14 thoughts on “Where Furnaces Burn – Joel Lane

  1. My Stone Desire
    “More than anything, I felt tired — as if the sleep debt from the past four months needed to be paid off all at once.”
    How fragile the links between people are – a dark Black Country tale of a trainee policeman whose love life and the seeking out those missing links within the urban walls where the missing collect like those shifting ‘shoals’ of the dead from, I personally dream, another Black Country that was Elizabeth Bowen’s London of the Blitz era now transfigured into Lane’s metaphor of Birmingham. A story where, like the book, the central character starts young and who wants to undo the darkness by digging into it.

  2. Still Water
    “Typically, he’d rock in his chair and run his hands through imaginary jewels — or through the hair of an imaginary woman.”
    The policeman now faces the impossible task of interrogating a madman. A thief whose visitant ghost of a woman is more real than himself where congress is more a donning than a penetrating. Stolen jewels and maggots in some symbiosis within water as aspic. This is an incredible vision where the readers feel, I sense, that the inner world of its text becomes a seething seedbed within themselves.

    Lane’s art is in the deceptively deadpan similes that have their own seedbed within our communal memory of twentieth century Britain, for example in this story: “When we pulled him out he was curled up, his arms crossed, his knees close to his chest. Like a kid in a school assembly.”

  3. This morning I wonder if the time is still too raw to start digging into ‘Where Furnaces Burn’, but just reading the next short short story this early morning has dispelled that concern.

    Morning’s Echo
    “…the hermeneutic circle of learning, how you reached the whole through the parts and the parts through the whole.”
    …where our ‘hero’ policeman (a symptom of what someone else called ‘the conscience of the Horror genre’?) discovers that, through dream and later materialization of dream during his gory, meaningful duties, time gives hope as a medicine of despair. The growth through mould and decay. The Birmingham metaphor.
    “Thinking of ‘pass the parcel’ games in junior school.”

  4. The Hostess
    “… another could work stolen gold and silver into brand new jewellery.”

    I read and reviewed this story in December 2010 here, saying:
    [[ The Hostess by Joel Lane
    “But the victims weren’t talking even when their mouths healed.”
    A short Lane-like piece that if I retold it my mouth would never heal! Suffice to say it’s atmospheric and about a crime in Birmingham and the contained community of criminals that incubate victims as well as themselves as criminals, and any purging needs to be broadly aimed rather than focussed to allow optimum resolution to pan out serendiptously … and for some of the earlier child victims in this book also to find voice as emblemised by the child here …. and its last line of text is genius and makes the whole story work. It somehow makes my whole ‘waiting to see’ theory on this book work, too, or simply click into its rightful context. So, if push comes to shove, this brief story was worth its presence here if only for that… (27 Dec 10 – another hour later)

    One learns new things over time that affect your sensitivity to life and literature OR any story takes on a new meaning, a new depth in a different published context OR this story is one of those rare special stories that delivers new secrets with each repeated reading of it. For me it is a combination of all three. (Also it hadn’t dawned on me in 2010 that this then future book’s policeman was developing into a thread in some of Lane’s work.)
    “Then another dark November day. Another night.”

  5. Blue Smoke
    “It was the first time I’d experienced how being in a relationship can leave you feeling unreal whenever you’re on your own.”
    In one of the previous stories, vodka was seen as never freezing. But here it does or it becomes snow. This is one of the most powerful of Lane’s stories – and I have often used the expression ‘Lane-like’ in the past about several of his stories because there is no greater praise – and it treats of one of his leitmotifs dealing with an accreting crowd or ancient flashmob or calm recurrent gathering or sinister coalescence of things or souls, here a religio-alcoholic vision that you will never forget. Nor will this book’s own recurrency of a Policeman ever forget it. The stories themselves about him still gathering calmly as I read…piecemeal, towards, I sense, some form of inevitable gestalt, dreaded or hoped for.

  6. Beth’s Law
    “Sometimes I think police work is all about trying to make up for what we don’t understand or can’t cope with.”
    And I wonder, too, how this leasehold policeman narrator embedded in Lane’s Birmingham urban metaphor can write about himself with his freehold author’s beautiful language couched in such darkness. I sense it is an osmosis, an imbuing by the blue in the previous story and the blue in this one. This story is a scrying or hermeneutic (to use Lane’s earlier word in this book) process, just like the ‘calm gathering’ of the leitmotifs into a gestalt, and here it is the scrying of the blatant scandalising newsprint’s own scrying of Eliza (the missing child) into the Beth’s Law headline. No wonder the powerful ending of this story takes this to a horrific scrying extrapolation you will again never forget, I guess.

  7. A Cup of Blood
    “There’s always a link between deprivation and fantasy.”
    Although this workmanlike story — of a burglary, a missing cup, crime story investigations, mysterious motives, urban brutality, a healer that lives by the canal with a hint of the Holy Grail — has not turned out to be one of my favourite stories so far in this book, it has made me think of why Lane decided to empathise with a policeman in this book. It’s probably the difficulty of such an empathy for Lane (this story itself has a bitterly sharp Lane-like comment for Thatcher and the Tories, the archetypical ‘friends’ of the police) that attracted him to such a challenge – and I sense there is a dichotomy between Lane as (a) the realist and crime story writer and (b) poet and dark visionary and fantasist/ horrorist – and this is his way to transcend these two aspects. I may develop or disown this theory the further I read into the book.
    There is also a Lane-like sense of humour hidden beneath this whole book, that pokes through from time to time. For example, in an earlier story, the policeman’s two colleagues were named McMahon and Bestwick.

  8. Even The Pawn
    “At least the sins you commit in your heart don’t expose you to blackmail.”
    Back to Lane at his strongest, this deals with a mere touch on the face possibly being more brutal than a dagger in the ribs amid the urban back lanes. And its telling backstory is the trafficking and dehumanisation of women, in real life and as pawns by recorded porn. A force for change.

  9. A Mouth To Feed
    “The waiting-room was full of silent, immobile people.”
    …a bit like us array of readers in our own sad echoes of recent weeks. This story, although seemingly contrived and blatantly horror genre monster for its own sake with a rushed but striking headstone-rubble climax, the words are imbued with something more meaningful about this already sick woman’s death from something other than her sickness (unless the monster is a literal offshoot of her tumour) and those around her, haunted by her erstwhile life with her family, as the two policemen (one the woman’s partner) act unofficially by leaving this book’s dark urban city for the countryside community where symbolically the riven ground gives way. Just like the city, countryside harbours human waste. The Path of Lane is for the reader never really knowing how to negotiate it, how, indeed, to interpret the visionary aspects as, here, the amorphous metaphor seems to continue to resonate autonomously without further input by us or by its author. Great literature seems to subsist and change on its own even if – or especially when – left unread, I sense. But we shall never know for certain, obviously.
    “The funeral parlour was on the high street, in between a bank and a recruitment agency.”

  10. Quarantine
    “It was a pity we couldn’t take the building itself in for questioning.”
    Mysterious deaths being investigated at a city hostel for misfits in different rooms, different years. Plus this book’s policeman’s continuously telling backstory of wife and daughters – and while they are away, he again takes unofficial action, not by taking the building in for questioning but staying there himself. Places often retain their own smells of incidents within themselves however deep their being cleaned… Growing almost their own doors of decay into …(heretofore my visualisations, not necessarily the story’s)–> into some outside city Narnia where crucifixions are person upon person, crowns of thorns become bracelets of bone. This book keeps its own smells and stains safe, even if they can’t yet be smelt or seen. Time will tell. Ebooks vanish; real books simply decay – eventually.

  11. Black Country
    “The night I was packing up, I asked Elaine whether she thought losing memories could actually change the past.”
    This is a story that deals with one’s birthplace – here for our policeman (who explicitly in this story relates himself to Fox Mulder in an attempt to reconcile the recurrency of dark dreams and visions in his work) an area in the Birmingham vicinity that has lost its coordinates as well as its name — and one’s return to it, trying to piece together clues like a detective of one’s past. This is artfully tied up with investigating mysterious crimes involving children on children – and with our learning in this story more about our policeman having not been whiter than white, to say the least, in his chequered past, one can reconcile some of his actions exorcising by arson! A haunting ending to this great story. And, by reading this accretive collection, I am learning things about Lane Literature and its audit trail that I never knew before, never even suspected, and if that is happening to someone like me (see my previous Lane reviews here), then I wonder what deeper posthumous paths I have yet to follow…

  12. Without a Mind
    “In the last year, for example, there’d been a cluster of sudden deaths in South Birmingham…”
    This seems to be the work to which we have been gradually groomed to read by this book and it is possibly the most powerful Lane story for me so far in my total reading of him. The ‘anti-people’ coupled with our policeman’s own personal weakness and disloyalty makes this unforgettable. We are all vulnerable perhaps where aborted ones themselves become abortionists…..assuming that is the correct way to interpret this truly devastating vision?

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