17 thoughts on “FURNACE – Livia Llewellyn


    “…the destination always on the tip of your tongue like the taste of anthracite coal.”

    These are words gouged from a horde of words, words that have different power for different people, but ones that seem to mean a lot to me from past and present into the future.
    But that selective quote is as nothing to the outrageous power of the still remixing horde of incantory refrains – a near-derelict urban geography as a gestalt of your own body riding its surfaces and ridges as well as witnessing similar sex between others, distilling an obsidian furnace of yourself leitmotif by leitmotif on trains or in alleyways.
    With gemstones as blood, you witness yourself as a set of imprisoned selves, deciding which is you? Till you know, with utter poignancy, who you are, perhaps too late, on the point of leaving? Real-time reviewing as a dreamcatching of hyper-imaginative fiction is, I now realise, a panopticon in itself – till reaching a geodesic core, the keeper of the keys, a grinding of self within self towards not only a gestalt of this book but eventually of all such books that enter or are captured –


    “The apartment building rose in a column of silvery blue glass, straight as a shark’s tooth, until it pierced the fine clouds above and disappeared.”

    That reminds me of the building called the Shard in London, but this brilliantly described dagger of a building (and its views) is in Manhattan, a place I have never visited. Thalia has bought a flat on the 37th floor of this pristine establishment to get away from her previous bug-infested apartment in an area that would not have been out of place in the lower Panopticon, as it were. But, meanwhile, the dagger building’s apparent stable monumentality (ever extending in our imagination as nurtured by the text) is a contra-resonance of a webby stabilimentum and thus makes, by irony, the onset of spiders and this truly suspenseful, page-turning tale of arachnophobia into something EVEN more disturbing, where we are eventually stunned by the obverse of the previous story’s unstable enmeshments of body and geography, stunned now into thinking up is down and down is up, and the iconic X-crosses in those webby enmeshments symbols of something vaster, almost heavenly, where something more hellish is built in, as hidden in plain sight.
    The magnificent vistas of the upper Panopticon that you casually see from high buildings are not what they seem if you could look into them in detail at ground level or imagine what you would see if you did look into them. Stories, too.


    “Wasp dreams of slamming through the ground, her bones melding with saurian predators trapped miles below the surface of dead dried seas.”

    I have long thought – and have mentioned the fact several times in various of my book reviews over the years – that filters work both ways. This is possibLy the first story I’ve read that actually makes this explicit. My idea of old American TV sitcoms and Hollywood films is their having offices with gated ‘pens’ to keep their clerical workforce in, surrounded by hitwomen and well as hitmen in the vicious battle of the romantic sexes as well as in a bank’s money laundering syndicates, I guess.
    This fable of Wasp and Snake is deftly blended with this collection’s earlier sexual cyborg biomechanics in its form, for me, of Gaia as a ‘lethal chamber’…
    It is a short short that shorts the circuit without an earth.
    (‘Pens’ short for a snake penis as female sting?)

    Paris October, 1799

    Cinereous is the ashy grey colour of ancient film watched before films had been invented, or so I imagined, as I watched this story. It is a story that you watch at a distance rather than read, I tell myself, in case you are entrammelled by getting too close to the words – as I learn more about this book’s evolving gestalt from within buildings of scientific research.

    Olympe, a Bowie-like ‘Tis a pity she’s a whore’ heroine, strives to reach beyond her heritage towards a scientific career as a woman at a time when most women were professionally ‘invisible’ in plain sight. This is in tune with a scientific female heroine of another historical fiction that I synchronously happened to review here a few days ago (The Lie Tree).

    Olympe’s research notes deal with the experience of helping with the building of guillotines and the experiments in slicing the heads off enfants sauvages, who morph towards the point, I guess, of diseased zombie revenge (not an expression the text itself uses) even after the young head is separated. I know these comments about it sound disarmingly straightforward, but the text itself is tantamount to a scything through motivation and impulse of comprehension. Not didactic so much as transcendent. Jean-Jacques Rousseau combined with Emile Zola. Or Robert W Chambers.

    The tone is dysfunctional as well as transcendentally aspirational. Guillotining as an artform, another cyborg Gaia. There is much of the visceral here.
    Guillotines with female names … as lie trees or something even more oblique?
    Ouroboros as panopticon (both words being mentioned in different parts of this story’s text.)
    Or lethal chamber.


    “Just as there are rules that govern the entirety of nature, rules that dictate the passage of that water you think you hear, the swaying of those wind-blown branches you think you see, so there are rules that govern his entire world, which is this entire world.”

    This is no longer a cyborg Gaia but a pantheistic one, but who is the God whose pan-kingdom this is? In the last passage of this work come the words ‘my kingdom’ spoken by a queen, or by one of the three sisters in the world of – no longer a bride of – literature’s and Mina’s Dracula. On a first reading (all my real-time review comments are usually based on my first reading of a work), I can hardly crystallise the full meaning of this truly sumptuous orgy of words, intermitted by “obsidian oblivion”, and by pristine skies but also a spider’s darkness. Meanwhile, I do simply sense the power of its attempted context from Stoker’s famous work, the man who stoked – perhaps unintentionally, along with Helsing, Dracula, Byron, Coleridge etc. – the ability of women to succour and sapphick each other against a wrongful pantheism. Ironically, Mina’s man-induced hypnotism (the man being Stoker who created another man called Helsing who created the hypnotics) thus has a by-product: the arrival of the three sisters, one of whom says “And to our chambers I will deliver you,…” One of whom, too, is ‘the Queen of Lies’. Cf the power of the Lie Tree for women during those days that are now turning from fantasy into a real history for today’s science students to learn? Rewriting rewritten history back to what it truly was.
    (I apologise if my interpretation turns out to be wrong, and the pure heady gorgeousness of the prose flowing over me will simply be enough for me, as it is, in any event.)


    “This is not another time, another place. This is the only time, the only place. There has never been anything else.”

    Cernunnos has a lingua franca ring about it.
    This poses the fantasy that there is no place but where you are, however fantastical that place or situation is. The dream was getting there, I guess. Connie (a name not a milliion miles from being another assonance with Cernunnos) is a little hard up as she looks for artefacts in the mall that take her fancy and that she can afford. She reaches the last emporium and sees this priapic statue of Cernunnos, Lord of the Hunt, guarded by an old man as shopkeeper. I thought I might be that old man, somehow, but can a reviewer stalk a book? But that was before Connie reached the epiphany of ‘the only time, the only place’ where such considerations became irrelevant. If I tell you more about the outcome between Connie and Cernunnus by describing the act itself, that would not only be a plot spoiler but an admission that I was still there when it happened.
    A truly striking tale of concupiscence and confinement. Yes, confinement.
    (Can a cyborg be stone and flesh as well as metal and flesh?)

  7. In the Court of King Cupressaceae, 1982

    “…DAVID BOWIE. …”

    “…that strange and timeless hour when the entire planet seems transported to some ancient universe without light or heat or stars.”

    Towards the Villa OrMen? Or, rather, here, the cypress redwood tree that fits into my earlier mention of Gaia in connection with this whole book so far. One that replaces ‘telephone wires’ with its branches, outdoing, I guess, even the hidden spiderous machinations of later WiFi? Or of this story’s massive Flier of musicians appearing in one mind-boggling concert? This Eyes Wide Shut world.

    “Strange how thinking a thing can make it happen.”

    This work is that very thinking in the most amazing transcendent language — of sex and inverse and outverse (universe is not even a runner in the race) — that you are ever likely to read. I cannot conceive of the sort of conduit that would be needed for this work to have been written at all. Not exactly porn but bearing some of its characteristics, not even the previous story’s trunkish horn. Another conCUpiscent word in its title… There is indeed, for me, some sort of power here beyond messaging or wires, beyond a constant walking down the Duchamp stairs…

    “…until they crashed together in some secret quiet alley, turning her inside-out as she burned in his grasp, coming in wave after wave as his power flowed back out of her,…”
    “…a corridor of Severins that melt and drift upward into the trees and catch on the wings of sleeping ravens and crows.”

    “…trembling in the throes of numinous transformation. But is she not here at the command of the king?”

    Beyond Chambers, even? There is a scene at the end where it is claimed that someone is bereft if they don’t know certain things. This story is intended to show those things that it feels you need to know, and only in this story can they be found. Make your own mind up. Whatever the case, you will never know for certain UNLESS you do read it – at least at some stage in your life. The equivalent in words of that concert listed at its beginning. Tis a pity she was a whore. But more of a pity if she was ONLY a whore.

    “This entire planet is an insect, it is nothing, and it is all held together by a being that dwarfs and transcends all of creation.”

  8. It Feels Better Biting Down

    “The woman’s face is like a statue, with only smooth, flesh-colored indentations where her eyes should be.”

    Earlier the building and study of guillotines, and now twin sisters, identical even to the point of two extra near-vestigial fingers each on all four hands, hear a seasonally early lawn mower near the house where they live with their parents who can’t tell them apart. I winced when I heard, through them, the lawn mower in the story. Only this morning I had the first cut of “Spring” (in late February!) with my own lawn mower. Spring’s coming earlier and earlier each year where I live. Yesterday I hurt one of my big toes on the vacuum cleaner, to the extent of cracking its nail lengthways…
    I am still thinking about this story, having finished it about half an hour ago. The mowing-mouthed mannequin like a woman in the next door garden – a sort of cyborg aura again? – and the accretive gestalt of bodies that were originally meant to be one. Cf Growing Boys by Aickman. Your childhood ‘imaginary friend’ that turns out to have been yourself all along? Flesh and bone as Ouroboros or Panopticon? The Stabilimentum of Sisterhood.
    Fingers as detachable stingers, snake and wasp notwithstanding.

    “One of us is licking their lips and laughing. I’m pretty sure it’s me.”

  9. Pingback: Review Round-Up: Furnace, by Livia Llewellyn | Word Horde

  10. Allochthon
    North Bonneville, 1934

    “Somewhere outside, a plane drones overhead, or so it sounds like a plane. No, a plain, a wide expanse of plain, a moorless prairie of static and sound, all the leftover birth and battle and death cries of the planet, jumbled into one relentless wave streaming forth from some lost and wayward protrusion at the earth’s end.”

    This is a story of the wife of a man whose job doing the Depression is associated with the tectonics of the land or building a dam, and the language is relentlessly graphic, deploringly if rhapsodically mind-numbing, in describing the ambiance as stylised by that eponymous word, a real word of Gaia’s seismic movement or ‘thrust fault’ and, thus, “she wants to rub open-legged against it” as, in the city, folk straddled over and rubbed against train ridges etc in this book’s first story, but here for this woman to escape her emotionally impoverished working version of a Yellow-Wallpaper existence, the title being with possible orthographic kinship with Cthulhu, a concerto of woman as solo instrument and rock strewn geography as orchestra, with time throbbing and split as between staying with her husband while speculating about going to Beacon Rock with the other wives, one wife more talkative than even this paragraph, a trip as blended with Joan Lindsay’s Picnic at Hanging Rock vanishment into crevices scenario (that I once reviewed here), an escape into timeless geography, OR actually going there – with both staying and going as one.

    An utterly beautiful florid Lawrencian deliberate-desiccation of prose depicting emotional barrenness with potential rescue by Gaia. Nothing else quite like it in literature, I’d say.

    “Everywhere, black static rushes through the air, strange equations and latitudes and lost languages and wondrous geometries crammed into a silence so old and deep that all other sounds are made void.”

  11. I have read the next story in a previous book and below is my review of it from here: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/17782-2/#comment-14460

    [[ Furnace by Livia Llewellyn

    “…here forever, unchanging in the antiseptic amber of our fixed memories.”

    Forgive me if I am even more personal when describing my reaction to this perfectly richly ripe – on the brink of endless decay – concerto in amber: where the young girl is, for me, its oboe soloist, seeming to give retrocausal birth to my earlier thoughts on a (as the VanderMeer WEIRD book’s core) Forever Autumn and on a (more Ligotti-orientated) Perpetual Autumn…and her grandfather’s mapping with biro seems akin to my dreamcatching or gestalt real-time reviewing – and this story has now become a strong candidate to represent my dreamcatching’s clinching or optimum dot or point … I can give this story no greater compliment. And its coda movement hints at that very Ligottus knot “…pulled into unwanted existence by the strings of someone else’s desire” and at this book’s earlier river with these words: “river in which I am always and only her little girl, eternal and alone.” ]]

  12. I have just RE-read FURNACE and am now reading…


    – and I am sensing a connection. Indeed, I have now sensed a connection between FURNACE and ALLOCHTHON (the latter’s hawling Ligottian corporateness of mining tectonics or damming related to the network of tunnels owned by the Electric Company in ‘Furnace’).
    The furnace within a woman.
    And from and like the fusing of little girls’ skeletons, I felt this book’s accretion-complex beginning fully its process of BITING DOWN on me. Those two sisters now become a huge gestalt of such sisters, as a mapmaking grandfather here, a great great great… GRANDma (as a personification of a form of Gaia?) there, a shopowner with nothingness behind the storefront here, a barker with a calliope fairground there.

    “Everything we needed came out of ourselves, out of our own family.”

    A carnival halted for a carnelevare to take over – to subsume picnic’s hanging rock of butchered meat…

    “And I, always never knowing where she is, in what room, squeezed into what tight corner or closet or crack. Never knowing when she will ooze out and ignore me, or play with me, or pounce.”

    “I cannot tell where my body ends and where the house begins,…”

    It is a massive hawling of nightmare starting to construct itself almost like an autonomous monster of literature as I try to triangulate the coordinates of this remarkable collection (so far).

    “—I am compelled to caution you: your body will change. Your mind will change. And there will be pain.
    —I’m a woman. There always is.”

  13. The Last, Clean, Bright Summer
    This Journal Belongs To: Hailie

    “What makes you think your brother and your dog are the only bodies buried in the backyard?”

    Starts as a normal journal of a girl-nearly-woman, with a backstory of a dead younger brother, and telling of a reunion now with cousins etc by the ocean, having travelled there with her parents..
    I would hint at Lynchian glimpse of nude men in top hats, a wall by the ocean that her father helped build, green globes as lightIng, a sense of a coming initiation ritual, a Swiftian giant mother from the sea as part of this world’s eugenics… And more.
    Not one of my favourite stories in this book.
    But I think I have been spoilt by the previous stories, and if I had encountered this story in an anthology without having read any other Llewellyn stories, I sense I would have enjoyed it more.

  14. and Love shall have no Dominion

    “night, humans stumbling all around, flailing and quaking under an unfolding sky of stars they had never before seen, or simply forgotten existed. humans, brilliant”

    Having now read this work, I shall make five links as hopefully illuminating accompaniment:
    ‘and Death shall have no dominion’ – by Dylan Thomas HERE
    ‘Darkness’ – by Lord Byron HERE … and my review of the Gift of Kos’mos HERE
    Gnossienne – YouTube of piano music by Erik Satie HERE
    Finnegans Wake by James Joyce – my review of it HERE – where this Llewellyn work is spoken through the mouth of a demon that has an akin feel transmigrated to the textual-electronic. stargodfuse

    “i am everywhere and everywhen: there is no moment when i have not existed for u”

    This is possibly the most powerful work in this book (or anywhere!) when a demon and a small girl onward to womanhood interact through his eyes, over the years, whether she truly knows him or not. This reflects many of the themes in this book I have tried to adumbrate above. A new wild and meaningful slant for all our genderifics and for our cosmic eschatology / concupiscence, if one can distil the meaning from the wildness, as I continue to try to do.

    “my flame-haired shooting star plummeting to earth and u know it is me u are falling into, and u cannot stop.”

  15. The Unattainable

    “Now I’m astride his wide torso, hot muscles shuddering between my legs.”

    And so this book’s first rubbing astride becomes here the last stride, the last lap.

    I mentioned Lawrencian earlier in this review. And this book is, at least partly, WOMEN IN LOVE with its two stars balanced? The winning is in the balance of winning each other…

    “But here, I stand out for what I am. A big-boned woman on the make. Floozy. Whore.”

    “Yet somehow I convinced him, made him take pity on a woman with no home, no place to stay the night.”

    This is a tale of love between man and woman, graphic and forceful. It is the perfect climax. The perfect balance.

    Braid of hair as a knot – the ultimate ligottus.
    Two braids – the ultimate balance. The ultimate Gaia. The furnace of death and darkness within us all.


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