31 thoughts on “HAUNTED BY BOOKS

  1. INTRODUCTION

    I often fail to read book introductions for fear any introduction may over-influence me in my exploration of the body of the book (and here over-influence paradoxically entails under-influence, of course) but I somehow knew I had to read this introduction; it was a preternatural influence on me to read it, in the same way as this introduction’s effulgent treatment of book-collecting in bookshops is similarly preternatural as my need to have read it, as I have now done.
    When I read something great I feel magnetised towards uncovering a leitmotif, and then linking that leitmotif to another leitmotif, and so on – those ‘synchronised shards of random truth and fiction’ so seasoned within me.
    Meanwhile, here, these are similar effects of book-hunting within the undergrowth of books. You will never read anything else so wonderfully TRUE about book collecting. It surely must be worth the price of this book just to experience this introduction, with its various real book references, its sense of wonder, its other world just a side-step away from ours.

  2. STUDIES OF SAD BEAUTY:
    ROBERT AICKMAN, PHILIP STEEGMAN & ARTHINGTON WORSLEY

    “I don’t think we need to go so far as those critics who would separate the book entirely from the author, but it’s certainly true that to appreciate a literary work we do not necessarily need to know very much about the author’s life.”

    And that seems coincidentally relevant to what I was saying above about ‘introductions’ and to my publication of Nemonymous during the whole of the noughties.
    Here, Valentine treats interestingly and stylishly (all of Valentine is stylish so I won’t use that word again during this review) of the partial nature of Aickman’s portraits of people he knew. Concentrating seemingly on the trivial rather than the important. People are undergrowth, too, as well as books?
    “…and thus are lives condensed to a mingling of the obvious, the unexplained, the odd and the overlooked.”
    Relevant to gestalt real-time reviewing, I’d say. A “semi-fiction”, a crucial term used in this text. Survivor guilt. The Intentional Fallacy: the questions at the top of page 8.
    A “gong-snuffler”and a “hocus pocus husband”. Lives ‘solved” by dying. RA’s soul as a poeticised elusiveness and luminosity. Talk of Monism. This essay that is a cornucopia.
    Talk, too, of Germanising names that end in -Man with -Mann, or unGermanising vice versa. See HERE my earlier article AICKMANN.
    “A coincidence? Philip thought it suggested forces working in his life which he could not know.”

  3. A ‘DANDYSME’ OF THE SOUL:
    MICHAEL ARLEN

    “Armenian refugees had been the object of pity in Britain, as a Christian people cruelly persecuted by Muslim Turks, but Arlen knew that this pity was mixed with liberal doses of condescension…”

    Arlen, travestied, it says here, by Aldous Huxley, travestied as ‘the swarthy Syrian with the blue jowl and the silver monocle…’
    This is an eye-opening, informatively-and-evocatively-in-period, portrait of the author of THE GREEN HAT (1924). A social media star and bestseller, now mostly forgotten.
    [Some writers are nowadays more often forgotten in their own times, swamped, even drowned, as electronic dandies by a modern mutation of old-fashioned social media, hoping later to become bestsellers and post-media stars – Arlen’s process in reverse? The massed migrants between time periods, rather than between nations. My thoughts, not necessarily this essay’s.]

  4. INNER BOHEMIA:
    THE MYSTICAL FICTION OF MARY BUTTS

    A fascinating and, for me, revelatory essay upon this writer who mingled (as I often find myself doing) tradition with the avant garde, mingling, too, Machen, Blake, Crowley, MR James, and others, and her various husbands. I am particularly intrigued by the reference to Philip Heseltine (aka Warlock) the classical composer who produced, I feel, the saddest music in the world, with his The Curlew…evoking Butts’s own seeming division and then connection between this world and another world that transcends the time whenever one happens to live, the early 20th century in her own case.
    Please forgive me quoting, for my own ‘Dreamcatching’ reasons, this passage from the essay:
    “She thought one could see ‘signatures’ of the beyond here in this world, the imprints of the unseen, elusive, oblique, sometimes in nature, sometimes in art: ‘hints, coincidences, prophetic or retrospective of a significant event. To try & describe them is delicate work.’ […] The plenitude of the other realm she sometimes glimpsed through a sequence of strange connexions, where apparently unrelated things seemed to mesh, to belong together.”

  5. I note that the next essay features the title of a story by Walter de la Mare, and I have just re-read that story before reading the essay – and, so, here are my prior passing comments on…

    SEATON’S AUNT

    “…dark hair, dark eyes, dark cloud, dark night, dark vision, dark death, dark grave, dark, DARK!”

    A story in four movements, each a repercussion of the previous one, the four being school, the first arranged visit, the second semi-arranged visit, the third random visit, getting darker and darker, as Smithers, Withers, Wither, Johnson, by which surnames Seaton’s Aunt randomly calls her nephew’s adopted friend (as in my own schooldays, boys called each other by surname when at school in those days, and my best friend was called by his surname for many years into his adulthood by my own mother) and there are rumours back and forth in time about what constituted this Aunt’s darkness, the ghosts that the two boys themselves infer in varying degrees of belief, and Seaton tries to break out by courting his future bride, but we sense how the four movements affected each other back as well as forward, and we will go far to find a more frightening eponymous monster subtly told, if less subtly spoken herself. A classic tale that prefigures and is prefigured by Aickman. Another surname.
    And a filter, like God’s eye, that works both ways.

    • …and after that, my initial review of the story, I have now read Valentine’s essay about it, an essay entitled…

      WITH WHISPERINGS AND MUMBLINGS:
      WALTER DE LA MARE’S ‘SEATON’S AUNT’

      An essay setting out some of the past theories about this story, and then giving its own fascinatingly detailed and interpretative critique, much longer than mine above!
      I value all these views of this elusively and allusively subtle tale. We are on all fours, me included. Which for me is another view of the sentence none of us have yet quoted from it: “Mankind has simply become a tailless host of uninstinctive animals.” Fitting with the abstemious use of Christian Names. The rhythmic incantation of ‘dark’, the giant bed in which the Aunt sleeps, Seaton’s “night-suit”, the monstrous salad, a theme and variations upon two growing boys till one (“THAT disgusting man!”) eats the other.
      Buried, yes, but not necessarily in the mind?
      “Immense veal and ham pie farced with eggs, truffles, and numberless delicious flavours;…”
      Farced: SICnificant?

  6. THE STRANGER WHO OPENS THE DOOR:
    THE NOVELS OF CLAUDE HOUGHTON

    “We hear about the title character from many people, but never directly see him.”

    … as Valentine does about Houghton himself (in a compellingly informative essay dealing with the pros and cons of Houghton’s fiction works), about an author who in turn creates these central characters in most of his fiction works, characters solely triangulated by the coordinates of the views of other characters. [I feel I OFFER to do similarly with my real-time reviews, each review of a particular book being just one triangulation to add to the dreamcatching triangulations of however many other reviewers are willing to join in to create the communal essence of literature’s Schengen conduits…]
    I sense that many of the lost authors in this book, with whom we are now haunted from the early 20th century, have come back, indeed, into their own triangulated prominence as a result. However, they also have the tantalising aura of being fiction characters themselves merely with black and white photographic mementoes scattered about the pages, mementoes almost (!) making us believe these authors, with their carefully constructed lives and creativities, once existed in their own real-time. For some of these authors, though, I, for one, need more than just photos to FULLY believe!

  7. GOODBYE, MR FOTHERGILL:
    JAMES HILTON’S ‘KNIGHT WITHOUT ARMOUR’

    A neat summary of this book by the author of two much more famous books; it is an essay with interesting details about the Russian Revolution, convincingly making the case that this novel is an equally worthy book for fame and posterity, a spy story where the spy is diffident, prefiguring more modern spies. Some interesting glosses on the history of spy fiction, too.
    The essay also has some wordplay after my own heart, with AMOUR being equally at home in the title as ARMOUR!

  8. ‘A DEMON IN REVERSE’:
    COSNAHAN’s MAGICAL INFLUENCES

    You can read that title as the influences working either way, or both ways at once, like that filter of which I spoke earlier in this review..
    Except Cosnahan is not a real writer but possibly a straddling hub for several writers, all writers of the hyper-imaginative, a dreamcatcher in the form of a fiction character created altruistically by Malcolm Lowry when in his cups, little knowing that one day his secret would be half-blown by this Valentine essay then fully blown by my taking that a stage further.
    Most of this Valentine book, so far, deals with another world beyond the one we know, a mystic plane that literature and only literature conveys. (Obscure literature by once famous but now obscure writers, particularly?)
    Not even music can truly tap into where certain patterns of words can. Well, some music taps into different, even more rarefied realms that I dare not attempt to describe. I have been there.
    Meanwhile, I seem to recall (with no hard evidence to back up my memory) that I read THE CENTAUR by Algernon Blackwood and UNDER THE VOLCANO (a REreading of the latter) in relatively close time proximity several years ago. I then knew not why, I guess.

  9. UNDER THIS STRANGE GREY SKY:
    THE FANTASIES OF VERNON KNOWLES

    And enthrallingly knowledgeable essay on an early twentieth century Australian writer, his life and his works influenced by Lord Dunsany and other writers of that era. With certain reservations, these are shown to be strong fantasy fiction works, and he does not deserve his relative obscurity. Dealing, inter alia, with “separate selves” and a fiction soul influenced by having to leave his homeland, a sort of ‘lost paradise’, that fits in with my earlier thoughts about Hilton’s Shangri-la.

  10. image

    THE WRITER IN THE RAILWAY CARRIAGE:
    H.A. MANHOOD

    “Whereas one look at Coppard revealed the canny and cocksure, a glance at Manhood suggested the contemplative: in every picture of him the gaze is within.”

    A very engaging account of Manhood’s life and works, his early success, where his publishers actually paid him a salary so as to allow him to produce his fiction. We’re told that he combined page-turning stories with finer literary nuances. There are wonderful analogies used here to compare his fiction with the fine nuances or rough qualities of his cider-making. He used railways carriages as part of his living quarters. Perhaps a symbol of these carriages made for transport but going nowhere? Through his idleness, or the inability to turn the success of his short fiction into a novel, or simply because times changed, Manhood himself more or less went nowhere, and once famous, he is now forgotten.

    I have been trying to imagine an account of my own life by a future version of Valentine, telling of my becoming a writer called DF Lewis who was never famous and thus he stayed! But he had a certain claim to fame or infame with his 1500 short stories (so-called) in print towards the end of the 20th century. At the beginning of the next century, his crackpot theories emerged, one that produced the Nemonymous fiction journal – and another that resulted in Dreamcatchers real-time book reviews like this review itself…. And he once tried to convert his meagre skills at short fiction into a novel called Nemonymous Night that was never read in the first place, let alone forgotten!
    I had to smile when writing all that down just now. If this were the Internet, I’d add a smiley.

    The end of the Manhood essay mentions some of his manuscripts being “bound in a series of magnificent vellum bindings”, which brings me to the next Valentine essay in this book….

    AND I’D BE THE KING OF CHINA:
    THE STRANGE LIFE OF CHARLES WELSH MASON

    …which was previously bound in a luxurious edition and I reviewed it HERE.

  11. MASKS IN FLANDERS
    MAJOR MORRIS’ LOST CLASSIC

    “I invite you to try ‘Bretherton’ by Major W.F. Morris, and help that good book come through again.”

    Another fascinating account of a lost author and a celebration of one of his books and an informative account of his life and other books. BRETHERTON (KHAKI OR FIELD-GREY?) sounds absolutely wonderful, with its haunting mystery and ‘unflinching’ account of trench-warfare. And one also gets a strong image of the author himself. I am conscious that I have not stressed enough the engaging quality of these Valentine essays, a style to die for, and an ability to uncover entertainingly these lost treasures and their creators from around the first half of the 20th century. I hope Valentine is never ‘lost’ himself in the decades ahead and we must fix his status now indelibly.

  12. OFFERINGS TO MERCURY

    “If these titles did not assuage the adventurous reader enough, I find also an advertisement offering Count Byron de Prorok’s ‘In Quest of Lost Worlds’,…”

    This is a a remarkably entertaining run through of the April 1935 issue of THE LONDON MERCURY, a favourite inter-war literary journal of this book’s author, I infer. Ranging from ER Eddison – whose work I myself once read with great interest – to any number of works, including then modernistic as well as traditional poems… A catholic organ.
    And then literally summing up one’s pocket money to buy the books mentioned at that time and figuratively summing up the journal’s contents, both the literally and figuratively coming together neatly in the last sentence. Bravo!
    And, as a bonus, this essay gave me a nice new word to use in my real-time reviewing: agglomerative.

  13. VIPER IN THE TEMPLE:
    THE NOVELS OF L.H. MYERS

    I am amazed as well as feeling slightly guilty at this book’s growing panoply of authors, some of whom I have read, some just heard of, others never heard of, who were well known earlier last century. LHM’s quadriptych THE NEAR AND THE FAR is fascinatingly adumbrated here as is the author’s life and coincidences of temperament, friends, fellow authors, lovers and perception of personal achievements that can result in a deliberately aborted legacy as well as life itself. THE NEAR AND THE FAR seems to encompass such an inevitability of personal co-incidence, where the the near and far can never meet for a particular individual, with a summation of a prevailing theme, in this whole book, of this perceived WORLD of ours in interface with not necessarily the NEXT world but the CONTIGUOUS one.

  14. LOST RADIANCE:
    THE FICTION OF LEWIS GRASSIC GIBSON

    An informative disquisition on James Leslie Mitchell, aka Lewis Grassic Gibson, a Scottish author who shares the glory and the dimming of many of this book’s subjects, but I sense this one is so far possibly the most worthy of posterity’s attention, sharing the skills of Wells, Haggard, Lawrence, Blackwood, Hodgson et al, as sought out by Gawsworth.
    This teller of Grassic grittiness, of adventure with sensitivity for nuance and humanity, this SCOTS QUAIR now residing among an aesthetic sheaf of Tartarus pages,

  15. JERUSALEM IN ENGLAND:
    A NOTE ON THE WORK OF L. FURZE-MORRISH

    “; and the evidence for vast symbolical patterns in the ordering of human affairs.”

    An absolutely fascinating essay on the nature of theosophy and esoteric elements in all religions and their secret initiates. Particularly here concerning Christianity. Everyone should read this essay without fail, and don’t be left out! (I exhort that quasi-seriously, a fact that relates to the report here of Furze-Morrish’s ‘quasi-scientific’ approach to astrological harmonics; I’d rather call this discipline empirically synchronous as opposed to scientifically cause-and-effect, and such a sensibility underpins, I feel, all my dreamcatching real-time reviews such as this one.)
    Another synchronicity with this essay is that earlier today on Facebook I had cause to link to my trawled quotations (here) from The Glastonbury Romance by John Cowper Powys.

  16. ‘I WALK THROUGH THE WORLD’
    THE WRITINGS OF GEOFFREY POLLETT

    A newly researched essay about a wanderer-, peddler-, tramp-, vagabond-poet, both stirring and sad. He was a vigorous man, by all accounts, confident in his poetry, and from the sample at the end, so he should be. Another co-incidence of fallibilities and strengths (falling in love being a combination of both, I guess) – leading to the ultimate self-sacrifice, a sacrifice independently shared, it seems, by someone disconnected – possibly the saddest synchronicity of all because this someone also made the same sacrifice a few floors below the poet’s because of mixing up two deaths with two magpies.
    Many such people live again because of being brought back to life in this book, arguably for as long as our planet exists. If only they had known.
    Perhaps, they DO know – by the magic of this substantive Tartarus sheaf of print if not by the ‘mad scientist’ electronic ether upon which my own words about them do float.

  17. MR SHAKESPEARE’S GUNPOWDER PLOT

    This essay, for once, is not about a fine but perhaps slightly obscure twentieth century writer. But it is one that I find engaging about an early nineteenth century writer seeming to ‘suppose’ himself into the writing-shoes of the Bard for Facebook-type self-promotion purposes – to write a didactic anti-Catholic play that, by this account, was not too bad as plays go.
    I cannot empathise, however, with the thought that there should be more plays rather than less by this boring over-rated Elizabethan playwright called Shakespeare. The polarised opposite to those others in this book who should have been MORE famous!

  18. THE MS IN A RED BOX

    From the previous essay about a hoax, to an essay that is perhaps a hoax in itself. An anonymously unaccompanied and untitled submission of some fine fiction to the publisher John Lane in 1903. A very interesting supposed account of its nature, the circumstances of its history, and all this seems to be an extreme form of this book’s panoply of now mostly unheard of writers from early last century, except this one was unheard of right from day one! Also this situation is bound to appeal to the likes of me who once published the Nemonymous journal, wherein there was a (still anonymous) story in its 2002 edition (the edition that also contained the world’s first blank story) and the anonymous story has become a now increasingly famous story – ‘The Vanishing Life and Films of Emmanuel Escobada’ – one which is likely to remain a mystery for ever more.
    So, I wouldn’t be surprised if all the on-line records of THE MS IN A RED BOX have been elaborately concocted to fit this scenario, including a related fiction story in hard print entitled THE AXHOLME TOLL (by Mark Valentine) that I real-time reviewed a few years ago HERE?

  19. image

    THE MYSTERIES OF THE POMEGRANATE
    SAX ROHMER’S ‘THE ORCHARD OF TEARS’

    This time it is an essay upon a lesser known work of a relatively famous writer of the early 20th century, famous for his books featuring Fu Manchu.
    This is possibly the most academically detailed essay in the book so far, respectfully dealing with possibly a flawed masterpiece combining Rohmer’s page-turning skills of a thriller with his knowledge of Theosophy and the esoteric cores of religion (cf Furze-Morrish) and his apparent need to impart that knowledge to as wide an audience as possible.
    He apparently creates characters of greater depth than in his thrillers – and I am pleased to have been informed of this book’s existence. And its nature. And this impels me to state that I bought ‘Haunted by Books’ and started keenly reviewing it because it is written by one of my all-time favourite writers (Mark Valentine) and not because I necessarily wanted to read a book of non-fiction. I, however, knew it would be conveyed by beautiful prose about various authors’ books, but also books that would now be haunted by Valentine himself. Having said that, I have so far been absolutely fascinated by the various items of subject matter and I feel duly edified.
    But who is Rchard?

  20. POSSIBLE MASTERPIECES:
    THE NOVELS OF J.C. SNAITH

    “The uniquely frustrating situation for him was that critics and eminent literary figures were always telling him they were almost sure he had written a masterpiece, or that they thought he very nearly had done so: but they never quite committed their reputations to such acclaim;…”

    Maybe I am too easy with issuing my own description of ‘masterpiece’ for various books when reviewing them. But it is not my reputation that is important but the books themselves. Filters can work both ways.
    This is an interesting essay upon this novelist who is ever on the brink of being great. Maybe he has become his own favourite fiction theme about a Messiah ever upon the point of returning? Returning to a world he has never been before! The sainted Mark his first of many disciples?

  21. THE ULTIMATE ODDNESS:
    ‘A BOOK OF WHIMSIES’

    For someone who was once called The Wizard of Odd in the early 1990s, it seems strange that I have never before heard of this 1909 book by Geoffrey Whitworth and Keith Henderson. I assume this essay itself is not a whimsy in itself in making up its existence, and I feel it is just such a book as I ought to know about, judging by the wildly odd nature of some of Valentine’s summaries of its plots. A cross between the Father Brown and Rhys Hughes stories (links to my reviews), I would say, plus, as this essay propounds, some aspects of Saki, Wodehouse, Dunsany, Lear, Carroll, early surrealism, even Machen!
    Combining the Near and the Far in Stoke Newington as well as in the mind and in the contiguous worlds that abound about us.
    The plots are brilliantly described in this essay, a real cornucopia of disarming strangenesses (an expression I once reserve for the stories of Aickman), incredibly odd and close-to-the-bone plots that I cannot really believe exist while I really WANT to believe that they do.
    The bottom line, happily, is that this essay exists at least.

  22. SECRET NAMES:
    THE HERMETIC FICTION OF PETER VANSITTART

    A writer of historical fiction and born in 1920 and writing into the 21st century. I sense paradoxically that his work IS famous in the real world as you and I live in an alternate one where it remains sadly and inexplicably under-rated. In any sane world, the nature of those luminaries who admired Vansittart and the book reviews that are reported upon in this essay would mean that he is a household name. The nature of his approach to history is made intellectually knotty and the ultimate comparison here, among others, to Ackroyd clinches it for me, despite my otherwise being averse normally to historical fiction. This essay is intellectually knotty, too, and passionate, an essay worth reading (like many of the others) purely for its own sake as well as for its subject matter, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the first author in the book whom MV has himself met personally?
    (But why ‘secret names’? And why ‘Hermetic’ (sealed) other than because PV wrote a novel about Hermes?)

  23. image

    ‘OR OPALINE ALGOL’:
    A LOST EDWARDIAN POET

    “The book is anonymous, and there is no introductory matter, nor are there any notes to give any clue as to who wrote it.”

    Another essay after my own heart, talking of obscure printers (like one in Chelmsford, Essex) who preserved obscure, but fine, works, even more obscure than themselves. Including this one engagingly described here, where astronomy and astrology are somehow, if unusually, linked (linked as I feel they should be by some preternaturally secular influence). How many other such books are still lying latent somewhere even as we speak? Allowing us one day to photo its contents of its contents like, for me, some avant garde happening?

  24. A SMALL PLACE OF WORSHIP:
    THE LAST OF THE JOHNSONIANS

    “…a taste for old things and forlorn things.”

    I share that taste with this essay and indeed this book, especially when some of the forlorn things when permeated through Valentine become less so through the beauty of their forlornless, as we explore every ‘jitty’ and wayside of literature, history and religion.
    Here, the author’s boyhood’s ordinance map sect of secrecy seeking other sects and chapels, amid ‘extra parochial districts’ beyond the reach of common law – and this essay has more of an ambiance of fiction to it, even though paradoxically I sense it is not fiction at all. Having said that, I feel there does exist a real fiction work I have read about such districts (it may even be a story I cannot yet relocate by MV himself? Perhaps I shall never find it.)
    The old sect discovered here depends on salvation purely by dint of the grace of God rather than by dint of their doing good works themselves. Mad hatters, notwithstanding.

  25. WHAT BECAME OF DR LUDOVICUS:
    ERNEST DOWSON & ARTHUR MOORE’S LOST SHOCKER

    WRAITHS:
    SOME LOST POETS OF THE 1890s

    These two essays have very recently appeared together in two (!) separate, luxurious, slim, still relatively obscure volumes – and I picture them HERE whence there is another link to my reviews of both essays.
    This represents either a belt-and-braces OPALINE ALGOL phenomenon for such legacy’s posterity or another fine avant garde happening for its own sake.

  26. THE PICCADILLY GOAT

    Searching as this ‘book’ often does in the bookish undergrowth of wayside bookshops, our author discovers some old editions of John O’London’s Weekly where he finds reference to a goat in Piccadilly in the city of London, a symbol of some past rural ethos to these streets – and then more and more references in other books. A haunting mystery attaches to this prevailing goat, I sense, a poignancy and an affection, too.
    I also sense that perhaps the answer appears HERE – the coincidence of my simultaneous real-time review of a book called ‘Animal Money’.

  27. REVIEWS OF UNWRITTEN BOOKS
    Four miscellaneous reviews of books by Hugo Schumpeter, John Meade Falkner, Father Frederick Rolfe and Sir Aleister Crowley.
    Read but with my own reviews of these reviews left unwritten.

    Overall, simply a book to treasure.
    end

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