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I read and reviewed this story in January 2014, as follows:
Holiday from Hell
“…full of the kind of routine moments that some people find reassuring.”
And I have often found some horror stories reassuring in a similar way, and notwithstanding some striking unroutine moments in this terror tale by the Reggie man, the Punch and Judy operator of the plot, I was reassured and made comfortable by its Brightsea genius loci of the vulgar, rundown seaside resort, with nods towards our country’s obesity problem and short-tempered working-class trippers, but I was also pleased and strangely made secure and safe by the fact that some well-characterised old people with slightly odd names from a Home in Diss had travelled to this coast near Liverpool, and shared digs with an impoverished actor as protagonist who himself touches a rare moment of romance with the opposite sex as well as touching dark issues with regard to all these things I have described as happening in this terror tale (and with the theatre itself in which he acted) which paradoxically comforted me. Even comforted by the poignant ‘Flowers of the Sea’ moment at the end of this terror tale that some other readers may not even have noticed. A holiday from Hell indeed – not TO Hell, I, for one, hope and trust.
THE SILKEN DRUM
“He was not dull: at any rate his form of dullness was peculiar to him which, in our part of the world, counts as being interesting.”
This story reaches from a neighbouring dullness to a central interest, from concern to obsession, as a Japanese lady and her nine year old son rents your Suffolk cottage neighboured by the main house where you care for your wheelchair-bound wife.
Silken hair, seen-through to head, a dinner party with hobbyist artist: neither a Magritte or a de Kooning; cantatas and liturgies, and an accretive journey via concern and obsession towards subtle terror, if that is not a contradiction in terms.
A Yes story about Nō. And a would-be old man distracted by sweeping leaves and by even subtler sex than terror, distracted by obsession from his duty of concern…?
Bats beating upon dull silk surfaces.
THE GREEN HOUR
“Sometimes my wit gets the better of my good nature, I am afraid, but I do not consider those to be grounds for such atrocious homicides.”
…nor for absolving them. The wit is fine, though, even the first literary joke ever concerning the poet Mallarmé. And with clues connected to the operas of Rossini during the Paris Exhibiton of 1867. Involving the detective who solved the crimes in Poe such as the orangutan in Rue Morgue and my real-time review of Marie Rogêt (the synchronised shards of random truth and fiction.)
The murders in this story are forensically genital-mutilative and I recognise one cannot have presumptions as to the nature of the culprit or whether the crossbow’s arrow through a green apple was any sort of clue at all.
The ritual of making absinthe, notwithstanding.
(Sometimes my wit gets the better of my critical abilities!)
THE PERFECT AUTHOR
“It’s about as interesting to me as how I go to the lavatory.”
This is a delightfully witty story of writers’-conventions and feminism (here taking place in the first story’s Brightsea) as well as a fiction come alive as meta-fiction, or, again, as my ‘synchronised shards of random truth and fiction’ – where the socially-challenged (in a professional writer sense) author of this story meets the over-perfect female author of crime fiction as this fiction’s meta-fiction (as if, almost, the two of them end up collaborating on her Canon Parsley fiction as meta-Father Brownisms (my real-time reviews of all Father Brown stories here)) — leading to some genuinely eerie scenes as the female crime fiction writer’s fiction character comes to life – complete with the best fart in literature, I guess. Seriously.
“I aim to go everywhere in my books except to the bedroom and the lavatory, explicitly, I mean.”
“I dream in moods, rather than images, but they are moods to which images attach themselves, almost arbitrarily at times.”
…just as in the story where that statement is included, such as a reference to Marilyn Monroe at its beginning and some cove called Samson more than just fiddling with blonde hair towards the end…
And is it any accident that Absalom and Samson assonate, as does the ‘ard’ in both Hardman and Everard, too?
On another level, this is a stylish tale where one can really believe it is someone writing to us from the 17th century, a literary exercise in verisimilitude by dint of our being allowed to read papers found as a result of a temporarily uncarpeted flooring in a University, the tale of a posh student rogue who hates God for having given him birth and lives a low and salacious life, followed by those mercenary followers who need to follow them in the pay of those who know little better but should know better. A hubris and nemesis of an eventual haunting, but that only gives you a slight clue as what lies beneath – and above. Sweep it all under the carpet, I suggest.
THE DRUID’S REST
“Some Frenchman had said that in every relationship there is usually one who loves and one who gives permission to be loved.”
A page-turner about a pair of Sapphic-tending girls in shorts biking round Snowdonia (reminding me at first of the two girls in Aickman’s ‘The Trains’) – seemingly caught at a distance from shelter as night comes down, arriving at a hotel by name only for tax purposes, uncanny, a boastful landlord, increasingly making the story around him gradually bend out of shape, uncanny and worrying, and thus bending out of shape for the girls, a triangle of peccadillo instead of just a straight line – for the reader, too, and I feel even though I have now finished reading it somehow I am still within its pages. A seraphic ecstasy. A panjandrum. Half-smiling.
Each story is headed by appealing artwork by Reggie Oliver.
I read and reviewed the next story in October 2016, as follows –
THE ROOMS ARE HIGH
“, the sea pale blue; the whole suggested the delicate, light tones and meticulous detail of a Victorian watercolour.”
The seaside town almost unchanged since you were at school there decades ago. A ‘Tales of the Unexpected’ type encounter with a Bed & Breakfast place (reputed to have ‘high rooms’, whatever that means), a traditional old-fashioned establishment with a dinner gong, a dowdy landlady or her daughter, and a single fixed resident, other than you. You who have recently finished suffering a prolonged and painful widowering, just getting over it. You were at school in this seaside town all those years ago, and one of the teachers, believe it or not, is still alive, a teacher the boys called Hoppy. (The B&B is called Happydene.) An unwelcome return of memories as you talk to Hoppy about what he used to do in those politically incorrect times of yore. And, later that night, potentially catching up, since your unmindful loss of it, with the sex you prefer, but with a nightmarishness that makes this story, in spite or because of its engagingly bespoke dark humour of occasion and place, seem both intensely felt and felt to be believable.
“True beauty lives on high.” – George Herbert
THE PRINCE OF DARKNESS
“It was a three quarter length portrait in oils of a girl with long blonde hair standing at a balcony…”
Long blonde hair, as if passing on a current of life from story to story in this book, person to person? This story is a portrait of truly insidious horror by dark implication and salacious insinuation, as well as conveying painterly and actorly-actressly dynamics as part of an eventually exponential threnody of domestic and eschatological seediness.
A tale of a deceased’s assisted house-moving with transliteration of his once and now defunct professional promise as a ground-breaking photographer and of the secret shots of the narrator’s own past family life that nobody surely could have taken. Not time-travelling, as such, but a triangulated or 3D gestalt.
A sledge Hammer film to crack a nut. Or to make you trip over its somehow embedded tree root. Redolent with an old bureau’s secret drawer, and with “crumpled sheets” ready to pounce. And the visionary dead too ashamed to come back as proper ghosts other than for some vague hand-wringingly yearning appeal for some us to believe they ARE ghosts.
THE BOOK AND THE RING
“On Midsummer’s Eve Anno 1592 I hearde an olde blinde fiddler playe a fine melodious tune (though somewhat melancholique) in a fielde.”
A fine linkage there with a part of this Tartarus booke itself and an equally fine transmutation of the previous story’s horror genre eschatology toward this story’s Shakespearean ripeness of scatology, full of damnation, witchcraft, lovely-dreadful turdid terminology, the transcribed-narrator’s skirmishes underground for what I shall call some Malebolge of a book so as to ease some Satanic path for a well-characterised witch and for this 16th century composer nearly as good as Tallis or Byrd.
It did not seem to speak to me (with its mere added end ‘e’ or added ‘k’ to ‘-ic’ etc.) directly from the 16th century as effectively as did ‘Absalom’ from the 17th.
I read and reviewed the next story in June 2015, as follows –
THE MAZE AT HUNTSMERE
“When you go to a familiar place with someone who is new to it, you tend to re-experience it to some extent through their eyes.”
Not only does that seem to be the perfect description of dreamcatching fiction through the author’s eyes and alongside the reader whom you visualise is the recipient of your review but also that quote seems to echo the act of entering the world that is Reggie Oliver, the fictional maze he has created, the real maze in the grounds of the plot’s stately house like the house in Downton Abbey, a figurative maze, too, that is a setting for an alchemy of sexual antics required to summon Pan, as such antics summoned him in the previous story. This is the wonderful thespian Virtue in Danger world of Reggie Oliver you are entering with me, a story that is also an amusing grotesque satire of various snobbish mores representative of nobility and of generally posh people, the orienteering of sexual politics, theatrical Etonian types now making a living from TV series….
There are people like the narrator who concocts his own backstory as a magick alchemist of the old school, the Marquess of Martlesham, Samuels the chauffeur, and a posh character who seems to morph from gay to hetero – an imputedly parallel magick alchemy from dross to gold – called, by the narrator, at one point ‘a notorious wrong-ender’, all inter-mazed with a Chinese Chippendale Fourposter bedroom, and much more. One ends up wondering whether it was the Statue of Pan in the maze that brought to life the sexual antics of the characters in its vicinity or those actual sexual antics that brought the Statue of Pan to life. A virtuous or vicious circle?
TROUBLE AT BOTATHAN
“I was struck even more by a feeling of fragmentation in the writer,…”
…as I was struck by this writer in the shape of the first-person narrator. Until I was sort of confirmed in this at the end, lending even myself the reader a fragmentation without, for once, its eventual natural gestalt…
On the face of it, a frightening ghost story with a rationale of why the ghost haunts where it haunts, a tale of an elitist, not snobbish, retreat in an academic-historied house as refuge called eponymously the Place, in the vicinity of Launceston and Bodmin Moor. A momentous inhibition as our narrator finds himself alone in the surrounding wilds when he should be acting sociably or listening to a talk on Beethoven. Hands all over him in a creepy field near a rill he imagines flowing to an empty Hell. I can give you no further clues, for fear of spoilers, other than a diary he thinks he was meant to find on the well-characterised library shelves in this genius loci of various places, the house and the paralysing field, a diary by a young female for this equally young narrator to read – as if the Place is a bin as well as where he’s bin himself, too, or about to go to. A party of kindred spirits?
This book is full of, not found art, but found documents. The prose is admirably workmanlike and beautifully inspired, but eschews art (other than its story-title illuminations). Hume sweet Hume. ” the absence of all presence…”
A DAY WITH THE DELUSIONISTS
“…the Pléiade editions of Proust and Mallarmé…”
This, as a sort of sequel to the previous story, is the best story in this book I can safely say having already read the final two stories in the past, if the past is the only place where you can have already read something! The past is a country where they do things differently, as they do in this story. A brilliant whodunnit, with many delicious literary references, among those bright young things of Oxbridge. Where one can literally as well as figuratively get away with murder – like Boris, George and David? Click that link.
I read and reviewed the next story in June 2016, as follows –
“…a sun setting (or rising) over the sea.”
A classic Reggification — by a compellingly limpid story of genuinely memorable Machensque weirdness over London skies — of truth and rapture, of vice in danger, of absurdity and religious satire, of all those unpolitically incorrect things going on in the world around Hampstead Heath and Archway Road, behaviour here stared at unswervingly without fear of the social justice warriors tearing it to pieces on-line should they ever get wind of it or, even, without fear of such warriors’ favour when deploying their interpretation of this text and praising, to high heaven, its even higher moral high-ground.
This whole book, like this story, I already sense, has more than just one face. More than one version of textual interpretation or exegesis as well as more than one version of physical production image. This first story, within it, also has an engaging characterisation of a man in his small flat – someone who has recently split up with his fiancée – and tells of his interface through thin walls with his equally well-characterised but, for me, frightening neighbours, whose High Church draws him into a battle against the dark forces of our End Days, seasoned with sexual undercurrents and switching selves as well as a switching book that contains such selves.
I read the last story in September 2016 (when I had a brief chance to talk to this author), and reviewed it before that meeting as follows –
LOVE AT SECOND SIGHT
“We were in the middle of September…”
For those who love the work of Reggie Oliver, this is unquestionably a real treat. I could inadvertently give you many spoilers; all I will say is that I strongly sense the presence here of the personal as well as of the creatively extrapolative – not that “bleak no-man’s-land between tonality and modern atonalism”, but a memory of your past with a certain place and person (since mostly forgotten), a memory experienced before life directed you to another more pre-destined place and person (if pre-destined CAN have a less or more?)
Certainly the regretful, as well as the assured, and the perceived ‘avant garde’, the characterfulness of various parties of the past extrapolated into the future, even beyond their own capacity to subsist, eventually towards the ghostly, as if the ghostly can also have a ‘more’ or ‘less’ attached to it. A musical comparativeness. A performance still to be perfected. All possible paths of pre-destination equally to have been loved and responsibly exploited, whichever path it had turned out to be.
The feelings of this deceptively powerful work continue to resonate… It is the apotheosis of Uncertainty, or a Certainty that Uncertainty is the optimum Certainty. I have a feeling that these two volumes of stories are full of things where the authors have truly given of their best, these being some of my genuinely favourite writers in what I see as the genre I was always pre-destined to love, but now seen, in sudden memory, as this genre of Uncertainty, a pre-destiny now clinched to house them. Tomorrow, I might have forgotten what I thought. But not now, having written it down here.
I shall now read for the first time this book’s Introduction by Robert Shearman and Afterword by Reggie Oliver. I am sure these will give me more food for thought.