14 thoughts on “The Siren of Montmartre – Leopold Nacht

  1. About 130 pages, a highly luxurious and stylishly designed book that I estimate to be five inches square.
    My copy numbered 5/85.
    It appears to have seven stories that I intend to comment on as and when I read them.


    Toyed with by one of feminine knowing, young Emile, in Paris after the Great War (before cruder Assassins polluted it in our own time), jumps in and, later, out of the sash window having played a game with Tarot cards inside, led astray into a musical ‘dying fall.’ I shall follow him, I guess, with my broom, having glimpsed ahead his name in this engagingly knowing prose of place and person.


    “By acts of transgression, by a crossing of boundaries, by the penetration into places forbidden, let us raise the sunken streets of Golgonooza,…”

    Indeed, using the Siren tarot card he picked up in the previous review above as entrance ticket, I follow Emile into an evocatively deadpan template of an initiation into the secrets of some sacred order where a brother and sister submit him to rites you need to see written down here in this book.
    I just wonder if I am a mere observer, one of three Gongoozlers….

    Pages 31 – 40 (first half)

    “We may delude ourselves, but that’s hardly the point. We must give voice to the irrational as an act of conscience. It’s the closest thing we have to prayer.”

    That somehow inspires me, seems to sum up something important in my life of 68 years so far, and I think I shall quote it (attributed to this book) in a prominent position on my website.
    Meanwhile, I am intrigued by my pursuance of Emile in forward time as well as his explicatory backstory with the brother and sister, the reason for the Tarot ‘entrance’ card, and, now, the prestidigitation of switched items, the ‘as above, so below’ aspirations and machinations of this threesome… Speaking in “alternating maxims”… Too much to report on here. You will know what I mean when you read it for yourself.
    Just one item – less obvious and probably unimportant in the still unfolding scheme of this book – the mention of a ‘discreet cafe’ from where watch can be kept discreetly, I assume, rather than the cafe itself being discreet. A truly discreet cafe would never attract paying customers, I suggest. Perhaps, it is just that the character is discreet, making the cafe as discreet as that character, at least for a while. The power of fiction’s leasehold characters autonomously to imbue that very fiction with themselves, even beyond the control of that fiction’s freehold author? Or ‘as above, so below’, again?
    “They rule in secret, unbeknownst even to themselves.”
    Finally, today, I was somehow reminded of a verselet that I myself wrote in the mid-1960s, one that has haunted me ever since (shown at the top of the page here).
    “The myths we build around our obsessions are more real than the mere facts of the matter.”

    Pages 40 – 50 (2nd half)

    “Several of the books featured no title at all upon the spine.”

    Our initiates are noble intruders to a room where you won’t believe the quietly transgressive art and books they lovingly rifle (including, it seems, this very book, one that only has initials on its spine, I notice). The belongings of an occultist or a pervert? There is something special going on here. Only reading the immaculate and tantalising text will help you towards understanding what I mean.
    I slipped in with the groceries woman, too, and slipped out, without the text even noticing.

    Pages 52 – 62

    “‘The pages are crammed with handwritten segments divided by elegant fluer-di-lis,’ she said, as she created tiny whirlpools in her coffee with a long, thin stirring spoon.”

    This is fluently SICnificant, I guess, as the three of them compare notes. But the rest of this first half of ‘The Gate of Ether’ reaches the point of Emile’s entry into that gate (with which event I will tantalise myself by means of a delay before reading it the next time I pick up this book) – all this following Emile’s retreat to his bedroom, his dwelling on his family backstory, his reading a truncated page about drowning in oceanic knowledge amid the Siren’s call, and our learning of his methods of astral etherisation with the Mansion card.
    The prose still teems with dark sumptuousness.

    Pages 63 – 69

    “By strength of will, he attempted to shift the point of view within the image such that he might be enabled to peer beyond the threshold of the open door.”

    Indeed, I have that control over my own point of view as a reader, bending round the words to espy, for example, the two versions of the Kabbalist – both of them being within Emile’s vision of visiting the mansion of his dream, a vision sometimes like a cross between a computer game and a vista of a house FROM this side of the CS Lewis wardrobe not INTO it, although those analogies of mine demean the actual vision that is couched here so well – a Kabbalist who, with his bearded face, looks a bit like me? There is much else in this vision that will haunt you, for example Emile seeing an image of two children who look like younger versions of the brother and sister…

    Pages 71 – 83

    “…the extravagant angels of the avant garde.”

    A wonderful description of Montmartre that, for me, feels like a version of Area X with its own Kabbalistic heart, followed by haunting machinations concerning a new tarot card (the Lighthouse) and the prospect of Emile’s visiting an earlier character, the prostitute – which he does – and possibly meeting the woman in her painting…
    I should not itemise the exact plot for you, but just these my own adumbrations as limned for my readership of a text by its exquisite aura, one that makes you feel that more is hidden than revealed. Just like in this review of it?
    The optimisation of ‘crucial loci’.

    “One orients, the other disorients.”

  9. Pages 83 – 98

    “She smelled of sapphire, ambergris, extravagance.”

    This is surely a reading experience not be missed, the second half of Serafina, pages read, for initial gratuitous reasons, during this evening, instead of tomorrow morning, while synchronously listening to dark and deep music by Sofia Gubaidulina, interspersed with JS Bach and Arvo Part, being broadcast as a live performance from Dundee on BBC Radio 3 at this very time of reading it and writing about it. A perfect match, a magical transformation to the accompanying prestidigitation of devilish cigarettes and mirrors, of recurrently sensuous inhale and released exhale to another perfect match of words, to the revealed backdrop of the book’s recent backstory of Montmartre’s Wartime occupation, towards the appearance of the woman herself, whence she who first invited Emile to meet her, she who came only when the other woman was not. An experience of reading and seemingly seeing what I am reading, plus a chance real-time listening within the room where I sit alone with this book. A further optimisation of crucial loci? Or as this text has just explicitly said…
    “I’m pulled along by influences that don’t seem to be under my control.”


    “The world had come together to compose for him a symphony as intricate as it was perplexing,…”

    This is powerful stuff, and perhaps made even more powerful by my again serendipitously switching on BBC Radio 3 this afternoon as I read this section and being suffused with the sounds of Ruud Langgaard’s ‘Music of the Spheres’ that happened to be on their playing schedule, another perfect match for the words. I somehow feel myself blessed. Yet, blessings are often mixed, and I felt both suffused and subsumed, no doubt the text’s intention, as Emile, following the abandonment of the Order by the brother and sister, dares to place his own self in a form of abandonment to the silken ties, tethers, loops, and inferred knots or ligotti – and, by his infused vein, transporting this self, as it were, into the ruined balconies and other derelictions of the once occupied city and then into his own transvestal transfiguration as beckoned by the Siren’s call, a Siren Risen…
    There are many such rhapsodically syntactical meanings in the text. You will be overcome either by its florid extravagance or by its perfect epiphany, depending on your own temperament.


    Ruins are a sort of stone made fluid, I sense, and Emile is borne upon it from the previous flow, just like one more orphan of war sinking like Elizabeth Bowen’s dead shoals of the blitzed dead, drowning with and sinking through all the famous artists of Montmartre. Emile ends up as a sort of sewer residue – faced by another character who I sense is blended, too, from the wasted human residue, perhaps making all of us characters, too, part of an undifferentiable ruin-sown morass, scatological as well as eschatological?
    Or this is Emile in the real undifferentiable, mysteriously and confusingly light-sourced and unbound bowels of a still living city that is slowly absorbing the occupied as well as the occupiers. Each street labelled below in this catacomb of catacombs whereto each street’s effluence flows.
    A mighty vision that is quite stunning, blending Blake with Baudelaire, the only
    anthem to be sung in such depths being one towards, I feel, where the axis mundi, the once Mount of Mars, has become a dead monument to once ancient hope. Ruination in bloom.

    This section of the book read and reviewed while listening, by chance, to Elgar’s Enigma Variations, particularly the anthemic Nimrod.
    This physical book’s sumptuous design and artwork are also a perfect match.

    “There’s a price to pay for the attainment of forbidden knowledge, and I’ve paid with interest. I can assure you that it’s well worth it.”

    Part of me is still sweeping leaves with a broom, though, back on page 19.


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s