17 thoughts on “Secret Language – Neil Williamson


    “The cinema is a useful tool, but not one I hold in much regard. At its best it is capable of piquancy that almost echoes truth, but at its worst […] it generalises and dilutes.”

    An exegesis that was promising for me at the beginning of this tale, a tale about those who have a long career in cinema, like this man in an airport hotel, given the drink he needed rather than the one he asked for by a barman, a barman who listened to his story, a barman with his own stories and a mythic role to play, telling a story like this one about a storyteller, much more textured and enlightening and surprising and constructively inscrutable and memorable than any cinema film about the same scenario could possibly have been, however well directed. A poignant and disturbing tear-jerker as it turns out, unavoidably cross-referenced with the astrological harmonics that I once mentioned as significant in this author’s own ‘Moon King’ novel – and there is also a personal serendipity for me about the ‘bodies of water’ book that I remarkably read and reviewed here only the other day.

    “Water attracts water. Stories beget stories. It’s all connected.”

  2. I reviewed the next story here almost exactly a year ago and this what I wrote about it then:



    “…that she could feel his warmth through both their coats.”

    This is an ingenious work of traditional pre-WWW moeurs that, here, pervade the chintzy lore of a war-widowed guesthouse landlady and her ‘commercial agent’ lodger, and, without fear of embarrassment of riches, I can say that this is a haunting classic. It really is. A perfect blend of the previous story’s downslope of entropy (the Williamson also has the invasive concepts of the words ‘mould’ and ‘cancerous’ used here) and a stoical acceptance of unrequited love becoming as strong as having, in the first place, the love itself for real, as later filtered through my memory of the magic of 1950s or 1960s tactility that the internet has since destroyed – and battered suitcases, lovingly fried sausages for breakfast, afternoon tea in seaside cafes and envisaged wild adventures ‘abroad’ on worthy commercial business. The world was bigger then. With the secret positioning of gloriously variable postage stamps, inter alia, this story is also optimal WW Jacobs.


    “Then, cued by a saucy trombone-slide in the music, the waiter sings: ‘Would you like the dessert menu? Or do you need to get along?'”

    When I first read that passage, I misread ‘waiter’ as ‘water’ – possibly in premonition of what I already knew, in premonition of the note at the end of this story that I already seemed to know without having first seen its approaching imposition of inside knowledge upon my intentional-fallacy tinged mind.
    Notwithstanding that feeling of mine, this is an exquisitely adumbrated poetic story. Just read it – and follow the hidden and revealed sweetnesses of music, confectionery, and water, more bodies of deep drawn water, or even those patterns of postage stamps now as musical configurations of love or passing romance. Far from muzak, this story’s described music is indeed a palimpsest of all relationships end to end, as well as an intrinsic accompaniment of one language under another language, one homeland under another homeland, a continuous layering of self, both with and against its own grain.
    Coda after coda.

    “And, more than that, the river connects. She has heard that the water carries the melodies of every shore it touches…”

  4. All the reviews below I intend to be written before I read the author’s story-endnotes –


    “The song continues as the bus jostles them through the city’s ordered streets of identical red brick walls and postage stamp lawns,…”

    The routine rhythm of those postage stamps that I independently illustrated above are now taken up in music while you work work work during the heyday of the Light Programme, Workers’ Playtime, workers’ songs, production-lines of modules towards larger modules with those modules inside, 1984 or Brave New World, and I remember those single-track days in the 1950s. When parameters were clear and borders controlled.
    Till the palimpsest of now.
    The arrival of arrhythmia.
    And a deepening atonality that embraces me today.
    All counterpointed or seasoned with an old-time engaging romance, overweening parental control , and a governor as part of the pick-up, and not a Roman-a-clef dystopic fiction, more the onset of a dincopated one.
    Not sure what was sweeter. Then or now.
    Atrial Fibrillation, notwithstanding.

    “The song thickens with harmonies, complicates with counterpoints.”


    “woman rattling her fingernails on her armrest with all the natural rhythm of a fibrillating pulse.”

    The natural contiguity for arrhythmia, I guess. A truly amazing, Joycean extrapolation of modern music-sharing through the dongles, cells, shells, cartoon dildos and mashes of an endless ICoSPairway to Heaven.
    It seems apt that I only heard yesterday news of the legal action involving Ed Sheeran and the ongoing case of Led Zeppelin. The palimpsests of stolen and original.
    And that I am visiting a crematorium in a day or so, too, ready to punctuate my own grief by syphoning music from those mourners with hearing-aid overspill.
    I loved this thing that flows its inner sound over me in the guise of storification.
    So far this book, for me, starts to pattern the New Dance to the Music of Time.
    Literary Harmonics.


    [[ One thing that never changes in this city. The sound of the rain. Glasgow’s eternal, percussive soundtrack.”

    And the rain is just rain. Not for the first time I think: There is no music in life. Not any more.

    The water holds more mystery than man will ever discover. Be wary of it. Always remember that.

    fake inspirational shit the lyrics of which, if they initially possessed any genuine feeling, have been overplayed to meaninglessness. ]]

    Synchronised shards of random truth and fiction above, and they play in Glasgow — as Rix did in London, a suite for Windows, if not dormer ones (reviewed here) — a musical ‘dying fall’ –
    Here, uniquely, in the Williamson, we have the transgression of real music by some ugly vision of mass Karaoke competitions to out-X X Factor, factored into the well-characterised narration of a CID detective woman of Polish roots and her triangulation by Sapphic siren coordinates…
    Karaoke: the palimpsest of original and copy taken to the nth power of meaninglessness via a deeply meaningful story.

  7. THE BED

    “…two boys reclining back to back, each of them holding a curved horn to their lips.”

    A vignette of impending not-waking-up as stitched within an engaging couple’s arrhythmic pillow-talk while traditionally sleeping together in the same bed.
    Moral: Buy a simple new bed not one that may have borne people who once died in it.

  8. The next story I reviewed in 2015 here and this is what I wrote about it then:

    Fish on Friday
    “We’re not Nazis.”
    Coda and chips? This seems to be an alternate world letter from a supermarket to one of its lady customers (to tell you how old she is would be a spoiler) following the recent Scottish independence to become a Nanny State. Swiftian and swift. Hugged to death by health?

  9. I reviewed this story in 2014 here and this is what I wrote about it then:

    The Posset Pot
    “There was early speculation that the bubbles might affect the weather, but Glasgow’s always been a rain town.”
    A mind-stretching vision (stunningly original, to my untutored eyes) that eventually, via half a sort of calm but expectant death-wish, reaches a touching poignancy for the well-characterised narrator and his friend, who are left to cope with the bubbles and foam that gradually overlap or switch the reality of two separate earths, or so I infer, or two different time zones, or various other theories only one of which is to blame CERN and its LHC. That thumbnail description of mine does no justice at all to what is happening here and what is felt, including, among many others, the nice touch of a bubble’s positing a posset pot in the region of the narrator, giving the reader the sense of a tantalising warm toddy within his or her own potentially bleak prospect of a world where Tesco will no longer be delivering.


    “Bell finally pointed at a deep pot, and was briskly served from it with a bowlful of stewed vegetable matter.”

    A very engaging SF spreading time and space of a story within the quilted texture of Cordwainer carpet (cf the carpet in ‘Nemonymous Night’) – and I loved it. The ‘melo-historical’ soap opera – as well as space opera of the male protagonist – his communicatively minded spacecraft being a distaff soap lover, an earthwaved lover of soap as well as, now, sheep, soap that actually ENDS, and soap as sheep with a beginning and end to the flock, with a forever serial of distaff generations involved in their rock of a craft and its evolving goals of star trekking. And a current leader called Bell with an INSTINCT in the infinitude and eternitude of space history. Including the self (here the male protagonist’s own herded self) as the latest amazing historical event.
    I think I will now change the name of this real-time adventure of a book review site from DREAMCATCHER to BELLWETHER.

    “This scene was woven as it happened.”


    “Proper loose leaves, steeping in a pot under a knitted tea cosy until it was black as tar.”

    There is something ‘domesticpunk’ about some of Williamson (you heard it here first), his posset pots, carpet designs, a sewing room, a secret language of postage stamps or cooked-gnawn meat bones, a sheep or lamb bone to match the lost sheep, as well as chicken bones, pork bone, wrapped in the sewer’s or quilter’s silk. A catharsis. A purging, by a space opera in the head, so utterly poignant and pitiful as the woman protagonist of secrets come to this far away place for loneliness and forgetting, using the endemic snow to hide her wrapped bones. But everything comes out in the final melting or final judgement of our global warming, I guess. No hiding place any longer for guilt or shame, even if we were once dead and ice-packed, as today’s Freudian synchronous unconnected news proves?

  12. Messianic Con Brio

    “Gillian was thankful she’d have someone waiting for her with a fluffy dry towel and a mug of sweet tea.”

    A hilarious but thoughtful fable couched as a theme-and-variations upon the Millennium new year turning … in a mythic land where they talk in a Joycean language-style about things like Celtic and Rangers…
    A skit too on dating-agencies, and the growing up of young friends most of whom do each find their ‘perfect’ mate except for those left on the shelf. This story shakes that box of dice with a plot device that fits ‘perfectly’ itself with the secret language of music, the secret language of postage stamps, the secret language of meat bones – here, the secret language of language itself, where the meaningful power of the language in Finnegans Wake is made, yes, truly meaningful.
    (Messianic – from Messiah or from a typo for Messiaen? Judging from this book so far, Williamson is possibly a blend of both squared off with domesticpunk and astrology. The Quartet at the End of Time.)

  13. Last Drink Bird Head

    “…and delicate bird bones.”

    A rarefied vignette that curates its own flask of compressed secret language for climbing to where meaninglessness reclaims its own lost meaning.

  14. This is Not a Love Song

    “…the spectacular, swooping soar of the Fall,…”

    Not the Fall group I used to hear on John Peel shows, but something more related to what I have for a long while often referred to in my reviews as ‘dying falls’, an expression that others more knowledgable about music than me have also used, and I sense in this story something I have ways sensed about this expression: its paradoxical ‘soaring’ – and this story seems uniquely to express something new about music as well as its own apotheosis of the secret language of music, plus some Jungian synchronisation, even perhaps a love-hate synergy, with the audit trail of relationships, in groups as well as pairs, a SF-extrapolative synchronisation version of today’s DJ music-mixes.

  15. I reviewed this story in 2014 here and this is what I wrote about it then:

    The Golden Nose by Neil Williamson
    “…Felix had always believed, real skill, real art, should be indistinguishable from magic.”
    One of my favourite SF writers. I found this hilarious, Williamson-like, standalone, an old-fashioned Vienna hosting a nosearama on the new-fangled Internet, and manfully trying to keep his family life afloat (unlike others’ cynical regrouping) by means of smell and entrepreneurship by wielding a legendary nose… Absolutely brilliant, so much so, I gave up hope of its relevance in my current gestalt but then I looked back at Johnstone’s surrogate internetiana in Equilibrium and the Cluley Hutch’s [With the hutch open, the smell seemed worse, which was silly because there was only mesh there before and that couldn’t stop the smell so now that it was open how could it be worse?]. Even Van Pelt’s character creating false UFOs simply to warrant the creation of a UFO detector, like a false nose and smells that a false nose can smell!
    My earlier review of Williamson’s wonderful first novel here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2014/05/24/the-moon-king-neil-williamson/

  16. The Death of Abigail Goudy

    “The building is an impassive example of Scottish masonic Victorian death fetish.”

    This story, by contrast, is something much more than its situationalism. That earlier story was an apotheosis, as I called it, but this is the apotheosis of that apotheosis, of the secret language of music, and all those bones and teacups and postage stamps we use each day. A sort of Happening or Art Installation. This is a moving portrait of a man’s memory of his encounters with Abi, through bouts of their performance sex, her encouragement regarding the writing of his novel, odd social media moments, and the erstwhile performance of her music in the situational Austrian open air. She is now so famous, here in this building, with crap programmes, and geometries of stubby cock or clit, is an endless performance of it – to the tune of the particular situational deaths of Lully, Berg, Scriabin, Smetana, Ravel, Chausson, Purcell and, eventually, Goudie herself as the title as spoiler already told you. A poignant, but soaring, ‘dying fall’ in wonderful essence.

    Or, for me, all this might be related to ‘The Confession of Isobel Gowdie’ (the title of significant music by the great Scottish Composer James McMillan). Except it is now the confession by the leasehold narrator of this story. Or by his freehold or headlease creator named on the spine?

    “…a nuance choreography of physicality, of touch and timing. It was sex as communion, a blurring of the roles of artists and audience. Of person and person.”

    This text is in synche with a synecdoche of arrhythmia: the ‘persistence of echoes’, where the source of those echoes is in this major collection, a book with which I synergise, having felt the need to come to it, as if to a concert, one that effectively evolves into a moto perpetuo of performance literature, with perhaps the odd engaging sonata for prepared piano in counterpoint.


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