Des Lewis - GESTALT REAL-TIME BOOK REVIEWS A FEARLESS FAITH IN FICTION — THE PASSION OF THE READING MOMENT CRYSTALLISED — Empirical literary critiques from 2008 as based on purchased books.
UNDERTOW PUBLICATIONS 2021
PART TWO of this review, as continued from here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2021/10/23/among-the-lilies-daniel-mills/
My previous reviews of Daniel Mills: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/daniel-mills/and this publisher: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/undertow-publications/
This author had a story in my edited Classical Music Horror Anthology in 2012.
I HOPE TO CONTINUE REAL-TIMING THIS BOOK IN THE COMMENT STREAM BELOW…
The Account of David Stonehouse, Exile
“Pages were missing from inside, ripped from the binding so only blank sheets remained,…”
… and this account is writ within these pages, I infer, with no spoilers, a book of pages taken over from someone by the name of August Fitch. So far, a sharp, if wide-gaped, evocation of a place, with its still impassable late-snow at early Spring, with jagged words as well as a jagged terrain itself; to survive is all, especially in the dead pine area, a place of autonomous vicious needs of itself and of whom happens to live there and whereto the narrator had come three years before, unless I misremember, when he was 24. I am going on a bad memory here, of only a few minutes ago when reading it and perhaps that’s where I went wrong five years ago, this narrator (I shall call him David) having taken over a found house (like crude ready-mades of found art?) in these mind-fazing wilds, taking it over from another man and his family who had left bits of themselves there, just as wolves take over a dead moose for its meat, then by crows taking over what the wolves left, then David today taking over what both the wolves and the crows could not take over from the moose, David taking over these last bits to feed his once found, and rescued by digging out, “hound of indeterminate breed” that he tells us he calls Judah.
Read so far up to: “, a lion at ease.”
“The pines were visible on their mossy hummock with their three crowns like green lace spreading, doubled by the roots beneath my feet. How far they stretched. What horrors they compassed.”
David finds a dead man, then a gory burial, but I cannot continue itemising for you this plot, just gather clues, for the time being. Like on the rotted heel of the dead man’s shoe make out “Roman numerals or maybe the man’s initials: what looked like an I, a V.”Cf Plutarch earlier in this collection.And memories of when David was passed as a baby to a nine year old girl called Jerusha by his mother near a stone house…And vague details of his co-vivid dream haunting him that night (“Her voice like soft bells striking”), after we see more of Judah’s ailments.
Read up to: “…passing rooms unused in the years of my exile.”
“Judah is awake, restless, a lion roused.”
An empty room between these two quotes , empty, yes, but with a child’s horse rocking? And David alone, but what of Judah?
“and I am alone in this house and only my own soul to haunt me. See its outline on the wall. See the thorns it wears.”
“I say to you again: it is well. You must first pass through the dark of the cross that you might learn to take it up and follow.”
Memories of listening to Elder Job when he was 12. The passion of Christianity and the light and dark side of Christ’s cross.Then, David, today, I infer, in cold chiaroscuro, invoking a similar death with those earlier arms outstretched, here in the shape of a moose alongside David’s own redemption from a too early death otherwise? Death and resurrection, man beholding another in the configurations of nature. Survival of the fittest, by dint of a God, but a God of truth or of this fiction?
“…antlers wide as my own arms spread, and I fired.”
“My shot had passed through the moose’s chest, tearing it open in two places before lodging in the trunk of a spruce tree.”
But the moose still lived?
“We were in the workshop adjacent the stone house. Job labored over the forge while I worked the bellows which fired the blast. I was there to help him, to learn his trade, but mostly, we talked. At seventeen, the Gift had not yet come into me, though children half my age had received visions of heaven or heard the spirits singing. I doubted. I told the Elder of my despair and he showed to me his own.”
“…and like Christ he did not struggle but sank like a man already dead or indeed like one who had never lived.”
“…the angels came and went among them and only their songs to show they had been there.”
The ‘Gift’ of prophecy equivalent to that of literary inspiration by gestalt? The reviewing if not the speaking in tongues!The story of Elder Job’s influence upon a younger David. And that of Eldress Rose. And please forgive my over-quoting; these direct quotes from the text will hopefully diminish with the slowth of Zeno’s Paradox, and the length of actual passages that I read on each occasion will equally grow larger alongside such slowth, especially with any increasing confidence that I gain in reading this long and no doubt inspiring work.
Read up to:“Ash lach inbi mor na, oda rim a, eo”
Cross-referenced with The Nag Bride here: https://elizabethbowensite.wordpress.com/a-c-wise/#comment-1357
Thinking aloud and brainstorming: I wonder if we shall eventually find out that this David Stonehouse faked his own death when leaving his erstwhile home before arriving in these wilds. Compare the John Stonehouse, a British politician who famously faked his own death and exile.
“…though I have killed no one: only the soul inside me.”Words that seem in at least oblique keeping with the previous entry above, words just read hours after writing such an entry.Tempting me to fake the means to “thus unravel their meaning.”“…inventing meaning for words which had none.”I notice such words written in this work are sometimes lost by exegesis, or just by plain loss, like light leaving a stain when it departs. Chiaroscuro words not only spoken in different tongues, but written by different hands, too. Visions of being the one to trip up the burdened Christ on the way to Calvary and face His anger. Back and forth to a childhood in clogs at the stone house, temptation sexually (?) by someone called Jerusha, then killing wolves today to save that child who was me, now as David, seen again today. And another song sung by a woman now: “The black became her shadow with its long dress and hair which trailed behind her, whispering, as she passed into the hallway and was gone.” (A sort of Wise horse-whispering?) And later, back then: “The corridor stretches before me, endless with the shadows which fill its end, opening to nowhere.” Whatever guilt feels like, its repercussions allow one to fake travelling quickly over slower times, I guess. Faking an understanding to transcend no understanding at all, whoever wrote the words being read, and whoever wrote these about them.
Read up to end of PART ONE.
“In time, the Eldress said, but the time it passed too slowly.”
This new hand (strangely written on the otherwise remaining blank pages of the same book that David writes in?): I am made to dream as a girl up to her ‘curse’ at 13, with inferentially lustful thoughts (Jerusha?): dreaming at the stone house or within the stone house of being within her pumpkin belly of a dolls house later ploughed into the ground by the Eldress, with Ark creatures, 2 by 2, led by goats, all coupling, too.So much more in so few pages, like colours and names, and, so, do I, as just one reader without any co-triangulators, have the Gift of Gestalt to match what is described or confessed? —
“The Dreamer’s Gift, he declared, is the Gift of prophecy. But prophecy is such that we must look to God to know the meaning thereof. Few possess the seer’s eyes, the listener’s ears, but there is one among us, perhaps, who might be trusted to interpret. The Gift was slow in its coming to him and now at last we know the reason.”
Such slowness, by decremental halves, absolving me for my documented failures when first reading this book a few years ago? Am I good enough now?
Read up to: [The passage ends abruptly. David Stonehouse’s narration resumes on the reverse side of the page.—ed]
Cross-referenced again today to The Nag Bride: https://elizabethbowensite.wordpress.com/a-c-wise/#comment-1359
Judah taken, but then after a page break, returned, a strange, seemingly half-feral animal while David, amid continued words of gorily tactile flaying and flensing the animals he traps in company with Judah, has returned himself, as if he were taken, too, taken over by the previous writer, now back, weather now allowing him to reach the town, gradually emerging with its spire and then general store, David himself a suspect stranger, but one man in the town tells him that someone was glimpsed following David …. was that me, absent from the words of this work till I finally read it properly today?
Read up to: “Exhaustion overcame me: I slept.”
David hacks the following man’s shadow to pieces, a shadow that the man then seems to drag behind him, and so much happens that I cannot understand about this man and what he later does to David, and what he makes David think about his own religion, and the fire pit, the pine grove, and Judah with eyes that met David’s as if the animal’s face belongs to a face that appeared hopeless as a human’s. Till I reach this important reference for me, one that I take to be to Null Immortalis and my current crazy obsession with Zeno’s Paradox vis à vis the magic of – or faith in – literature such as this work, viz. “But if that was the beginning I find I cannot imagine an ending or guess at the fate which awaits us all: the living, the dead, or those halfway between.”And so, there, I must rest again.
“Even spring is a place halfway,…”
I am still stymied in my progress through this mighty work, but stymied in a good Zeno’s Paradox way. As I ponder David as a naive child with a so-called Gift, when all was Eden and Disciples as in Mellie’s Zoo as unofficial coda to the Wise book (the latter now finished) and, in the light of these very pages here, he was then asked by Elder Job to transcribe and interpret the dreams of Jerusha from her crammed handwriting about them.
And August as the tipping-point of rot and rut…
“Time’s glass was fractured, the grains of it poured out…”
His thoughts on Jerusha’s handwritten diary back when at the stone house past, and his own sexual thoughts then and the colours of red leading to the scarlet of blood in a later battle and “trees like nets parted and closed”, all resonated with the whole captivating but complex prose style of Elizabeth Bowen (whose many stories I am literally re-viewing in the last few weeks and into the future) — a wonderful compliment from me, and this comparison particularly struck me having just re-read and reviewed her THE SECESSION here about an hour ago!
“I swung. The hatchet struck him below the elbow, severing tendons, glancing off bone. He bellowed.”
Elbow, bellowed. ELizabeth BOWen. She writes often of elbows, too.
David’s battle with the man today in his wild side hunting Judah times is evocatively done, almost Conan like. The new letters upon the underside of boot, too.
Read up to: “Red.”
My reviews of EB stories so far, in alphabetical order: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/31260-2/
My previous reviews of general older, classic books: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/reviews-of-older-books/ — particularly the multi-reviews of William Trevor, Robert Aickman, Katherine Mansfield and Vladimir Nabokov.
“She never had had illusions: the illusion was all.” — EB in Green Holly
SEE BELOW FOR MY ONGOING REVIEWS OF BOWEN’S STORIES
Did Victoria Glendinning coin “more power to her elbow” here?https://archive.nytimes.com/www.nytimes.com/books/00/04/09/specials/obrien-rose.html
“They chose the canals of middle England; ‘There’s a regular network of ’em,’ said Jameson, ‘and you see some awfully jolly country. One reads a lot of poetry and stuff against the Midlands, but personally I think they’re fine. And from our point of view, entirely undiscovered.”
Jameson and Jefferies are students on a walking tour of the Midland canals and the odd barges they see in the utterly rainy darkness, their matches spent to look at maps or light pipes, so as utterly lost as they are rained upon. I once spent a time on the Midland canals in such utter rain, during the 1980s. And no doubt so did Robert Aickman (who was a major figure in Canal administration in real life) of whose work this seems to be a pastiche, even a lampoon, and a mighty Aickman story it is in its own right. How had I not clocked it before? I am going to do the unforgivable and quote huge important chunks from this story below, as the two men manage to reach a human habitation with a girl and her aunt anxiously waiting for a man called Willy to arrive. Was he the shorter shape glimpsed by one J, a shadowy third shape seen walking beside the other J earlier, I wonder? This is an enormously important story, full of faux idealism and dark corners — and church spires worthy of M.R. James. Beautifully and imaginatively written. Did J and J eat Willie’s kippers? And are J and J representative of Jarndyce and Jarndyce in Dickens’ version of Zeno’Paradox? And are these the high philosophies of its time and thoughts of the relationships of men and women? And note the important elbow below that I have italicised.
“Girls, you know, absolute butterflies, and fellows who ought to be working.’‘Sick’ning,’ had said Jefferies, who also disapproved.”
“At the first prow a bargee was visible, dusky and inhuman; another man walked at the head of the first horse.”
“And beside that big, mindless body trudged another smaller body, shuffling, sometimes desperately changing step in an attempt to establish rhythm. On to these two bodies the dulling eyes of Jefferies’ mind looked out. He thought dimly, ‘If I lose consciousness of myself, shall I leave off being? I don’t believe in Jameson, I don’t believe he’s even there; there’s just something, if I put out my hand, to obstruct it; something against which I should fall if I fell towards the canal, sideways. Why should the fact that one of those men’s legs ache bother me? I don’t believe in either of them. Curse, how my legs ache! Curse my legs! There was once a man called Jameson, who asked a man called Jefferies to walk with him for years and years along a canal, and – they walked and walked till Jefferies forgot himself and forgot what he had ever been. What happened then? I can’t remember … Curse, I’m potty. Oh, curse my legs, they’re real anyhow. But are they? Perhaps somebody somewhere else feels a pain and thinks it is a pain in a man called Jefferies’ legs, and so there seems to be a man called Jefferies with his legs aching, walking in the rain. But am I the person who is feeling the pain somewhere else, or am I what they imagine?’ He was, he decided, something somebody else had thought; he felt utterly objective, walking, walking. Such a silence, it might have been a night in May … He put his hand out and brushed it along the hedge; the hedge was always there, and the rain soaked silently through it.”
“You see, all we shall have done is simply to have come two sides of a triangle. That is all we shall have done. It’s bad luck, isn’t it – we have had a run of bad luck.’ […] she leaned against the window frame, keeping the blind pushed sideways into folds with one elbow. They saw her form against the dim, dark-yellow lamplight — Woman, all the women of the world, hailing them home with relief and expectation.”
“‘Yes,’ said Jefferies. ‘Let’s go on.’ It tired him worse, just standing there. So they went on walking. They did not believe, perhaps, that they gained very much by walking; everything had slipped away from them. They just kept on for the sake of keeping on, and because they could not talk, they could not think. Jefferies felt as though an effort at coherent thought would bring about some rupture in his brain. He had begun to believe vaguely – the thing took form in his brain nebulously without any very definite mental process – that they had stepped unnoticingly over a threshold into some dead and empty hulk of a world drawn up alongside, at times dangerously accessible to the unwary. There was a canal there, but were there not canals in the moon – or was it Mars? The motionless water silently accompanied them, always just beyond Jameson, a half-tone paler than the sky – it was like a line ruled with a slate-pencil, meaninglessly, across some forgotten slate that has been put away.”
“It did seem to Jefferies a game that they were all playing, a game that for her life’s sake she must win; and every dish and bowl and knife that she put down to glitter under the lamp seemed a concession she was making to opponents, a handicap she was accepting.”
“The Aunt, looking into the lamp, tucked in her lips, refolded her hands with precision, and settled down into her bosom. A clock with a big round face ticked loudly on the mantel;…”
“‘There’s eggs, Auntie; I’ll just do up a few eggs.’‘And yet it does seem a pity not to eat the kippers!’ said Auntie thoughtfully.”
“Jameson, a creature of more easy expansions, had thawed visibly to his very depths. He beamed; his lips, slimy with excitement, glittered in the lamplight; he held the table. Aunt said ‘Well, I never!’ to him when she paused to take another slice of bread, or push her empty cup across to be refilled; the girl, while part of her mind (to Jefferies’ understanding) still stood sentinel, leaned towards Jameson with startled eyebrows over the teapot. He painted that new Earth which was to be a new Heaven for them, which he, Jameson, and others were to be swift to bring about. He intimated that they even might participate in its creation. They gazed at it, and Jefferies gazed with them, but it was as though he had been suddenly stricken colour-blind. He could see nothing of the New Jerusalem, but the infinite criss-cross of brickwork and Jameson shouting at the corner of the empty streets. A sudden shifting of his values made him dizzy; he leaned back to think but could visualize nothing but the living-room: it expanded till its margin lay beyond the compass of his vision. After all, it all came back to this – individual outlook; the emotional factors of environment; houses that were homes; living-rooms; people going out and coming in again; people not coming in; other people waiting for them in rooms that were little guarded squares of light walled in carefully against the hungry darkness, the ultimately all-devouring darkness. After all, here was the stage of every drama. Only very faintly and thinly came the voice of Jameson crying in the wilderness. Whatever you might deny your body, there must be always something, a somewhere, that the mind came back to.”
“The tow-path still went on, it seemed so infinitely that, when hearing the sound of their footsteps suddenly constricted they found themselves approaching the looming masses of the brickfield, it was incredible that the path could have an end.”
This work is supreme Aickman absurdism and much more, as I see Bowen and him walking the same secret circles… secret, till now!?
Legs aching !
This is when I first fully clocked the importance of the word ELBOW in Bowen when reviewing ‘Unwelcome Idea’: https://classicalhorror.wordpress.com/elizabeth-bowen-stories-7/#comment-744
If chronology or cause-and-effect is considered instead of Jungian synchronicity, Aickman was inspired by Bowen, rather than the other way round!…though Aickman and Bowen were contemporaries with many mutual social friends.
SALON DES DAMES
An extraordinary semi-Katherine Mansfield vignette of a man in a large Swiss hotel, if not a Thomas Mann sanatorium, with a glass roof on its verandah, a hotel where guests might tend to re-translate, say, King Lear, and where two floors are closed …”Each of the hundred bedrooms with their shuttered windows might have held a corpse…” – and Romanian man who has stayed here for ages, with little impetus to go elsewhere, and he sort of flirts with three women (English, I think) who are described to us… one of whom is knitting and he references his own once mother’s knitted shawls to show what he knows about knitting. He has found great comfort in the company of women. Good to know it is pointless to hope for a punch line to this tale. It does not need one. Just a muffler to try on.The man at the hotel reception, meanwhile, has sinister eyebrows and, later, lurks like a spider.
THE GOOD GIRL
“Tulips, gold ghosts, crowded up to the windows; cypresses gathered unseen, tense.”
In a similar ambience to the previous story by chance reviewed yesterday, Alps and hotel, we have a richly clotted would-be Katherine Mansfield story (with many strange sentences of so much utter hallucinating wordiness) outdoing even its own template, a story of a so-called Uncle called Porgie playing footsie with one of two girl cousins: Dagmar who thinks she is the chaperone of the other cousin Monica and likes being wrapped in a bath towel by her; Porgie as dubious guardian is escorting both, and then Monica is being importuned by a sudden cross-current meeting in a hotel corridor with a Captain MonteParnesi who, we think, is after an heiress: a Zeno’s Paradox of an accretive romance that sort of expires upon the foothills of infinity (cf the philosophical ideals in Human Habitation, a story also reviewed yesterday above!) …
“Then a terrible thing happened. They had walked down the terraces, and, among the lemons and cypresses, had a conversation about infinity, touching also upon ideals.”
What a scandal for the hotel to gossip about! Monica might now even be pregnant? But the Captain’s family suddenly arrives the hotel, many women, one his sister with a black moustache, and they inform him of a real heiress back home waiting for his attentions!
“She snipped the head off a tulip and walked away; it was her only gesture.”
A QUEER HEART
“She stretched her legs out, propped her heels on the fender and wiggled her toes voluptuously. They went on wiggling of their own accord:..”
As if they were alive themselves, the toes Hilda Cadman’s friends, tellingly unlike “perpetually, clumsily knocking her elbows against the arms of the wicker chair.” Those elbows by which, no doubt, the bus conductor helped Hilda climb slowly down from the bus arriving at her home with a busy road of traffic one end of her own road and silence at the other end. But whose death of silence comes first? The fat woman Hilda with smiles within the creases of her cheeks, or her bitter and twisted spinster sister Rosa who has subsumed and co-opted Hilda’s own daughter Lucille? The latter young woman staying at home to look after her withering Aunt Rosa upstairs, who had swept in here when Hilda was widowed. Rosa has equally swept up younger Lucille up into a shared mackintosh of wrinkled virginity!! So, Lucille is like the fairy doll from the top of the Christmas Tree that Rosa had wanted and Hilda had got all those years ago during the sisters’ childhood. Sorry for such a plot spoiler, but only pot boilers should fear plot spoilers. And every Bowen can withstand plot spoilers forever, fending them off with the power of such poignant and interweaving textures of words as this one bears. Any bare plot itself is a mere frivolous decoration upon other hidden ‘powers of darkness’ through which one must climb toward the light, I guess ….even if that climb is so very slow and methodical.
“Autumn draughts ran about in the top storey: up there the powers of darkness all seemed to mobilize.”
“Powers of Darkness’ was a title of an Aickman collection.