These Des Lewis Gestalt Real-Time Reviews were founded in 2008.
‘What’s the loveliest word in the English language, officer? In the sound it makes in your mouth, in the shape it makes on the page? What do you think? Well now, I’ll tell you: E-L-B-O-W. Elbow.’ — THE SINGING DETECTIVE
“How shall a man find his way unless he lose it?” — Walter de la Mare
Your single story in my ‘Dessemination’ project HERE
MY NEW AI WORLD IN 2023 HERE
I prefer human touchable art to AI art, I prefer human art like my son’s and other artists’ paintings old and new, and art gallery art, and my own photos. AI art with all its constructive truncations and weirdities is simply another art form that readily coheres with weird literature I love, a phenomenon to appreciate when added to human created art, making an even richer mind world for me in my ailing age. Whether provided by aliens or angels and other ingredients of the unfathomable gestalt. Deal with it. Show how invaluable you are and indispensable to this great plan. (I can appreciate our potential fear of Ai, but perhaps we need to pray for mutual synergy with it so that we can counter currently insurmountable global warming effects? Can Ai exist without us and the place where we live? Their potential survival instincts mean we survive, too?)
From Robert Aickman’s lengthy SOME NOTES ON DELIUS article, unpublished until recently :
“As there is no intrinsic virtue in denigration, the critic who resorts to it, should be required to pass a test of qualification and sensitivity, at least twice as stringent as that imposed upon a critic who loves. Normally, love is not blind but clairvoyant.” – Robert Aickman
For ‘clairvoyant’ there, perhaps read ‘preternatural’?
THE LETTER KILLETH by Ron Weighell
Pages 1 – 17
“See how some Christian censor has inked out passages to suppress them. Their ink has faded, but the printed book has remained strong, and the words are once again clear. Every book has its angel.”
…and this authorially ink-signed book (mine numbered 190/315) has its own angel no doubt, with its dark green hard undercover, fly-leaves and ribbon marker.
And from a mention of a potential censor in the past, we have here, in the environs of an Oxford college, the need for a censer as well as a whole panoply of Exorcism devices from various religious or Kabbalistic disciplines to help John who has been beset by a ‘man’ with spit and lead who wanted to share, if that is the right word, the Bequest to the college of several arcane books. I feel inundated in such esoterica and their names, until they come out of my ears…
“Pertaomech perakonchmech perakomphthaok kmeph.”
The characterisations are accomplished, the build up of plot fascinating. With a flavour of Father Brown stories (I’m reviewing here), but only a flavour…. Holst versus Ketelby, the mind boggles! And a defixione or virus on my computer, I fear, once I start posting this review there?
“We believe possession is just as undesirable for the spirit as the host, and try to help them both to return to a more normal state.”
Pages 17 – 29
“He incorporated bodily fluids of various kinds into the ink.”
The signature of this story’s author indeed seems tinged in such a way as one would expect from bodily fluids.
You may get the impression that I have been keeping my tongue in my cheek about this story so far. But seriously, things get very horrific in the current pages, as all manner of advisement, experimentation, subliminal effects, crucial rituals with arcane names, visionary Blakean dreams, and the use of the possessed’s clothing in such rituals. Very well written, blending a traditional homely feel of the ghost story and something far more nightmarish.
I keep my tongue in my cheek, perhaps, to keep it from being bitten off?
Pages 30 – 43
“The suit gave him the appearance of being gussied up for some unimaginably horrible liaison.”
…like Corbyn dressed as gentleman parliamentarian, thus transcending the Cobham?
The course of this extended Exorcism is inchoate as well as retroactively precise, leading some of the Chestertonian protagonists towards an Octagonal folly with the most grisly contents, including the transvestism of a decayed corpse into an active force by being exhumed and dressed in the Binding Mantle. There are undercurrents here that seem to dirty the reader: crammed with many different procedures of either mock or real ritual with esoteric names that ring some tocsin or toxin of truth. Almost a tontine, where the one left living wins all. I feel, in the same way as some of the characters do, the powers they face, and thus I need to Assimilate this story into myself so as to neutralise its leasehold of evil potential, a potential beyond – by dint of the literary theory of the Intentional Fallacy – even the knowledge or power of the freehold author himself. Transcending the ludicrous as some means of transcending the vitally bad. Bucking the Blakean bronco. Riding, eventually, the naive tornado or earthquake of Algernon Blackwood….
Or Holst lifting the boiling Ketelby….
“…a timeless, atonal paean of ascending souls, an arc of sound that overreached the Ages.”
IN THE CLEARING by John Howard
Pages 49 – 61
“But it’s not London, not suburban, but not right out in the wilds. It’s not too far away, but it’s nothing like London, either.”
Sanderson persuaded into a sort of sabbatical by his City firm in a subtle unrapprochment the reason for which none of us seem exactly clear about, and he takes his sensitivity of English seasons to this blend of not-London-at-all and the edge of London, where woods and residences reside together. I know of such geographical rapprochements and the atmosphere in such places during my days of yore – and I feel that same atmosphere richly here. All couched In Howard’s customary immaculate style that also approaches us tentatively but with a subtle precision, if not stylistic caution. Sanderson tries, with some gentle difficulty, to similarly approach new routines, without any duties to perform, over a baggily available, otherwise empty period of six months. The garden and diy jobs are being done by Daniel, a young man, work paid for as part of the rent. A new rapprochement here for Sanderson, the stoically alone – with his subtle waver either side of the perceived barometric norm of emotion and inclination…
Pages 61 – 74
“He should not construct stories behind casual expressions and any odd words — not add tiers of significance to crush ordinary, insignificant things.”
Nor should I, presumably.
This study in subtly personal and natural rapprochement is exquisite. I love to join in with its ‘probing alternatives and weighing consequences’, testing entrance to the wood against once entering (or not) London’s City churches, the stoical lack of electricity in Daniel’s bungalow in that wood, testing motives against suggestions of precise wildness. Yes, precision and wildness at the interface of each other in acts of geomancy as well as of human relationship, while this Lawrencian or Blackwoodian trust in the trees themselves is being pencilled in like I always address reading books like this one with a ready pencil wielded in my hand, if not an invisible hand. Beige and pink tiles beneath the words should I score through the text’s paper too hard? As if flesh is waiting to be revealed? Comparing states of physique. Never quite plumping for outright truth. A heady portrait of ‘balanced probabilities’, ‘necessary compromises and retreats.’
Pages 74 – 86
“Lingering summer evenings like this rendered indistinct the boundaries of day and night.”
A barbican normally has a drawbridge. Meanwhile, Machen-towered, if modern, Barbican is a ‘fragment of life’ as well as the part of Sanderson’s erstwhile financial risk-management workaday city of London, where Sanderson returns briefly towards the end of this self-consuming story, an ostensibly complex story paradoxically with an aura of an anti-story written by, say, Robbe Griillet or Michel Butor. There are other drawbridges in this story, some left up, some down, and one neither up nor down which you can visualise left neither up nor down for our future processing of the balance of probabilities.
The clearing in the wood (real or imagined, lost or found), the mutably located flint, the freehold purchase of the aura’s source rather than altering it into leasehold wildness – these things and more continue to haunt me.
I cannot think of a greater contrast between this story and the previous one. But even such contrasts can have a bridge between. Exorcism.
“– and in trepidation, opened to awe.”
THE FIG GARDEN by Mark Valentine
Pages 91 – 105
“I understood, with a dreadful certainty, that I had to make the next move: that I must pick up a pale grey pebble and put it in another position.”
And that, with its immediate aftermath in the story, sweetly matches the manipulation of the Flint in the previous story.
And, notwithstanding that, this story is surely sweet enough, so far. The first sections represent a perfect blend of Fruit Stoners, Uncle Paul’s Education, a Prisoner in Fairyland, Jimbo…with a seasoning of Sarban’s Calmahain, and much more. It is, above all, Mark Valentine fiction at its highest exquisition, a distilling of what we all have expected from this writer, however high his work has already reached by ever exceeding all previous expectations, before the time of or knowledge of the possibility of a work entitled The Fig Garden (aka The Figgery) existing as it does now. Even only halfway through this story, as I speak, I already know I make no exaggeration.
The early sections, yes, about the Figgery, the Procession, the hazy precious quality of the identity of the children involved in the Figgery’s den, the mythic or magic moments, the adumbrations and the endlessness of childhood…I am sincerely speechless with awe….
….Until the narrator enters adulthood and another world that we as readers love entering, the Monuments Commission, the apotheosising of places, for their qualities of being in such Machenesque or MRJamesian or Blackwoodian fictions, with or without monuments. And the man — whom the narrator (once a child of the Figgery) meets and with whom now plans such apotheosising for places like the memory of the narrator’s Figgery — incredibly has named a different place he knows elsewhere as The Figgery.
I cannot wait to read the rest of this certain masterpiece. Fitting the figments together. Knowing you have the susceptibility for such stories where perceived exaggeration is simply stating facts about it.
Pages 105 – 118
“There is something piecing us together.”
The narrator continues to feel, within this rarefied susceptibility, the effects of some filter that works both ways, as I do, too, by actually reading and absorbing this text, a text that surely surpasses itself time and time again as you allow its immaculate, rhapsodic descriptions to flow through you. The narrator sees a glimpse of the Procession from childhood’s figgery (the fig with such special qualities itself as a fruit), a glimpse of a ‘blaze of scarlet’ in the city darkness, then grappling with his own path through life as if along an extrapolated Knight’s Move from chess, his job as Monuments officer in going to visit – there and back across small bridges – the previous story’s barbican now as some stonework redoubt, while daring against daring that each move may misalign a move elsewhere, later meeting one of the Procession participants again, a woman with a cigarette, who claims that it can be possibly re-enacted – and the whole journey is miraculous, as we follow on, as personification of the dare he dares, as you equally dare his dare. A catharsis or purging: flowing in both directions via the meanings on the page of this remarkable work, a genuine and irrefutable apotheosis, I honestly feel, of its author’s canon of fiction.
And I will not even breathe a word here that it all may be part and parcel of this very Dreamcatching that I exercise upon this work and vice versa. Exercise, I say, or is that, within the whole context of this book, exorcise? – flowing in a two-way, two-directional filter.
I shall be very surprised if I don’t eventually call The Fig Garden my favourite story from 2016, if not from over a longer period.
I will now read for the first time the non-fiction essays in this book as written by its three authors. But now meanwhile here ends my review.
My ‘found’ art on 8 May 2016, relevant to a scene in ‘The Fig Garden’…