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From Robert Aickman’s lengthy SOME NOTES ON DELIUS article, unpublished until recently :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 first story I reviewed here and this is what I wrote there in 2013:
With Gravity, Grace
“…a being that is, in essence, all of us, and none.”
This is a very powerful story of a puppet-maker commissioned by that initial watermarked fine paper to make an intricate puppet, which we are allowed to look over his shoulder doing, with meticulous beautiful detail. There is an intensely poignant entropy at work here, though, whether from the Masonic (?) puppetry organisation who commissioned it, or an inverse parallel with the puppet-maker’s own bereavement and his anti-entropic recreation of she who had bereaved him. Whatever the case, this is a very fine counterpoint – one that is eventually and finally entropic. Or is it? The last two words in Watt’s story – that I won’t give away here – has a very telling (unintentional?) link with the Schneider work, a link that again makes the work aspirationally anti-entropic.
The next story I reviewed here in 2015 and this is what I wrote then:
A DELICATE CRAFT
“…their forefingers touched and a little electric shock passed between them.”
A significant Wattage of lace-making lore and the condition of modern humanity. Somehow, I wondered, as I read this, what I would think of this story if I were reading it in a mainstream literary anthology outside the context of Aickman. It would be an astonishing read, one that would stand out as a fine work but probably not considered weird. Though it does have an intrinsic strangeness that is redolent of this book’s heiro. The Watt, a delicate craft in itself, mixing the diverse arts of plumbing and lace-making, the inspiring relationship in her chintzy home between the Polish immigrant (with a backstory of his Polish compadres in England and the recession in 2009 that affected them) and the old woman is tender and ingenious. The story’s transcendent rebirth ending echoes that in the previous Nickle story, too, seeming to cohere the book’s gestalt, together with his rolling (oscillating?) the partner bobbin with partner bobbin, and back and forth in his plumber’s hand. Electric prose with Aickman dim and sleekly soft undercurrents.
“I’ve found reference to it in supposedly fictional works too, as though people are trying to tell others about it…”
Indeed, this supposed fiction work has many dark truths about the Punch and Judy Show by means of a Punch and Judy man’s very touching extended message left for his daughter… A transcription, too, of a dialect-elided interview with an even older Punch and Judy man, diasporas, details of Punch and Judy character banned in more modern times because of accusations of racism, bag-men, a dressmaker from Bucharest, imaginary friends, ‘shallabalah’ and its variations, swazzles, swatchels and much more.
I was left with a definite feeling of something running through this story that nothing or nobody (not even the author) could prevent running through it. And there are linked things I can remember about my own distant fatherhood…
“I did do those didn’t I — that’s not a false memory is it? I did play with you both when you were young and we had fun, didn’t we, inventing new places and silly characters?”
“He was bewitched.”
An engaging ghost story, except it isn’t quite a ghost, as we are introduced to the character, with his falconry in the Boer War aftermath, before he even becomes whatever he becomes during the span of the 20th century in and around a rich Scottish Highland ambiance, leading to a blend of conte cruel and Algernon Blackwood mysticism. A Scottish castle then, a school in later years, and its nature-sacrilegious Museum, now seen by a schoolboy in the days of the Eagle comic and Scaletrix. And those days of Christmas yore. And a bright sporadic light that all of us seek, I guess, whether we know it or not and a cosmic punishment for us all whether guilty or not. Haunting, today, will I remember it tomorrow? I guess I will. Or at least part of me most definitely will. One part sad and lonely, the other part brash and thrusting amid the leather jesses.
Meanwhile, I wonder if the excellent cover art by Tran Nguyen upon Vince Haig’s cover design is meant to have a gestalt that is a chicken, cockerel or hen?
The book above depicted in my photo under the Undertow is dp watt’s Conflagration that I am currently reviewing here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2016/04/29/conflagration/
“One should not inherit from one’s children;”
Gathering random papers found in a box of 1930s annuals into a gestalt – ivory is mal–
Mr Eager or Mr Reage or Mr Agree. A mother’s richly textured prose about her son’s retro-orphaning of her, about her husband who proactively widowed her, and her visitor like this story’s own baggie or bagman called EGARE who sits inscrutably in a deckchair in her garden. The Machenesque bureau. The daughter in law who doubts her mother in law’s mind…
One can build up a long story here from these diary notes, and each story you build up may be different from someone else’s.
Is it significant her son is called Daniel who in another life is a master of rich textured prose himself?
Mr Egare: rare gem.
The next story I reviewed here in 2013 and this is what I wrote about it then:
A Hive of Pain
“…in the attic of a boarding-house in Colchester.”
I wonder if the author knows that there was a boarding-house attic in a recent Doctor Who episode, a boarding-house that was explicitly situated in an Aickman Road in Colchester. I live on the coast very near to Colchester (my elderly mother still lives there but, like me, I am sure she has never found Aickman Road – yet) and I was brought up in Colchester, having lived the first seven years of my life in Walton-on-the-Naze, near where I live now for the last twenty years in Clacton past which place Thames barges ply their furrows near my bungalow house. And I know Mersea island very well and Bateman’s Tower, and the River Colne and the atmosphere of the sea etc (see my many photos on my blog)… Why am I telling you all this? Well, here is where this story is. And that may explain why I love it so much? But trying to look objectively, this symphonic piecemeal portrait – of its people and places, smells and scenes, its susceptibility, I guess, to the recent Advent Surge and St Jude’s Storm, and much more you will never credit without reading it – is a reading experience of a lifetime. It is so perfectly pitched, exquisite prose, and the ending – with its reference to a bigger picture that I won’t give away here – is almost unbearable. And the oysters in the story at least – with mention of one oyster that is speculated about as having its own pearl (its own seed?) – bring this discrete masterpiece in tune with the whole book.
My mother has by now found her optimum realm whatever each of us chooses to call the realm we seek. RIP.
And there ends the first group of stories in this book, a group entitled SOMEWHERE.
MORS JANUA VITAE
“No, it’s just I heard other folk talk about what she was like when she was young and she sounded so bright. She used to dance and sing, they said, […] and after that — after having us — it was like she was looking forward to her grave before she was even grey-haired.”
Intensely poignant fragments of believable speech rhythms of an old codger in an English village as spoken to an extrapolated new resident of that village, a resident with new-fanged modern ideas, unaware of past’s hinterland. I recognised telling hints of that hinterland as I must have once experienced them myself, the generations and their acceptance of their lot, the Second World War romances, the squeezed out joys, the dowdy routines, and I recognised my own Mum and I felt for the old codger’s generation because, like him, it is probable I will also look back from that optimum realm of which I spoke earlier above and of which he speaks now. The story’s ending will haunt you, assuming you are susceptible to such haunting as I am – forever. Or you haunting others, as I do, too?
I reviewed the next story in 2015 here and this is what I wrote about it then:
“She leapt upon him from behind,…”
A mildly amusing, but ultimately uninspiring, honeymoon story. A honeymoon to an outlying part of Scotland in a cronk of a car, where they plan to first consummate their marriage. The nature of the work seems to be the end bracket of the brackets at each end of the fiction in this book with a similar type of tale as that by R.B. Russell. And this one seems conveniently to answer the question I posed about Pan at the end of my commentary upon the Reggie Oliver story near the start of my review!
AT THE SIGN OF THE BURNING LEAF
“You know, in thinking about stuff and changing the way you look at things. You don’t need some special book to do that, just every book.”
An engaging self-account of being jaded in today’s world, encountering a wayside bookshop, and what I feel all my dreamcatching is about, literature as a gestalt, meaning each book of literature is important to that gestalt. Even ‘Honey Moon’, as a discardable wafer of this book’s soul, that previous story as important to this book’s gestalt?
The book found here in a bookshop with a proprietor more like a rocker than an intellectual mod, and the haunting shimmer of a single page from that book like a dress for a paper doll is important for the growing labyrinth of books with which I am ever in fiction fusion. A message that a love of books becomes a love of otherwise tired and tawdry life itself, thus exponentially making it less tired and tawdry. Ad infinitum? Or ad absurdum?
I reviewed the next story in 2013 here and this is what I wrote about it then:
In Comes I
“The overall effect was horrific, but more from a childish, clown-like quality than anything tangibly malevolent.”
Yet, in spite (or, retrocausally, because) of the narrator’s Hawling intermissions, with refreshing, carefully chosen drinks, perhaps to inebriate us away from dwelling too much on the horror, I would not discount the malevolent. This is a tale of a rogue policeman who is also part of the seasonal Mummers theatrical group who gets his “comeuppance” (or should that be comedownance?) in a Bosch and Picasso-like vision of Mr Punch and other grotesqueries associated with Mummers in a sudden non-linear universe that comes upon him. Indeed, I begin to wonder – as a result of the four-parted whole of this disturbing (but sometimes uplifting) Suite Bergamasque by Mister Watt via Mister Hawling (or vice versa) – whether this Suite’s audit trail is vertical rather than the more usual horizontal that we imagine Time to follow and rather than the horizontal that we imagine various spectrums to follow, spectrums like those for good and evil, love and hate, truth and fiction, man and puppet, entropy and anti-entropy…
Entropy seen as a two-way lift rather than a straight path between life and death.
LATER EDIT: With Grace, Gravity
The next story I reviewed in 2014 here and this is what I wrote about it then:
The Man We All Imagined I Might Have Been by EMMANUEL GOLDING
“After a day spent contemplating the catalogue of my previous selves I saw that there were few hours remaining into which to achieve a credible mode of existence,…”
An engaging coda to this book, and that quote tells you as much as you need to know before you read it, as read it you must. The leitmotifs of the story will relate to us all equally, our own modes of existence, particularly current modes, even all modes as a gestalt of readers of this book, all 110 of us, but individually to each of us, such as the fear expressed in my review above of the first story, now at least partially and, no doubt, temporarily resolved, “my head ringing with a choir of angelic voices” amid life’s ‘funeral cortege’ and ‘anonymity of mud’, and the balloon sculptures in this story resonating with those in two casual short short fictions I wrote for TLO a few days ago here… Optimised by an amazing quote towards the end of this story, that completes my wonderful experience with the whole book: “…and startling connections, but it is crafted on a paper as thin as thought itself and when you try — concentrating desperately and with a trembling hand — to find the edges of its surface and unlock its mysteries, it has vanished into scars that hide within the whorls of your fingerprints…”
The paper of this book is not thin but it does think.
Cf the paper-thin ‘startling connection’ with the earlier paper doll’s dress.
And so ends the group of stories headed ELSEWHERE.
The next story I reviewed in 2013 here and this is what I wrote about it then:
The Mechanised Eccentric
“…we will be rendered masks upon dolls,…”
This is a genuine masterpiece in the evocation of the theatre as gestalt, together with leitmotifs of artifice and truth, of masks and dramatic mechanics, about Jarry by Jarry, yet much more – reminiscences of the theatrical horror of Reggie Oliver, the politics of free love, the shrinkage to and from humanity or puppetry, and, significantly, the ‘self-harm’ toward one’s own creations (of which I myself am probably guilty), an entropic self-harm that was earlier subtly adumbrated by the previous two Watt ‘stories’ in this book … leading to a realisation that we are all wrapped up in one’s own artistic projects, the inner world of self that blocks out others’ artistic projects as a result…. All this surrounding a most poignant study of a female protagonist caught up in this story’s theatre of projects in the literal sense of the word ‘project’ of throwing visions forward as well as back (deject?) – a disembodied/embodied cross between the silent films of the era in which she lived and our own full colour versions.
cf the paper mask on the doll with earlier story and my concurrent review of this author’s theatrical ‘Conflagration’…
THE PORNOGRAPHER’S CALENDAR
“–and for Mrs Abbott a back rent was worse than any loved one’s death…”
An intensely oblique (if that’s not a contradiction in terms) story, an entrancing story for the connoisseur of building from scratch. A man in the 1890s making a living from catering for rather seedy tastes, renting property for so doing from a mercenary Mrs Abbott, almost a Heath Robinson type construct of living quarters as well as a story construct itself by accreting microcosmic leitmotifs towards the gestalt of the perfect body of woman, photographing meticulously from lips to lobe, to elbow, to somewhere else (to NOWHERE else?), till time itself and its dates, like life’s back rent are never ever complete or just jumbled – a bit like a jumbled version of Zeno’s Paradox?
“…and something in the way my brain worked allowed me to picture connections of literary movements and cultural influences almost like road maps.”
And my road map here is a major rite of passage, I sense, but I leave out quoting this story’s bold sub-title because I also sense it is a fingerpost that points in the wrong direction, like the characters of the narrator and of the masterstroke of the usher as other misaligned fingerposts, the theatrical performances and literary and avant-garde references worthy of this author’s simultaneously published ‘Conflagration’ book, the fluid audience, even the fluid characters of some otherwise fixed characters, the joy of mask and prestidigitation, thoughts of a toy theatre which may or may not be the big one where we’re sitting, of that paper doll earlier, a whole fountain of images arising from ultra-vintage wine. A whole influx of point and counterpoint, and the thing flows beautifully, you won’t even notice reading it, as it passes through without touching the sides whilst equally transfiguring the substantial nature of your brain itself. Nothing can be added or taken away. Zeno’s Paradox now taken to ultimate progressions of nowhere and somewhere, each with different names. I know it overtly exemplifies many literary traditions of 20th century Europe, BUT I also sense its actual soul is in America, the soul of Ligotti, that huckster hoaxer Ligotti acting out theatrically – or as a sideshow – the roleplay of his being a serious proponent of anti-natalist philosophy, a discovery of dichotomy that I found by recently re-reading and reviewing most of the Ligottian fiction canon here under the title ‘The Knots of Ligotti’, the knots that ARE ligotti… Now please re-read THE USHER as well as the whole of Ligotti and see what I mean. I include the author himself in that urge to reconsider his own masterwork that this complexly avant-garde as well as eminently accessible story called ‘The Usher’ surely is. Watt and Ligotti not similar to each other in any way except within my observation of Jungian road maps between them, I guess
And, yes, Emmanuel Golding is mentioned in this story. He was also the pseudonymous author of an earlier story in this book.
The next story I reviewed in February 2016 here and this is what I wrote about it then:
“But Los saw the Female & pitied
He embrac’d her, she wept, she refus’d
In perverse and cruel delight
She fled from his arms, yet he followd”
— William Blake (The Book of Urizen)
‘Tis a Pity She Was A Whore
“…and we are ready to become again.”
Another crafted text that teems with resonant power and the rockstars of a Byronic Darkness, depicting an “ever-proliferating dock shanty” by the city’s river, where the narrator, instead of tough and evil as this place requires, suffers the ‘disease’ of using the words ‘friend’ and ‘happy’, but after befriending a suffering whore, an ostensibly different female figure leads him instead to a hardening epiphany…an eponymy once named Uriel.
This is a remarkable work in the sense that it leads us astray, with a soul seemingly beyond the control of its narrator and freehold author that lets us down with a downrush of despair, where before we had expected the author to ensure that the narrator spread his goodness beyond himself in this evil land, as if we are made to read to the end, by some perverse imp, an imp that makes some sense, for the first time, in my experience, of the maxim that “the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.” The narrator and his brother, too. Even the Villa of Ormen?
“That ominous night brought me dreams of stars — yes, Stars!”
cf Pity the Whore, from Blackstar album!
“Without duty there is only death.”
I am not sure how or why, but this poetic low fantasy is the perfect coda for this book and its masque.
The message as journey, the journey as a whole life, as Zeno’s Paradox of Duty, rather than what one finitely ‘performs’ during that journey, with sleep as its own goal of hivery.
So ends this remarkable book and the group of stories headed NOWHERE.
“Unseen or at least unremarked, I orbit the camp. That’s what I want: a place in which I have no part. I want to ride through space like wind in wind and sleep on the void, and be a go-between with nothing but between. I only know useless knowledge. The camp spins there to one side of me like so many floating candles collecting in a weak eddy. What I feel inside myself is fierce and calm; it’s a ruthless desire for an immortality of perfect weakness where I can be a tirelessly efficient functionary turning things over from one end of the message circuit to the other and back again, so that I never stop going back. As long as I’m going back, logically speaking, I yet won’t be back, only now am I getting under way. No one sees you while you’re in transit and the moment you arrive is the moment you have to turn around and leave again, provided there is some return correspondence, and even if there isn’t, it doesn’t matter, because there’s nothing to do but wait for some other message which will sooner or later have to go out and take you along with it.”
— From MEMBER by Michael Cisco
But why the chicken on the front cover?
Some have said the image as a gestalt looks more like a rooster than a chicken.
Cf Krakow’s The Brotherhood of the Rooster (http://culture.polishsite.us/articles/art415fr.htm) cross-referenced with DPW’s book here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2016/04/29/conflagration/#comment-7288