A Homage to Joris-Karl Huysmans
Edited by D.P. Watt & Peter Holman
ZAGAVA & EX OCCIDENTE PRESS Brussels / Bucharest (2013)
Photographs of my purchased copy of this book (256 pages)
Stories by Jonathan Wood, John Howard, Douglas Thompson, Derek John, Berit Ellingsen, Adam Golaski, Harold Billings, Peter Holman, Eugene Thacker, Louis Marvick, M.O.N., Mark Valentine, Jeremy Reed, Oliver Smith, Colin Insole, Charles Schneider, D.P. Watt, Adam S. Cantwell, Léon Hennique & J.-K. Huysmans.
My previous reviews of Ex Occidente books HERE.
I conduct a slow-paced review of this luxurious book in the comment stream below as and when I read each story.
Pray to the God of Flux by Jonathan Wood
“Look in any gentleman’s waistcoat pocket and you will see the familiar dusting of pollen and within the secret pocket, the phial of ennui.”
As Dickens wrote a tale of two cities, so does Wood – and of SAINTS and SCENTS, I guess, as you are richly exhorted into this burgeoning narrative, or narrated into this exacting exhortation, straddling London Bridge and Brussels, with, I sense as well as scent, the ‘shoals’ of the dead from Elizabeth Bowen’s London Blitz in her ‘The Heat of the Day’. But now this is the heat of some further passion, and I, too, in real life, once plodded daily across London Bridge, provisioned by my lady wife, and with umbrella, toward work, dreaming of the connections exhorted here, today, by the God in the Goblet.
Ziegler against the World by John Howard
“…as the words talked to each other and edited themselves, agreeing and arguing, before making themselves available…”
I felt this story was agreeing and arguing with me as I nodded knowingly at the beginning with those erstwhile Howardian postage stamps appearing amid Weimar inflation… But then it started arguing back at me with fictionatronic absurdities even outdoing those of Rhys Hughes, but the novel that the hero picked up in the Great War trenches was Huysmans’ DOWN THERE; he obsessively translated it from French to German while the inflationary zeros and serrated edges of the stamps filled his dreams with arguing apertures and jagged teeth; his behaviour bemused his wife who in another world would have sent him off to work across London Bridge, no doubt. And I felt like eating the weighty words before my head floated off like the froth on a daydream. Like his wife, I am bemused, yet keen to use the text’s pattern eventually toward the eventual real-time gestalt of this book, just as the blocks of stamps formed such patterns in the story. To reach the core of the book itself DOWN THERE.
Towards Nature by Douglas Thompson
“I was encouraged by the lawyer to maintain the services of my uncle’s erstwhile housekeeper Madame Le Lancourt and her slow-witted son Desmond,”
At the time I last read and reviewed a story by this author here, I wrote: “Whenever I read a Douglas Thompson story, I feel as if I am looking through a fiction-microscope where physically beautiful words of all lengths and mineral or jellyfish or orchid qualities shimmer or prick one into a special magic reality, then miraculously turning such microscopic visions into a vast macroscopic imaginarium that one can ‘bank’ as if within some accreting noumenon-sump that is somewhere inside yourself even if you do not always consciously remember the process.”
— and this story does not disappoint in this light, if anything I ever write can be deemed to be ‘light’!
This story of the first person protagonist’s inheritance of an effectively ‘listed’, ‘preservation-ordered’ Villa Duendelle and his constructive desecration of it by Nature into a wondrous Hanging Garden is a perfect gem of Decadent Literature, rest assured. It does also serve to “cross-pollinate” with Wood’s earlier pollen-in-the-pocket and the London Bridge crossing civil servant or financier (like I was once myself): “He was an odious little jobsworth in a black suit and pince-nez, exactly the kind of world-hating nature-hating petty bureaucrat that we picture the writer JK Huysmans masquerading as for most of his life in the civil service, without, of course, the redeeming imagination.”
In Our Deep Vaulted Cell by Derek John
“Charles Myerson was in his early fifties and a modest inheritance had recently enabled him to take early retirement from his position in the civil service.”
…although the civil service has little to do with whether Charles ends up as some sort of glorious saviour or miserable victim or failed saviour or ecstatic victim, or some or even all of these things.
At first, I thought this lengthy story of a British couple setting up in an Italian ‘castle’ with a hidden chapel and a mixture of High Church holiness and sinisterness as backstory was very well written as a prose text but, as a plot, contrived, workmanlike, linear, if sometimes compellingly page-turning, true. But the aftertaste makes me think it is more than that, especially with the sexual-religious threnodies by this same author within the plot of his novella THE AESTHETE HAGIOGRAPHER which I judged (here) my actual top favourite book of all my reading of new books during 2012. And I now have a decided frisson that this luxurious TRANSACTIONS OF THE FLESH book with its black ribbon marker and spy-hole is indeed Derek John’s missing church Monstrance from this story and the Real Presence or Host within it is what I have just read.
Summer Dusk, Winter Moon by Berit Ellingsen
“But where Winter Moon’s blood fell, the gelatinous mass stopped moving and became as hard and still as stone.”
…which is astonishingly significant in the light of the previous story’s own ‘mass’ within a mountain (stone) clad chapel: the scene of the Eucharist and blood of the Real Presence and High Church Host, tying in with the battle with a Theodore Sturgeon-like IT monster by this Ellingsen story’s ever-revivable hero. This together with Thompson’s ever-Clark-Ashton-Smith-Seed-In-The-Sepulchre-burgeoning Nature into a Hanging Garden gives further slant on the visionary conflicts between Mankind and Monster-many-mouthed-Nature….
The Ellingsen story, in isolation, is a stirring, well written High Fantasy, where Flesh-‘paper chase’ and Lure and Sacrifice are the watchwords. A zombie half-life hero who is ever ready for re-igniting by all manner of harvest festivals to defend us against our multi-hydra foes of not Mother- but Monster-Nature.
The second story in a row with a comma in its title: a very rare event even to have just one such story.
Ash Sun, Raspberry Sky by Adam Golaski
“Roses grow over the girls who sense water and metal and rock, who were seized by mountain tops and wrestled with a spirit,”
….which again, astonishingly, continues the mountain or rock or stone imprisonment of a ‘host’ theme mentioned above, as we also attempt to cohere the leitmotifs or cuneiforms of the intriguing and haunting dream-like existence or a diorama-in-a-diorama or tapestry of this story’s protagonist when he tries to tether his memories visiting a hotel, a cafe etc. and then toward an eventual gestalt within which his sister (the equivalent of this book’s earlier ‘lady wife’) tries to keep him in check.
Angel Head by Harold Billings
“Grow old along with me.”
A fascinating and creepy tale of a graveyard – tombs now beset with floods – then another of this book’s ‘rock structured’ walls of a church, wherein our protagonist — while investigating, MR James-like, the history of the sculptress of the Angel Head on one of the tombs outside — is trapped by a seemingly mad curator. But that gives you no clue or premonition of what happens and how it happens. There is, for example, a spy-hole like that in the front of this book through which a pole is poked towards a Real Presence upon the mad curator in a mode not dissimilar from Derek John’s earlier religio-sexual moments… I give up! Read it. It’s brilliant. And, oh yes, as you can tell from my quote above, there is another budding future ‘lady wife’ for our hero…possibly.
A thoughtful reading of this – appreciated. I am waiting for your own book!
An uncanny recurrence of this story: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2014/03/05/a-dead-church-harold-billings/#comment-2079
Starless Mornings Find Me Older by Peter Holman
“I peeped through the spy-hole…”
A discovered diary of an ostensibly good-time lady in her Sunset Boulevard years, going to seed – or, rather, to cheese. It is on one level an evocatively stylised character study by the character herself, redolent, funny, grotesque, poignant – the reader feeling as voyeur in these private moments, a story of a larger than-life woman (ostensibly) from good looks to something else altogether – but I kept wondering whether these were her own words or the idealised words put into her mouth by an author. Or just another stage of our journey in this book – DOWN THERE to the antipodal angst of the human soul.
[Maybe the French of Villon gives us a clue at the end of this story, one translation of the last line being “I nearly go off my head” (cf the previous story’s Angel Head).]
NB: There was one item of information I seemed to receive towards the end of this story that I have withheld for the purpose of this review.
Being halfway through the book, this review will now continue HERE
Alternatively continued here: http://weirdmonger.livejournal.com/270862.html
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