EX OCCIDENTE PRESS MMVIII
I have just purchased this book privately from its previous owner.
My previous reviews of this publisher’s books are linked from HERE.
If I real-time review this book, my comments will be found in the thought stream below or by clicking on this post’s title above.
My previous reviews of work by John Howard and Mark Valentine (together and separately): HERE.
THE RITE OF TREBIZOND by Mark Valentine & John Howard
“Yes. Empires rise and fall. When this one fell, the new leaders declared that only Turks could live in their new republic. All Greeks had to return to Greece.”
It is good to get back to the classic stories from the first decade of the 21st century – one that I had not read till today. This is exquisite prose, depicting, by inter-told stories by equally exquisite prose, a tale of the Connoisseur, a soul of literature that I personally see as the soul of the Mesquita in Córdoba. It should be read aloud within the precincts of that building.
Stemming from an investigator of British precincts that have their own rules, by arcane tradition, beyond any Local Authority control, and, in this pastoral lost domain, for me being a Wagnerian Parsifalinia of Master and Boy Apprentice in search of a new Oriental /Occidental Grail for our times in the second decade of the 21st century when migrants piggy-back each other across the old Ottoman Empire, sending epistles to each other by text rather than this story’s epistles “creased and folded, covered with colourful postage stamps, postmarks, and handwritten scrawls.”
A ‘last redoubt’ by anamnesis?
THE SERPENT, UNFALLEN by Mark Valentine & John Howard
“…the usual ecclesiastical smell of the church, all polish and prayer-books, was becoming intincted with a trace of sharp gums and herbs…”
This luxurious book, inspired by bright red inner vestments and ochre frontispiece embodied around the sensual smoothness of its printed pages, seemed to become imbued with other hues as scents, an alchemy of incense, as I read on in this story, a symbiosis of form and content.
It is another tale of the Connoisseur here alerted, by further immaculate prose of told-internality, to the prehensile pulsing of icons and reliquaries with implicit dangers to be exorcised or summoned by competing forces of the story’s characters or others whoever whatever…?
This competing brings the previous story’s struggle or symbiosis of Cross and Crescent towards intriguing relationships between the two stories themselves, here the Holy Roman Empire, there that Empire’s time-lapping Ottoman one, and within this single story itself, the Fallen and the Unfallen.
Combining homely domestic church-keeping with less homely ornamental church-seeping.
THE TEMPLE OF TIME by Mark Valentine & John Howard
“There were many reasons evinced for why their actions did not, or could not, also flow back down the time-stream, and thus also influence the past.”
…although I do believe this my review, written, even as I start writing it, today, has had some retrocausal influence upon the writing of this classic story from the first decade of this century, as, hopefully, all my reviews of both these authors have had similar influence upon the previous emergence of their combined and separate canons, to date. Long may that continue. Having said that, I could not prevent this story from mentioning the music of Sir Arthur Bliss before I mentioned it in connection with this story, as I would have done without the story’s prior mention of it. He is still well known for his Things to Come and Colour Symphony, but Bliss’s fine chamber music works are not things to come but things to have gone…
This story will become an unforgotten classic eventually, another intriguing tale of the Connoisseur (seemingly a sort of conversationally laid back Sherlock Holmes), and he elicits here adumbrations of an Art Deco or Egypto-classical British cinema wherein are evoked a viewing of the Wellsian ‘Things To Come’ film, things then to come like, for example, the White City concept that, if I do not misremember, has appeared in John Howard fiction since this story was first written, things to come as derived from or deriving the Toynbeean history of challenge and response (or, in tune with my brainstorming above, response and challenge), a type of history that stirred into being the -isms of the previous century. The ambiance of the cinema building in question, and who was found watching a film alone with the Connoisseur’s interlocutor – and these unfolding discussions will become even more influential than they already are simply because many have not yet read this story but will now do so as a result of reading the challenge in this review to respond to what I say about its existence as a classic story of the early 21st century. But that begs the question of who or what will later stir this review itself into prominence…a blogpost rather than a concretely designed artefact like a cinema building showing once transient films.
‘A dead monument to once ancient hope.’
MRS. WINTERGREEN by Mark Valentine
“‘Before the war’ — the phrase had a hollow sound now.”
Hollow, until one was able eventually to look back in the future and say ‘After the war’ – and this reminds me of the start of The Go-Between – something like: the past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.
There are inferred mondegreens, too, in this charming tale of half-heard conversational exchanges with a tea-drinking lady who — far from being a spy, as some suspected, for the Luftwaffe — was in actual fact someone conserving the medicinal herbs for the war effort.
In hindsight, I think I saw lights above this story’s every word like fireflies.
OUT OF THE OBELISK by Mark Valentine & John Howard
“I had a stroll about the place in the evening light, just as a bright moon was rising, like a great golden zero, and I felt it was simply bliss to exist,…”
To be beyond Hammersmith is, for some central Londoners, tantamount to visiting a village called Endean. An immaculately rhapsodic told-internality, between the two men who erected it, of a monument of once ancient Hope as well as Fenwick, a monument in a churchyard that was for someone lost even further afield – in South America.
More lights above these words – as their own monuments to fine allusive literature. A visitant urchin wielding a historically achronological coin of silver to offset the moon’s of gold, a ‘black mirror’ between. A tale of untold choices and seaweed poultices.
I was blissfully enchanted.
PRINCE ZALESKI’S SECRET by Mark Valentine
“From a shining censer there rose faint fumes, tantalising and ethereal in their scent.”
Oriental machinations ex Occidente, in some passages more phonetically-semantically-involuted than even MP Shiel could have written, with scenes of conspiracy concerning tea and its ingredients while revealing historical intrigues, prefiguring, for me, George Osbourne, not Nixon, in China.
This book itself is tantamount to a word-censer. Pungently pervading beyond the boring Customs of even my literary nostrils.
SIME IN SAMARKAND by Mark Valentine
“…daintily done in goatskin and gilt, and every page reeking of the abyss.”
Surely, surely, this story is one of the great classics of weird literature. I know I have read it before, reviewed it, too, but I have just reread it, without peeking at my previous thoughts about it. (I intend to show a copy and paste of my original thoughts in the next comment below, once I have finished this comment.)
It tells of feisty Sime the book illustrator (of Machen, Hodgson and others) and Johnson the narrator’s attempts to persuade him to illustrate the famous book of poems by Flecker. Very entertaining interchanges as the persuasion progresses, full of wit and pungency. There are some very striking passages of Johnson’s later visions of what I (if not the text itself) can only call a Fleckering he sees about Sime (as if Goya had chosen to paint nightmarish prehensilities surrounding the dreamer’s head as an admixture of dust and shadow) and another vision in the busy street of people as the marionettes of amorphous figures above them – all coming together in the climactic scenes, scenes that later effectively tail off into the fatal poignancy of the First World War…a war that Sime survived, having polished spittoons, if not censers, as part of his duties.
I cannot do justice to this story. It simply has to be experienced rather than merely read. I feel by sharing a story with others immediately after finishing it is the nearest anyone can come to ‘experiencing’ that work. I think this work of fictional truth about Sime’s artwork for Flecker has in my mind’s eye become a version of real-time reviewing through the eyes of Johnson, also known as dreamcatching…
There seemed, in creative hindsight or retrocausality, to be kindly tugging shapes above me as I experienced this whole book … amid clouds of scented motes from its double censer.
Oh, bliss! Below is my exact copy and paste of my review from February 2011 as originally published here: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2011/02/19/the-peacock-escritoire-by-mark-valentine/
Sime in Samarkand
“The coal-hauler and the lord, eh? […] I think he wrote more than he knew.”
Oh, bliss! This, for me, is the perfect Short Weird Fiction – carved from a gestalt represented by Machen, Dunsany, Hodgson, Poe, Flecker, Samuels etc – and a fiction by Vance I’ve forgotten the title of that plays with those ‘shadows’ from the previous story in this book and extends them to things that are witnessed in the street by the narrator as controlling people (otherwise invisibly) like auras or demons…? Anyone know that fiction by Vance? This Valentine story – this VA author with quiet, imputedly gentlemanly, cosmic OOF! – is a true gem: conveying a feeling of truth when following an artist inspired by a poet’s work and then whose resultant artwork is thankfuly lost (or is it?) for fear of its certain power. But that description does no justice to this story. It has to be read. It has to be reprinted and anthologised forever – or, on second thoughts, like Sime’s artwork, it’s perhaps safer that it resides solely in this beautiful stiff-leaved, hard-boarded, smoothbark-jacketed treasure of a book for we few, we select few readers to read only. Seriously. [As an aside, there is also a most beautiful ‘dying fall’ that enhances the end of this story, one that involves the onset of the First World War, another of those concatenations of ‘certain powers’ in conflict, so resonant with today.] (21 Feb 11 – three hours later)