The Heaven Tree – Christopher Harman

The Heaven Tree & Other Stories by Christopher Harman

I recently received this 2013 book that I purchased from Sarob Press.

My previous reviews of Christopher Harman stories HERE and HERE.

“She turned, her hands clasped in his, and looked up at the Tree of Dreams. Then, very gently, she bent and laid her lips against the bark.”
— from ‘The Tree of Heaven’ (1908) by Robert W. Chambers


9 thoughts on “The Heaven Tree – Christopher Harman

  1. imageThe Heaven Tree
    “He felt like a book that had been read from cover to cover and discarded.”
    Like an e-book? No, I won’t be tempted into drawing a comparison with the story’s central lake-weed creature as a metaphor for the accretive onset of the worldwide web, although, admittedly, this traditional horror story that seems in many ways endemic to all times past contains references such as webcams, Facebook, web design, emails, web conferencing, spam etc.
    This story at one level is a theosophical treatment of and extrapolation upon business practices, a book launch on a literal launch, the self-conscious interactions between human beings concerning important matters disguised as small talk, an accomplished Clark-Ashton-Smith ‘seed from the sepulchre’ weird tale, a meticulously adumbrated (if that is not a contradiction in terms) English Lakeland genius-loci (where items of scenery are compared to, say, a cardigan button or ice-hockey puck), and an enticingly gradual tussling accretion of acquaintance not only with the weed creature itself but also with the characters who experience it.
    (I feel tempted to test out the story’s contention that ‘Ventri Weed’ cannot be found in internet search engines. But now having written that expression here, it will no doubt be found at least once, eventually!)

  2. Hoxlip and After
    The meat he’d consumed wanted to come back and choke him.”
    A holiday coach tour in the Cotswolds and a lone male passenger on this trip and his extramurals… You can tell the author has been on such trips (as I have) because the detailed habits and traditions for such moving events are handled spot on, but do not get blasé as you will never forget THIS haunting trip, an Aickman-like relationship with an old-fashioned pram and its pusher – and eventually with what is being pushed within it, only vaguely seen just like the gargoyles under the church roof. Hotlips on textured skin, like bark with patches of scar tissue? As in that quote I found earlier? Or just my fancy? Whatever the case, this is a GREAT story. One that really taps into countryside dark cultures and under your own skin.

  3. Bad Teeth
    “It’s about buildings that only exist in photographs.”
    I’m not sure whether that means what it is intended to mean. This story is a shape of matchless prose that you need to deal with like you deal with descrying the shapes it tells about, those shapes some shapeless some not, that you only perceive within a rarefied part of your reading brain; this is how Harman often works; there is something special about Harman as he moulds into dark crystalline existence a woman’s mixed-period prose atonal symphony of Sickman and Aickman in a childhood scandal to her school friend involving sweets, not Charlie’s chocolate factory as such, but sweets like articulates of language, retro products from our retro crazes now riddled with youtube future technology, a sweetshop attached to a sweat-shop (I infer), manufacturing the sweets as if in a workhouse, and now onward to retro-reminiscence in library groups, and whether such shapeless shapes can be descried, just as the woman today (the young girl who once was) and her pet dog noisily gnaws a bone. It all miraculously comes together: otherwise a solidly told story as a dream vision that is riddled with reality, then and now. A demolisher’s sweet-wrapper cloud a bit like the book’s earlier lake weed heaventree. The Harman harmonisation of jagged sweets.

  4. imageScrubs
    “‘And where is everyone at night? They can’t be indoors or they’d have the lights on.’ / ‘Back rooms,’ a girl sighed, as if they were heavenly. / ‘Who’s to say the lights are on at the back?'”
    This substantive story is Harmanisation extended for his seasoned readers to enjoy as it goes into extremes of his knack for dense textured, sharply adumbrated shapes of prose, sown with spear carriers and extras, visions and happenings, to the background of ordinary life. Here the ordinary life is students at university, and like the earlier coach trip, the author must have gone to a similar place (as I have) because, again, it is spot on, notwithstanding all the wild kaleidoscopes of dissonant art and urban extrapolation. I can only deal with this rarefied Harmanisation personally; it is such advanced reading, one can only deal with it thus. A traditional story for over-dosing upon Harman, at one level. But, at my level, it is a hologrammatisation of my time at Bailrigg in the late 1960s. It was a brand new university then, and we students doubled at the nearby night-grey ‘city’ and the growing new buildings on the campus. This story is about that feeling. That campus – once new – has now assumed its own night-grey age, no doubt, 50 years later, where modern students play games on their iPhones. Ghosts and boogey-men are no longer symptoms of Rag Week. They now exist for real. The chaplaincy centre at Bailrigg – pictured above – always struck me as being like a tent creature, too. And, at Bailrigg, I formed the Zeroist Group back in the 1960s and organised a ‘happening’ which was all the new rage then. Like some of the novels of AS Byatt or John Cowper Powys, one expects such fictions to end with a Festival, having rehearsed it throughout. Here the festival is that Happening.

  5. In the same way as this is my last complete RTR of 2013, I have already read and reviewed (here) Harman’s next and last story in ‘Heaven Tree’ as my last RTR in 2012 – and it will have to remain hazy in my future fading memory: a sort of half-heard coda to this whole book – and that seems to be the natural thing to do, having just over-dosed on Harman.
    It is a great book, one that deserves re-reading. Harman, on this evidence, will surely grow to earn my intense liking as one of my life-long favourite fiction authors, except he has come a bit late to the party.

    My previous review of the last story is shown verbatim below:

    [[ Deep Water – Christopher Harman
    Pages 21 – 31
    “‘Towards’ was the operative word.
    I am about halfway through this substantive story, and already I am as much elated by this work as I was disappointed by the previous one in this anthology. This promises to be a landmark reading experience for me, and not only because I am long familiar with Dunwich, Sizewell, Woodbridge and Hambling’s sculpture on the beach at Aldeburgh, and not only because this is, at least partially, a superb classical music story (please see my Classical Horror anthology book I recently published), but also because the prose style, the characterisation etc. are wonderful — please see the police character as an example, and the protagonist himself who first reminds me of that in Reggie Oliver’s great senile dementia story ‘Flowers of the Sea’, here with the circumstances of his Celia going missing amid a whole wonderful Davy Jones’ Locker claustrophobia/ exquisition ambiance (my words, not the story’s necessarily) ….. But not completely like that Reggie Oliver character, because this Harman one has arguably betrayed his wife with another woman? Absolutely wonderful, so far, including the Takemitsu, Britten, Vaughan Williams, Malcolm Arnold references….. [Also, so far, no typos to report, so hopefully those in the previous story were examples of a one-off aberration.] (14 Oct 12 – 6.25 pm)
    Pages 31 – 42
    “…as if he were one of the lost souls who gravitated towards seaside resorts.”
    The first half’s promise, for me, has been fulfilled. This is quite a tour de force, with prose tendrils so outlandish they seem the sea itself. The ‘policeman’ – called Trench – we know now why his legs were earlier described finnish, and the ‘green beens’ from the previous story at least link here with the greenness of ‘Celia’ in the swimming pool.  This is a story with which every reader needs to make his or her own bespoke rapprochement – no review can prepare you for it.   There are so many examples of turns-of-phrase or turns-of-plot that I could give you but they would still only give very little idea of what sort of experience this story is.  It is Reggie Oliver’s ‘Flowers of the Sea’ taken perhaps to new depths… where the slippery shape of the missing one vanishes and reappears and vanishes again round the corner of aquarium or street or beach, till you wonder if the missing one is you yourself not someone else. A symbol for sea as the growing communal dementia? A ‘mad wife’ as seen by her husband is only mad because she deemed him mad first (thus his perceptions of her were as they were). “Vivaldi was dry, rational until slow pizzicato strings described hard claws tiptoeing across a striated sandy floor. Bach’s contrapuntal lines entwined in his head like smooth tubular growths.” [Meanwhile, I myself attended, as it happens, a live public concert in Clacton-on-Sea last night where my own wife was singing alto in a chorus performing, inter alia, Vivaldi’s ‘Gloria’ after months of rehearsal]. (14 Oct 12 – 8.10 pm bst) ]]


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