29 thoughts on “THE GRADUAL by Christopher Priest

  1. 1 – 3

    “: too young to show the emotion we felt, too old not to feel it.”

    I intend this review to be gradual, too. I love modernist classical music, so this book shows great promise for me, as I sit here reading it, also sea-adjacent, music for me being a yearning for something beyond that sea, beyond the madness of today’s landed existence, yearning towards hinted islands. I am already entranced by the two young brothers, one drafted for an indeterminate war, leaving the younger one as the main word-musical protagonist upon this book’s left behind ground of ominous undercurrents.
    Gradual and unspoilered.

  2. 4 – 7

    “It is only in silence that music is pure.”

    I dread spoiling this book’s spell, breaking its apotheosis (as surely it is) of the Dream Archipelago, with my intermittent staccato refrains disguised as reviews, as if this book is one of the islands itself that needs to be kept away from prying, undeserving eyes. The text’s implied music is beautiful to hear. The flow seems indeed gradual, it has that feel, but jumps silences of time in fell leaps, as we follow the composer’s life, a deadpan panning-out that is utterly simple, simple but tantalisingly complex, delightfully eked out through the most naïvely fast speed of slow-motion that any literature has heretofore managed? A gradual to measure by its responsorial rhythm?

    • 8…
      Ah, just another day and only a few paragraphs and I see that sense of ‘gradual’ is now made clear by the text itself. I confirm that I had not seen this when writing my entry above yesterday.
      I can see, too, that this already wonderful book is going to present its own problems for the conscientious real-time reviewer…

  3. 8 – 13

    “‘I have played your records, Sandro,’ he said
    ‘Do you like them?’ I was pleased.
    ‘I do like them.’ A little later he said, ‘I have played your records, Sandro.’
    ‘Thanks, Dad.'”

    This book is like saying something gently, and saying it again later, a bit of minimalist music like Glass? Or more like Finnissy or Sculthorpe? I felt sad at this conversation, but have been genuinely compelled to turn each page of this book in forgotten suspended disbelief. But I need to eke it out, and not tell you about the plot, but repetition is involved in other aspects, some seemingly negative like repetitions as the suspected stealing of intellectual-artistic property, and invitations to the gentle islands of the narrator Sandro’s soul, even if he is temperamental, sometimes irascible, up front. Best to hide it when a guest elsewhere, such as being a reader invited by the book’s engaging context of content and form, invited into this literally enchanting world, taking the self on a tour of its otherwise insular words by means of my own paternally half-senile mind, a mind with inferred incantatoriness as its uncertain Ground, leaving Glass, leaving Glaund…

  4. 14 & 15

    You know when you are in the hands of a master writer. And the scenes of Sandro’s voyage into the Islands, that he knows as the Dream Archipelago, are absolutely priceless. You feel you are really sailing there, while comparing the monochrome of his Glaund departure point with the vistas now presented to him…. And the intriguing double achronology of time, on this weekend when we put the clock back an hour in the UK.

    Important at least to me – In 2012, I somehow, in my own madness, publicly linked Priest with Peter Sculthorpe, a composer of classical music about Islands, who later died in 2014 at the age of 85. This link was in connection with Priest’s ‘Scunthorpe’ article that I mentioned, as part of that Sculthorpe connection, on my blogs at that time here and here. I would now wish to think I brought Priest and Sculthorpe together, for this GRADUAL masterwork, a masterwork that surely it already is in my eyes. Wishful thinking, perhaps, that I was such a match maker.

  5. 16 – 23

    “All these islands unimaginably numerous, shaped but unstructured, washed by the seas, these fragments. I ached to understand the islands, but the reality confused the image.”

    I cannot express how this book succeeds in taking you in. The plot compellingly unfolds, and any careless talk of it may not only spoil it for those still to read it but also endanger those IN it, I somehow feel. I received the impression, meanwhile, amid all the things that went wrong in accretive triviality during Sandro’s cultural trip to these wonderful places, that there was more going on beyond the plot. Also reminding me insidiously of when I was in Russia, a few years ago, that although welcome there, the red tape of travel was inimical and made me FEEL unwelcome. And the concept of the tangible stave as an island-travel necessity is something beyond the scope of this review to explain, but rest assured it is unforgettable, as are many other things in this story. (I have been fruitfully listening to my spell-binding Peter Sculthorpe CD while reading this latest section.)

  6. 24 – 28

    “‘That’s what I can’t explain,’ I said. ‘It’s a problem and I don’t understand it myself.'”

    It’s as if this book and I are talking to each other, one in normal print, the other in italics. On returning each time to my real life from out of this book, as if from my own cultural trips among its islands, I have empathised more and more with Sandro. Synchronising though is now a better word than empathising for this phenomenon. I dare not breathe a word of its plot, a fact which rather diminishes the need for this real-time gradual review at all. Suffice to say, at this stage (about a third of the way through the book? – and the fact that I need to put a ? there somehow seems significant) I can say this is a book you simply must read, as the fact that you are reading my review at all means you are the sort of acclimatisable person who, yes, simply must read it.

  7. 29 – 35

    “I had broken a self-imposed rule, instinctively developed throughout my adult life: keep out of sight, don’t become known for anything except what you do, and therefore what you have some control over.”

    Telling, in view of this review. As if I, too, have crossed some invisible lines of book reviewing, like revealing certain things I should not have done, or withholding too many others I should have revealed. I also mentioned Russia earlier as a random example of something, and now I sense Sandro Sussken may be, among others aspects, a reflection of the historical Shostakovich in the way Sandro’s new symphony is commissioned. And he is subtly forced into an “ante-room” before meeting surely one of the most insidiously inimical women you will ever meet in literature…

  8. 36 – 41

    “Every island had a different note.”

    Sandro’s picaresque narrative ill-mapped island-hopping symphony to escape the actual commissioned symphony is full of anxiety about broken travel plans, and, for me, like Shostakovich’s 4th, a shuttling of broken themes that need some gestalt to make them whole, a mix of tuning islands with the use of his stave rather than with a fork, and with ‘help’ from adepts and officious officials to compensate for the “detriment” from his earlier dyssynchrony as a by-product of dissonance…
    I here divulge such oblique thoughts of mine as I travel this deadpan gradual incantatory text alongside Sandro, thoughts tangential to the plot itself as my attempt at covering up for otherwise issuing spoilers. (Real-time for the first time in my dreamcatching career ceases to work properly since I started it in 2008.)
    Rest assured, meantime, that the flow of narrative is irresistible, whether you choose to go with or against its tides in different versions of pace.

  9. “The gradual is being compensated.”
    This seems to sum up my whole life heretofore!

    I have been returning to the Severn Bore in earlier Priest…plus the ‘triangulation of literary coordinates’ ethos of my gestalt real-time reviews … and the ‘congruence’ and ‘coordinates’ in…..

    42 & 43

    Now just read in real-time.

    “Some islands have similar coordinates.”

    “Congruent is the size and shape of the gradual tide.”

  10. 44 – 47

    “…a kind of silent impasse having been achieved.”

    The operative word being ‘achieved’? This is musically fugal both as a fugitive from authority and as a deciding which of his various intentions are more important than that actual act of fleeing, making me think if the author’s own treatment of The Intentional Fallacy is conscious or otherwise.
    Judging by my own reaction, Sandro’s evolution into almost random zigzagging through the islands is one that sums up the reader’s life, its need for ‘baggage’, or its yearning to unload such baggage, its pursuance by guilt and other detriments, its preconditioning by the ‘homeland’ whence one left upon these gradually life-serialised ‘Rites of Passage’ (the title of Sculthorpe’s strangely musicalised theatrical work). [Hachure, mentioned in this text, is almost like a musical score by Stockhausen? His massively serialised opera named after Days of the Week was featured in a recent fiction I reviewed here.]

    “All emails were automatically copied to the government department responsible for overseeing communications.”

  11. 48 – 51

    “I was engaged with the finer problems of gained and lost time –”

    I could kick myself. As a storm approaches on the latest island Sandro reaches – and a significant, shocking, heart-wrenching scene transpires, a fulfilment of one of his active ‘intentions’ rather than his passive need to flee – a scene about which I dare not breathe a word. And what I could kick myself about is not drawing reference till now to Marcel Proust’s monumental ‘À la recherche du temps perdu’ that is often translated as ‘In Search of Lost Time’ as well as ‘Remembrance of Things Past’, a series of novels with which I have been obsessed for most of my life. And my particular interest in its theme of ‘Proustian selves’ that does seem at least arguably relevant to that significant scene mentioned above…
    And isn’t one of those constituents of the Proust work entitled ‘The Fugitive’?

  12. 52 – 55

    “It was sometimes a shock to remind myself of the madness of the gradual.”

    Tellingly, I note that I have already used the word ‘madness’ in connection with myself when first noticing the Sculthorpe connection above. And now it seems to be some observations by Sandro himself – when comparing his Proustian selves in the mirror or hearing some of his own music plagiarised….?
    I sense the coordinates of this book’s end gestalt or congruency are already shaping up, whether stridently or sweetly remains to be seen. Whatever the eventual outcome, I am already convinced this is a significant book to real-time review, possibly the most significant I have ever real-time reviewed, or or have ever tried to real-time, if real-time can be thus used as a verb?
    [There are 2 ‘textual detriments’ in this section – Page 241, line 19 and Page 250, line 10.]

    “Whoever was playing it, whoever was on the record, had turned it into something bland and loud and rhythmic, had made it cheap and repetitive, made it obvious and moronic, but it was still mine.”

  13. 56 – 60

    “I had already entered the state of mind familiar to me whenever I was being escorted by an adept. I became passive, accepting, not enquiring, letting myself be moved around and told what to do.”

    Another reminder of the stages of self through which I progress, most of my life believing I was a mere counter not a player, not an adept, heading towards Temmil’s retirement homes that had replaced the cultural centres… until I started real-time reviewing? Real real-time.
    The lackadaisical submission to tiredness, of mooring and unmooring upon the slough of tides, an incantatory repetition of gradients and detriments, and “time slippage”, and this text is the perfect lesson, thus the perfect literature. A “compositional bliss” as Sandro hits his Sixth Piano Sonata. One thing I have loved about modern and traditional ‘classical music’ is the non-descriptive titles in numbered order.

    “I began to realize that I best understood the effect of the gradual if I interpreted it in musical terms.”

  14. 61 – 68

    “It comes to you, but you have to surrender to it.”

    This real-time review is a half-silent cadenza offered in due humility to this important book, as Sandro catches a cadenza within it just before the book’s own version of the Earth Cry, a cadenza based on his own work. We are all perhaps subject to unseen forces, as I imagine invisible volcanoes around our own now Brexited islands… age and youth in strange disharmony. Like some characters in this book.
    With the cadenza played, I now expect before long a lingering coda…as I continue to trace, in my own terms, Sandro’s trials and tributaries of time – and of sporadic love.

    “…the original score, the black pen marks on the staves, but they were cryptic, had no sound, were written in code –“

  15. Perhaps the most codate coda ever…

    69 – 79

    “It matters only that you have done it. You might never know how.”

    I wonder if coming home is like dying, in this book’s “subjective time”, that is? Its own culmination of dissonant intervals?
    Meantime, can time be collusive as well as mean? It seems highly appropriate that what I see as the next best thing to the two Proustian selves of Sandro finally meet with a violin on each of their backs, to make hugging difficult, as I had often earlier expected Sandro to find himself disembarking upon the island where he already was, but never did! The single violin that played the Vinteuil sonata?
    As I still watch the text’s “securing ropes” and “winches”, I realise that my own mooring and unmooring of it must end … a process that I call ‘hawling’ as a dreamcatching of this truly wonderful book (a book that fully deserves and will get accolades) … must end at least for a while.
    I am not there yet. But I feel I have now at least been granted “…a growing awareness of the gradual changes brought by time, and the mysteries of ageing.”


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