I have just received these purchased copies from the publisher…

wraiths1 wraiths2

A DISTILLATE of HERESY by Damian Murphy

WRAITHS by Mark Valentine

Les Editions de L’Oubli MMXIV

My reviews of other Zagava / Ex Occidente Press books HERE



  1. I have just started reading the Mark Valentine text in the ‘Wraiths’ book, where I have read about the nature of slim volumes to this extent of ‘ad absurdum’: “That is, to be the author of a volume so slim as not even to exist.” Which reminds me that I published a non-existent slim volume in 2006, a record of which publication is shown here.
    This Valentine slim volume aspires to such a worthy rarification without slipping into the danger of being nothing at all. It has 32 pages on luxurious paper, with the Valentine text filling 18 of those pages and the remaining pages being constituted of splendid artwork and design. The book itself has thicker board covers wider together than the width of the paper pages between them, a book sumptuously built. It is a hard-wired miracle of tenuous substance. No irony intended.
    My copy is numbered 62 of 106.

  2. Wraiths
    Pages 7 – 17
    “…drifting from one sad hospice to another…”
    A spinning together of real, barely known, often eccentric poets (in the Yeats and Swinburne era), poets fugitive enough not to have their works in any slim volume at all, together with intriguing anecdotes concerning these poets and the more famous people, like that Everyman Bookman named Ernest Rhys, who knew these worthy rumours of once living poets, poets who are now miracles of tenuity along with their non-existent books. A crystalline non-fiction work with a flair enough to embroider itself with the garments of fiction and the inferred madness of its subject-matter.

  3. What Became of Dr Ludovicus
    Pages 23 – 31
    “The letter ‘v’, as has been observed, was a favourite of Dowson’s, and he often invoked viols, violets and vines.”
    Here, Mark Valentine interestingly adumbrates the circumstances and plot of a lost collaboration by Ernest Dowson with his lesser known friend Arthur Moore, as inferred from their unlost correspondence about it. This work, we are told, was what the Victorians called a ‘shocker’ and that set me wondering about the many different ways with which any book can create shock, including this very Valentine book itself that tells us about it all. Content and form. By the way, I note that Valentine, in this slim volume, invokes the words ‘vivid’ and ‘verve’ in his last paragraph.

  4. =====================================

    A DISTILLATE of HERESY by Damian Murphy
    Another luxurious book, one with 144 pages. Mine is numbered 54 of 85.
    I intend to start reading and reviewing this in the New Year.
    Seasons Greetings to all my readers.

  5. An at least temporary change of plan in starting today the Damian Murphy book…

    A Book of Alabaster
    Pages 11 – 29
    “His lot was to play, to immerse himself in the wondrous creations of these underappreciated poets.”
    …and indeed this is an amazing correlation to the Valentine book above, this story with a ‘chapel of sand’, a correlation not only with ‘underappreciated poets’ but also,with a book that ‘grew smaller and smaller’! I had already thought about the nature of an ebook when earlier reading Valentine’s conjuration of non-existent books and the ‘wraiths’ who wrote them. Now, we watch Murphy’s protagonist seeking nostalgia in buying off eBay an electronic game (a genre of entertainment of which I have little knowledge), a remembered game that had inspired his past, thus bringing this correlation fully home to roost. But the story is an antique in itself, with a delicious yet easy prose, a seasoned decadent prose that is craftily written about such a modern phenomenon, and the rite of passage into this electronic game and then back to the environment (a tower appendage on a non-descript property) in which he is playing it is very well done. That circular path from tenancy to tenancy, as it were, via a screen, reminds me constructively of the work of Mark Samuels, and vice versa. In fact I have sensed before that these two writers have kindred spirits, a compliment to each of them, but with their respective work being quite diverse otherwise.

    • In the interest of synchronous comparative literary criticism, there is some mileage in ricocheting the work of Mark Samuels against that of Damian Murphy, and vice versa…
      I don’t want to make a big thing of this, as their work is quite diverse from each other, and any comparisons are Jungian rather than deliberate. But it is an interesting comparison, nevertheless.

  6. A Perilous Ordeal
    Pages 30 – 42
    “Let the flavor of the tobacco linger in your mouth. Let yourself become familiar with all its subtle nuances. A cigarette should be gated as if it were the body of a lover which you wish to thoroughly explore.”
    As in the previous story’s ‘game’, this beginning of a novella has a similar rite of passage, here an initiation of an Adept in some secret society or something mutantly similar to the Catholic Church, surrounded by some diaspora connected with a German city. This initiate, with eyes wide shut, as it were, suddenly finds his journey through the rite sliding away into something possibly more sinister (a role-playing game or in earnest?), as he thinks of his family left behind in the city and the city’s secret destiny. But, more and more, the rite seems to become connected with smoking and later with the cigarette and with the symbolism on its packet… (Cigarettes, coincidentally or not, are also important in much Mark Samuels work.)

  7. Pages 42 – 54
    “…having passed through several initiations, each of which had seemed to open doors into progressively deeper levels of truth and revelation.”
    This city is not an exact city, I infer, but one straddling ‘cartographies of the soul’. A passing mention of Der Fuhrer followed by Blakean visions, and a theosophical sort of McGoohan Prisoner scenario whence escape seems possible, even enacted, all make the readers, via their own rite of passage through this story or game, more and more compelled to reach a still ungraspable personal form of truth and revelation, cigarettes and cigarette packet notwithstanding.

  8. Pages 55 – 67
    “In any case, he wasn’t sure how comfortable he would be dressing in another man’s wardrobe.”
    This end section of my reading of this novella spans a Proustian memory of childhood followed by various steps towards his as yet unknown goal, in an immaculately expressed Marienbad of Houses, each of the three parts of the text being subdivided by Onyx, Amethyst and Pearl, as if a continuation of this book’s earlier Alabaster, a mineral hardness thus underpinning the gossamer visions, theosophical yearnings and the mission of duty to recent History itself, our personal history, too, spread across the cartographies of each mind that chooses to absorb this text, sometimes understanding it, sometimes not. As before, the protagonist passes from tenancy to tenancy, a phenomenon mentioned earlier in my review, reaching toward new tenancies, trying on the clothes of others as if reaching an essential self via a pixel pointillism of words expressed by smoothly joined-up ones. A perilous ordeal, in itself.
    “The other library obtained two tall bookshelves filled entirely with thick, untitled volumes containing maps of every major city in the world, all arranged chronologically, spanning from ancient times to the present day.”

  9. The Scourge and the Sanctuary
    Pages 68 – 71
    “…an angel of solace amidst the atrocities of bedlam.”
    cf the atrocities of soot, in another review of mine dealing with Murphy.
    This start of a long short story, one with a great title for Boxing Day, is word-thick with antique city decadence, as Theodora, I infer, writes a letter (that is the only thing we can read) to Sebastian about a seemingly derelict penthouse appendage to a building (cf the earlier tower appendage in this book) with which she becomes obsessed, intending to use a fascinating key technique to enter, guided by astrological harmonics, as I am, in life as well as reading books such as this one. It is ‘in media res’ letter as part of a series of letters from Theodora to Sebastian, I note, that we take as a slice of some unknown gestalt.

  10. Pages 71 – 78
    “I’ve taken to carrying Joyce’s impossible magnum opus, Finnegans Wake, around with me in the mornings. It’s an unwieldy brick of a book, but it’s not too much trouble for me to carry in my shoulder bag. I can’t imagine reading the entire thing through from start to finish. Anyway, the text wraps around from the end back to the beginning, so where to start? I prefer to open the book at random and treat it as a form of bibliomancy.”
    cf this brick of a book with Valentine’s wraith-like slim volume…
    The second letter from Theodora to Sebastian, where she compellingly describes entry to that penthouse appendage. Page-turning.
    A version of the name Bartholomew was that of the previous novella’s protagonist’s name, the name of the saint who carried his own flayed skin. Cf the hard thick rind of the slim volume that housed the Valentine. Here, I wonder if Sebastian is meant to represent St Sebastian…?

  11. Pages 78 – 83
    “How is the relationship affected by my relating these discoveries to you,..”
    Indeed, Theodora’s letters to Sebastian are like my own gestalt real-time reviews of books, except she hints at not completing the Finnegan circle with the complete gestalt, having found a map in the penthouse that does not match this city wherein she wanders, a city that the map is meant to cartographise…complete with ‘nonexistent squares’…

  12. Pages 83 – 94
    “Theodora’s back is screaming, and the skin on the backs of her legs is still red hot,… […] ‘You’ll have some lovely scars to carry with you once you’ve healed up,’…”
    In these final sections of the story, we catch a glimpse of Theodora outside of what she writes in her letters. Whence she writes them – River Station South (cf Southern Reach) – seems a contradiction in terms of fluidity and status quo, but we learn to absorb the clues from lunar patterns or, as I infer, Alice A. Bailey type esoteric astrology (does this Alice own the Penthouse?) and the path being followed, in communion with someone existent or nonexistent whom she calls Sebastian… And you need to follow the path of this book, too, whether painful or pleasurable, game or reality, wake or otherwise.

  13. Permutations of the Citadel
    Pages 95 – 116
    “There are ways of losing yourself within familiar places.”
    There are many real and false cartographies earlier in this book, and here two well-characterised wags or hangers-on working at a large hotel have a prank or jape or game with meticulously, John-Howardly, adeptly replacing the hotel map with a slightly altered one. This includes what I see as a citadel appendage, to match that of the earlier tower and penthouse. It is a fluid, compelling novella so far, where these two dabble in reading books, like ones by Jan Potocki and Gustave Flaubert, and one of these two wags philanders with a hotel guest called Miss Pataki who wields a planchette… And there is more constructively lush smoke from cigarettes and smoking accoutrements, leading, via disturbingly visionary Alice Through the Looking-Glass machinations, smoking (a fire?) for real in the hotel and more…

  14. imagePages 116 – 141
    “Clinging to the lower section of the wall several doors distant stood a black and yellow salamander. It scrutinized him with cautious curiosity before making its way into one of the heating vents.”
    I will not itemise the happenings and visions of this last section vis-a-vis the characters, but it is a satisfying ending to this novella and to the whole book, as if, all this time, we have been inescapably negotiating an intriguing role-play at many levels of situation and self, scaling several Houses, Mansions of the Mineral or the Moon, a gnostic game, toward this final Citadel, after combining door codes and matters occult and Occult. With a Mark-Samuelsian, John-Howardian, but essentially and uniquely Damian-Murphyan set of adaptly palimpsestable reality-rules, while, on page 131, “It is little consolation to us that the Caliph has fallen. We have yet to find the space left by his absence. Now leave this place. I have nothing more to offer you.”

  15. Thank you, Des, for the excellent review. One of the many pleasures of publishing with Ex Occidente/Zagava lies in having my work reviewed on your site. I’m especially taken with the final summation, which, depending on how its wielded, can be made to reveal angles of the book which had escaped even its author. Very well played.

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