‘known’ in its publication? And what our know-it-all finds from his digging approaches the “down below” deep end of horror prehensility in or from Goodfellow’s pool! Perhaps sadly, but hopefully edifyingly as a fabulous moral, an ‘intruder who should have become shrewder’, towards when “the static came closer in.”
    There is much else in Black Static in addition to its fiction.

Interzone 287

Interzone #287

TTA PRESS May-June 2020
My previous reviews of this publisher:
Stories by Tim Lees, Eugenia Triantafyllou, Val Nolan, John Possidente.
When I read these stories, Covfefe permitting, my thoughts will appear in the comment stream below…

7 thoughts on “Interzone #287

  1. NIGHT-TOWN OF MARS by Tim Lees
    Illustrated by Richard Wagner
    Those dummies, that Domi Ummings later this very afternoon?!
    “I noticed a large, coloured mole, like a raisin…”
    At the start, and I noticed it later, too, as the monster emerged with the mole grown into a cancer….
    Actually, this novella has a multi-old-fashioned SF plot, beautifully blended from Boys Own Yarns, Orwell, Huxley, Carroll, CS Lewis, Wells, Frankenstein, even Blyton with an Uncle often in dirty gardening clothes, bald, but in other worlds with his side hair grown long, taking our schoolboy hero through walls into a morphed version of the place he just left, into Mad Science and Philosophy, transcending distances, evoking battles between dummies and rebels, a fight for our soul in a realm where mindsets are both the bored and the boring, with stones and cornices talking like people, a hive of officialese, cacophony versus Gilbert and Sullivan… and much more. Needs to flow over you…
    At the beginning I found this about his uncle: “He was the sort of person who could stand upon the lip of the Grand Canyon (for example) and exclaim over the pattern of the ant-trails at his feet, or point to some cloud on the horizon, shaped — hilariously! — like a duck. The vista itself, though, would go wholly unremarked.
    He fascinated me.”
    I feel with my real-time reviewing, I try to examine the ant-trails and clouds individually within the gestalt as well as developing a vision of the gestalt itself. Sometimes those clouds and ant-trails are sourced from different deities of creativity. And I contend that this novella succeeds in doing this by developing its potential readers towards the strength of its often wildly panoramic imaginative powers in brainstorming SF tropes both unique and traditional.
    My previous reviews of Tim Lees:
  2. Possible spoilers
    THOSE WE SERVE by Eugenia Triantafyllou
    “Ships arrived at the docks by the dozens, people engulfed the streets, shoulders bumped against shoulders,…”
    And, it is telling, perhaps, that Manoli as an ‘artificial’ later receives a brief hug, the fullest hug from a real person he ( it?) had felt for some time. An eventually very moving story – where a human called Amelia rôle-plays the need to be helped with her luggage to override his ‘spine’ (a brain constraint) so that he can reach his version of Heaven called Butterfly Island. A story so satisfyingly complex that I cannot possibly teach you its parameters in a short review. Indeed, its complexity makes me unsure of my own grounding in it and what I should divulge…
    Above I made this story’s “mild alert” into my own alert, one concerning spoilers. A story granting me a richness of vision that helps transcend the earthquake cracks between summer and winter staff (those artificials with strict protocols for money and movement), a vision of the continental island I imagine it to be with its own “body memory” of tectonic plates in location and emotion, yes, to help transcend those cracks between artificials and tourists, as well as between — in the previous story’s terms — dummies and rebels. A story where Manoli meets his own original person-self, and vice versa. A love story, in fact, with Amelia treating his artificial-copy self as if it is him, i.e. the ‘him’ as Manoli the artificial feels himself to be at source. This version of the story’s reader is currently inspired by it, and believes that that will remain the case.
    My reviews of this author
  3. THE TRANSPORT OF BODIES by John Possidente
    “All we knew was somebody had found some gravity in a place where nobody could find an object to match.”
    A satisfyingly brief story of a Trans-Neptunian community of humans in its ‘likeable’ gravity where methods of transportation involve a blend of crypto-cryo methods, and we follow a journalist as narrator whereby this story itself is actually his latest scoop of an article! Fake news, dummies and artificials or what? The reported story of coronal rocks inadvertently seen to be pitched as boomerangs whatever the cause of the gravity involving these objects as part of the emotional trajectory of a pair of mutual husbands the unlikeliest one of whom wasn’t the femme one; and a woman in the current story’s real-time gravity who fancies our narrator; and a female cousin of his in unconscious transit through further real-time gravity with warning contagion stickers on her cask like spoilers. Alongside the transport cask of one of the two husbands. No vaccine available, I guess.
    Ironically, I found it more believable than any SF.
    Sort of transported by it, myself. Any momentum batteries, notwithstanding.
    My reviews of this author:
  4. Preluded by the journalist/reporter of ‘story’ as science fiction truth in the previous Possidente story, the review of which above I completed before reading this Val Nolan (my previous Nolan reviews here: …
    “The more she drew her unlikely connections, the more her audience began to slip away.”
    Those who have their channels of hatred, and polarities, do not want that gestalt of ‘unlikely connections’ to exist, that nub of connections is anathema to them, it is counter-productive for all those Pussy Grabbers. Those dummies against rebels, and perhaps the artificials versus real people, earlier in this set of Interzone fictions. Now, here, some whites versus blacks. And aliens — as SF aliens time-travelled from that war against Hitler and those considered to be human ‘aliens’ and aliens as angels — all these aliens versus the Nazis, those Nazis that have never really gone away. Yet, our reporter (discretely the fictional hero reporter protagonist and the authorial story reporter himself) here with their collaborated ‘story’, a fiction as truth, a fiction that the reporter at first disowns, but here eventually he has his “I saw how everything is connected” epiphany. Even, here in 2019, there seems also to be a premonition of “the tang of hand sanitizer.”
    This is a heartfelt and powerful work. It needs to be read by everyone. A didactic work that for once transcends didacticism itself – as well as, here at least, transcending the taint of fake news by a cleansing tang of inner truth in such creative fiction.