My previous reviews of Charles Wilkinson‘s work are linked from HERE.
Egaeus Press MMXVI
My previous reviews of books from this publisher are shown HERE.
When I real-time review this collection, my comments will appear in the thought stream below…
Something I found myself saying on Facebook today regarding the receipt of this book: “Yes, I have long thought CW’s work to be highly important in our field. I met him a few years ago, and was delighted to learn that he went to the same university as me, and we may even have overlapped there, without knowing!”
I first met Mark Samuels around 1987, the man who wrote the introduction to this book.
Those are my caveats.
Not known for hyperbole, I can say with some certainty and expectation of being believed, that this story is probably the saddest, but equally most uplifting, story I have ever read. Well, that is true today.
But that may be due to the circumstances of my own life, having once driven back some great distance because my wife suddenly told me that she believed she had left the iron on. The recurrent routines of this couple in the story, their holiday each year beautifully described, their lifestyle and habits, their honest, if entropic, love for each other. And when he glimpses on holiday…
You know, I can’t say anything else about the story without spoiling it.
It is absolutely perfect, as it is, without any further need to recognise within it anything else that is recognisable.
THE HUMAN COSMOS
“…with the wide blue light of the Norfolk coast shining in his eyes for a week afterwards.”
Transcending with a very British sadness or a minor sect’s faith the poignancy of age and retirement in this and the previous story – a younger person’s Norfolk break, with the sun there, being better than the sun here? But is it the same sun? Also this is another story of glimpses and re-glimpses of a figure that either IS you or will affect you with its off-kilter accoutrements.
This is a story that contains pub talk about Swedenborg! And a retiring jeweller, seeing the exterior of his working place as if for the first time in detail, ready to mould gold into a man-shaped universe that becomes him, a time of life with the losing of things like deeds, and keys, a bit similar to mistakenly leaving the iron on or forgetting whether you left it on. Uncomfortable with more than a handful of minor typos in this story, mostly obvious omitted words – omitted or forgotten? Or a twist in the reading eye?
I have read and reviewed the next story here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2015/10/17/years-best-weird-fiction-volume-two/#comment-5676 and this is a copy and paste of what I said about it:
HIDDEN IN THE ALPHABET
“Their dancing steps in the brilliant white water foaming about their feet.”
Since first encountering his fiction in Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction a few years ago, Wilkinson has joined the ranks of my favourite living authors. And this intriguing and stylistic work has confirmed such a feeling in me. It has the methodically deadpan, but poetic, triangulations of detailed viewpoints and Pinteresque allusions (akin to similar effects in what I consider to be an overlooked fiction masterpiece from 1968 entitled ‘Report on Probability A‘ by Brian Aldiss). It tells of an ‘auteur’ and the gradually evolving past when his son and niece were still young and there are insinuations of the film he took of them together. Today, in later time, negotiating his inscrutable accident outside a hotel, his broken spectacles, visits (by himself and his niece separately) to an optician, and his projected reunion or reconciliation with his son. Nothing of it fully crystallises but it would have been an anti-climax if it had done so. The optician’s eye-test cards with alphabets of letters evoke writerly considerations of wordplay such as anagrams and assonances. Things that my reviews seem to thrive on! A shriving at the altar (auteur) of the past? Also resonances with the concept of cousin-with-cousin births needing changelings or foundlings amid the waterside or sea-foam love, sex and death that seeps in from the rest of this book. Seabirds like flowers behind a window.
“What the film will never remember was how fine the sand was, silkily running through her toes.”
LINE OF FIRE
“: in every case, the left eye was damaged: one had an iris that was faint–”
As I have mentioned before, I have suffered with a similar form of iritis in my left eye, recurrently for most of my life. As did James Joyce. Whiteness turning into a line of fire. So this story of a highly absurdist Aickmania meant a lot to me in that respect. Another twist in the eye.
Coming, as a result of his Aunt’s bequest, from the east coast to a place he has never visited before but it is a town he is expected by the strange locals to remember everything about, where a river seems to divide some area of sense from that of nonsense, with the state of death similarly divided then blurred, and legality and custom also blurred…a summer house locked, house plaques missing, boys full of hatred and reproach… Well, let me let you read it and then let me know what you think. Only sufficient time will be able to let me judge whether it is as memorable as this book’s first story turned out to be. An acquired taste.
IN HIS GRANDMOTHER’S COAT
“Wyll went into his grandmother’s room and took off all of his clothes.”
This is a genuinely disturbing story, with a twisted timbered house, a husband who spends all his time chopping wood, an older child or young adult so-called Wyll (I am coincidentally also real-time reviewing at this time a novel by an author with the forename Wyl, the first time I had encountered this name), subtle eroticisms, a special tutor named Miles or Myles Brampton, a poem etched under a carpet, and minks that (aptly?) are sent skinny dipping… And much more, many objective-correlatives and disarming strangenesses in this text that gradually merge into a nightmarish plot’s foundling or changeling or lostling gestalt.
“Noli me tangere.”
NIGHT IN THE PINK HOUSE
I published this story in 2013 and this is what I said about it in my Editor’s Commentary…
A sharp and scythed philosophical fantasy of bodily “agony and joy” in “dreadful rhythm”, comprising or compromising Platonic Forms and a relationship where the woman needs the furnished new and unsullied, the man the antique and decorative, with feet sharpened.
Taken to its bottom bone this is a ready-made wordspread of viands, that if I described it further would spoil the splendid ending. Can be read on various levels. My level perhaps only exists in my own head. Chasing the noumenon or the optimum eschairtology.
I have read and reviewed the next story here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2014/01/09/theakers-quarterly-fiction-46/#comment-1624 and below is a copy and paste of what I said about it then:
I first encountered the sartorially stylish prose-work of this author in a TQF edition and it has become a firm favourite reading of mine ever since. This story is more idiosyncratic than how I remember his previous stories being, a cross between the Welsh scenario of a Rhys Hughes (“After a month, the westerlies were packed away for a week, stored safely out at sea where the worst gales blew.”) and a strange township from a Robert Aickman and ‘The League of Gentlemen’ and an old-fashioned Ionesco or BS Johnson form of absurdism plus a no doubt pure Wilkinsonny element, here concerning accretive cyborgism. It all seems to blend well and the ending is strikingly good. It tells of a Mr Tipley (who becomes Tipton for some reason on two occasions) and there is also a decided connection with this book’s black ribbon and cryology engineering ethos.
“…he could touch the truth of the weather, feel the words emerging from blindness clearer than anything he could ever see.”
A WORLD WITHOUT WATERCRESS
“In the hospitality trade, one is threatened every day. My motive for shutting the Hotel for a season is to have time to form an accurate picture of the nature and extent of my property.”
This is a classic story, one which gives me the feeling that I have discovered a lost story by historically a favourite writer of mine, a story that no one knew existed and that now excels all that author’s others, which would be saying something!
The main character is the exponential hotel and its environs of river and ferryman’s cottage, with a strong trick-of-the-light and morphing genius-loci and, just as one example, a seasoned back bar to die for.
The owner is oppressively paranoiac on behalf of himself and his hotel, with one loyal worker in a silver suit, but others (one in particular called Mallison whose name evokes horror for me, now, as has always the name Millar), characters who seem to be besieging the hotel owner psychologically and, sometimes, in at least inferred bodily person. An aura of encroaching illness, too, that old wive’s tales might cure, and to call anything inanimate as feminine is anathema to him. Later, I wonder if the hotel itself is feminine, flauntingly flirtatious…?
This is genuinely a disturbing story, but without losing this author’s absurdist mien, an absurdism that sometime works with, sometimes works against, such disturbing qualities, depending what is intended by each story, I guess.
“Arseholes or watercress?”
Cross-referenced this hotel story here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2016/12/02/10288/#comment-8755
GOLD IN ASH
“: the dogs he walked in the morning were not those he walked at night.”
Worth reading this story just for that line. And a cloud of white butterflies as big as bats. And the later sound of one footstep. I am half-Welsh, by the way.
A quirky theme and variations on a Welsh myth, involving a death in a modern day Royle Family and the gold ring left on the corpse’s finger, inheritance machinations and events involving a couple’s suicide pact after one of them had already died.
AN INVITATION TO WORSHIP
“At dusk Emily heard an unnecessary key in the lock.”
A few stories in this book (including this one) have been, for me, unnecessary when compared to the other necessary masterpieces of weird fiction in this book, and, because and in spite of this, I have ordered the author’s previous collection “The Paintree” from Amazon UK so that I can real-time review that, too, in due course. To half-worship at the altar of Wilkinson.
This story is of a lady in London working for a public relations firm owned by a sort of ‘inbred’ Welsh family. As a result of sexual or absorption harassment from one of them at the firm, another at the firm allows her to escape to a refuge in outlying Radnorshire where one of the strange locals can’t be stopped from delivering fresh eggs to her, a man with a green tie and a reputation for chainsaws. Arcane hermaphroditism ensues. There are some amusing as well as worrying things in this text, and overall I felt harassed by it.
I read and reviewed this before here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2015/04/07/strange-tales-v/#comment-4241, and below is a copy and paste of what I wrote about it then:-
THE INVESTIGATION OF INNOCENCE
“…but the longing for connectivity was still there, a terrible ache.”
A terrible ache, indeed. To gain innocence, is to lose my body’s frailties, I guess. It seems, via tattling (twittering on some grid that in our real world leads to all manner of GUILT?) that, here, in a world of INNOCENCE, of cyborg-honey and slick sex change, this story’s grid is one that brings us the positive poetics of familial terrorism’s nepotism and the politics of the bee-lovely hive mind. Beautifully written, immaculate, even the nastiness is just one side of perfection? Even the Unacceptables are accepted. I am still working at it, though.
I read and reviewed this before here https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/14592-2/#comment-8421, and below is a copy and paste of what I said about it then:
“No friendship there, just the half-joy of collusion.”
It’s getting boring – me keep saying: another gem. But this is another gem. Aickman-like, almost Lewis Carrollian, but what I sense to become eventually Wilkinsonian*, this story of a man who seems to be suffering iritis (I personally have suffered iritis intermittently since 1973: a very mysterious, rare, potentially serious eye illness) and who moves to a bungalow in the flatlands away from the bright coast, but a bungalow with a slope to echo the ‘architectonics’ of the rest of this book… Beset by characters that want to play games with him (noisy like the rumbling in the Harman), games such as a model railway (very telling in this book’s context) or conkers… very weird, but with a truth that will hang around, I’m sure. Schoolboyish, nightmarish… It has, for me, the light-sensitivity of reality’s layering level crossings…
*this is another name to watch. I had the pleasure of hearing this author and other authors read from their stories at the recent launch of the book. I have earlier reviewed a story by Charles Wilkinson (‘Notes on the Bone’) HERE and he has one entitled ‘Night in the Pink House’ in my own edited anthology: ‘Horror Without Victims’.
I read and reviewed this before here https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2013/09/02/theakers-quarterly-fiction-44/#comment-8842, and below is a copy and paste of what I said about it then:
A Lesson from the Undergrowth
“…a set course Kant under his jacket;”
Another elegant story of haunting and horror from a favourite writer of mine whom I have discovered only relatively recently but one who musters, I sense, a substantial hinterland.
This is a haunting tale of the return of Neil to the large house – skirted by dual carriageways – where he grew up as the son of its caretaker. With the telling background of social divisions, we follow the battle between free-will and determinism as it blossoms from a series of the past’s memory-lists into a brush with thoughts of a sort of badger-culling, but not in the sense we accidentally know about in the news today, followed by facing one’s own mental car-crash of an AJ Ayer-esque Drogulus…
[As an aside, I wrestled with calling ‘confectionary’ a typo for ‘confectionery’, but decided that strictly it wasn’t.]
WATCHERS IN THE WOOD
“He was quite young when he saw a ghost looking out from the grain of the sideboard in the sitting-room.”
This is an intriguing, but, for me, confusingly staccato, if stylishly written, account of a Welsh township of mysterious strangers, one with dissimilar eyes, – general gossip in the fish and chip shop and elsewhere – leading to an expression of pareidolia or apophenia where you progress from merely imagining faces in sideboards to believing that there are souls in the inner ring-whorled ‘carpets’ of trees, even your own soul, I ask myself? All connected somehow to the onset of wind farms in the area and, maybe, eroticism with animals…
“…enthralled in lucid East Anglian light, an enormous blue-vault sky arching high above.”
…echoing some of the significant poignancy of this book’s first story, but this more a coda, a story of Peter, widowered and under health investigation, moving to this seaside place, but when we find him, the place is foggy, an ambiance very well felt and described and I was particularly intrigued by “…where everyone had been far above sea breath for a week.” An obliquity full of meaning, one that should have been in a poem. The house where he now lives has a hidden washroom and rumours of the couple who lived there, and the ensuing ghostly plot is both metaphorically and literally touching.
This book crackles with Wilkinson and, I have just realised, some of the mystic absurdism of one of my favourite writers: John Cowper Powys. Some true classics of weird aickmania and some engaging gewgaws. A definite characteristic pungency of literary flavour.
Cross-referenced to a Richmal Crompton story here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2017/03/06/mist-ghost-stories-by-richmal-crompton/#comment-9355
This is a remarkable book. I have never heard of this man or his work. The first story made me shiver and just sit still for 20 minutes *feeling* it. I will be searching for more of his work. Who IS this man and why haven’t I, an obsessive reader, never heard of him?
Just started my review of Charles Wilkinson’s earlier collection here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2016/09/03/the-pain-tree-and-other-stories-charles-wilkinson/
Mentioned Wilkinson here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2016/12/02/some-will-not-sleep-adam-l-g-nevill/#comment-8715