The Dark Return of Time by R.B. Russell
The Swan River Press (2014) — My previous real-time reviews of this publisher’s books linked from HERE.
My issue (134 pages, aesthetic hardback with dust jacket) is numbered 70/100 within a publisher’s watermark plus an author-signed card.
I INTEND TO CARRY OUT A REAL-TIME REVIEW OF THIS NORMALLY PURCHASED BOOK AND IT WILL TAKE PLACE IN THE COMMENT STREAM BELOW AS AND WHEN I HAPPEN TO READ IT:-
I & II
“The whole of Paris seemed not to have just been unaware of what had happened, but had turned its back on it.”
I am drawn satisfyingly into this book’s intriguingly, deceptively simple-prosed plot surrounding the young Englishman named Flavian as gradually he becomes a sort of ‘ashamed foreigner’ working in his father’s bookshop amid an atmospherically-conjured Paris and who appears entrammelled by his own as yet unclear backstory with someone named Corrina but further entrammelled by his witnessing, in the streets of Paris, the material repercussions of an inferentially unpleasant act of crime, a narrative causing us to dwell on the psychology of witnessing such things, as filtered, bolstered or even changed by later dreams about it…and to dwell, too, on the others whom he witnesses also witnessing the event.
III & IV
The outcome of the foregoing plot continues to unspool in my review without spoilers, unless, alongside me, you are reading it at the same pace whereby spoilers are duly eked out, with acknowledged coincidences, followed by an editional book lore that only collectors and sellers of such souls within real books’ boards and paper pages can manage, plus a sense of melodrama in exits and entrances, as if the affectation — that the props of a cane and fob watch earlier lent a witness to this book’s plot — has now been absorbed by the tenor of the text itself. I am enthralled.
“Okay. Will it help if I say he left with a couple of different editions of ‘Le Grand Meaulnes’,…”
“The book I picked off the shelf after that was a beautiful anniversary edition of ‘Don Quixote’ by Cervantes. I had to get my glasses out to inspect it properly.”
…like getting out my gestalt glasses to inspect this very book’s engaging crime scenario of a multiple whodunnit-by-layering of backstories (some murderous) within an otherwise simple seeming plot of book-hunting (as effectively I hunt this very book physically in my hand entitled what it is as others hunt it, too, without its own bibliographical backstory) and some connection with money laundering, where witnesses witness each other with ‘diminished responsibility’, motives mixed and mainly (as yet) unknown. It is almost a literary laundering, an ignited romance that straddles pasts, a fiction laundering, toward or from some central plot germ of words turned gold or vice versa? “…a constant reminder of a past I can’t even remember.”
Some of my earlier reviews of R.B. Russell fiction (where the current work can be seen in its own backstories returned, as it were, or at least as far as I have reached in it at this point in time):
VI, VII & VIII
“I’ve not discovered anything else, apart from books, that allows us to explore the complexities of human experience…”
…and thus books about books exponentially?
Amid the unspooling of events – including an auction scene more page-turning than ‘Flog It’ – a disingenuous parallel between inferred brutal crimes and “the niceties of book collecting” seems to accrue … and there is even a throwaway mention of the author of all those mind-clinging books that first entrammelled me as a child with both their affectation and melodrama but also with an essential adventurous truth: Enid Blyton.
Books cling, cities, too. Here that city is Paris.
The whole of this second of only two parts gives the book its own disconnected coda, leaving me with a worrying feeling that I’ve been thrust into a panning out of events that are taken straight out of a book that knows only crudely what went before within its hard bullet-proof covers, now with blatant guns and car chases and plot twists, or did I imagine such events from some other book and transposed them here? Tellingly, I manage to make it all come good, not a happy ending as such nor an ending I can tell you about for fear of spoilers spoiling spoilers…but, for me, this coda’s ‘dying fall’ contains a supremely subtle version of this book’s palimpsest of vision that somehow makes the rest of this book — leading toward this end point, toward this calm aftermath and ‘return’ — become other than it actually was.
I enjoyed this book in spite of some of its melodramatic affectations – or perhaps because of them? The whole work seems to transcend the dreaded possibility that fiction books in general will one day abandon their physicality as well as their soul, their raw adventure as well as their catching of a dream. A blend of the page-turning and the lingering.
“Every book has a soul. The soul of the person who wrote it and of those who read it and lived and dreamed with it. Every time a book changes hands, every time someone runs his eyes down its pages, its spirit grows and strengthens.”
— from ‘The Shadow Of The Wind’ by Carlos Ruiz Zafon