27 thoughts on “Hieroglyphs of Blood and Bone – Michael Griffin


    Chapter 1 Wild cries from another room

    “If you want to know which Philip Glass or Steve Reich recordings to own, which to avoid, she’ll tell you.”

    Felix Unger, the narrator, remembers his ex, still sapping off him, the perfect intellectual woman still back in Felix’s own house, while Felix is now staying makeshift with younger but patronising Karl in Karl’s houseboat, Karl being a guy who at least grabs the digits of likely women in hang-out singles clubs and bars, to text them later, or so he advises Felix to do, until Karl himself gets snared by a steady, one that makes noises with Karl in bed that Felix hears from his houseboat houseroom close by, Karl thus almost dragging Felix mentally into Karl’s sexy ménage… with Felix’s ex bigged up?

    I don’t know if I’ve got all this right; I am too old to understand such concerns of pre-mating and animal passions, but the style and characterisation are compelling, and, albeit sneakily complex, it is like a piece of good minimalist music as prose. Well, that’s the way I took it. So far.

  2. Chapter 2 In the dark a faceless woman

    “But so often I’ve gone to bed, convinced I’m tired enough, then ended up stuck, mind racing, wondering where I went wrong.”

    Well, I can relate to that.
    Maybe, I am not a million miles from ‘Felix’ after all.
    The chapter heading says it all. But where’s Karl?
    Think I’m already captivated by this book,
    But I must take it slowly.

  3. IMG_2943Chapter 3 Two men prepare to go fishing unencumbered

    “One thing I grudgingly admire about Karl is his minimalist routine.”

    In this real-time review, I will henceforth call ‘Felix’ (or ‘Tiger’ as Karl calls him) ‘I’ without the inverted commas, as I am sure I have a lot to learn in the book’s own real-time. Now captured, rather than just captivated by it. Ominously so.

    “He looks like he really doesn’t get it,…”

  4. Pingback: Hieroglyphs Real-Time Review by Des Lewis – GriffinWords

  5. Chapter 4 Private land on the Kalama River

    “He’s smart enough to recast it as an adventure of natural discovery, delving into untouched creases where ancient river cuts through rock,…”

    I’ve never gone fishing, never wanted to do so, so I was surprised how passages in this chapter drew me to it. Well, not surprised so much as obliquely pleased to feel the tug, the feel of the slippery live fish that escapes…here wonderfully conjured, as Karl takes Guy to a private fishing area, a genius loci equally well conjured, Karl being a younger cocky man teaching Guy who has been married for twenty years and now divorced how to catch fish and how to catch women. That sounds too simplistic a metaphor, but it works here especially in conjunction with Guy’s near epiphany, his new perspective from this trip, and an intriguing vision he experiences, a vision unseen by Karl that, when factored into earlier events in this novel, and when factored into Guy’s need not to be tactile (or as tactile as he seemed to be with the fish he nearly caught), I can really empathise with his propensity towards retroactive memory or imagination rather than experience itself. I personally see that as a strength…
    Fiction has that strength, too, and the books I choose to review ever seem to tend towards that optimum, a preternatural knack, almost like fishing, I now realise, or dreamcatching as I have called it for some years, and this book I am already sure is in that category.

  6. Chapter 5 What Michelle says and what she wants
    Chapter 6 The sickness of living the wrong man’s life

    “I miss certain things.”

    Let me tell you where I’m coming from. I’m not yet an old man proper but near enough, and married 47 years so far to the same person.
    Yet, I CAN empathise with this Guy, but not of course with Karl. And now I don’t think Guy can empathise with Karl either. Guy wants to be his own Guy, ambivalently happy, but not happy enough to be like someone who was born with the name of Felix? Guy wants to branch out nevertheless. His conversation now with Michelle (to whom he was married for 21 years) is both hilarious and real. This book is not a horror novel but an adept social comedy, also adeptly observational of work mores as we follow Guy to work. Well, not a horror novel, yet. Perhaps it is novel horror. The office boss calls Guy and others of both genders (in the office part of this machine-hands-on outfit) “office girls”, but houseboat-owner Karl, another hands-on boss, doesn’t call Guy this any more. There is something I don’t like about Karl, but I think there is more for me to learn about him and his new girl friend Sadie. Guy, too. Me and Guy, together, male-bonding, a bromance? Well, not exactly.
    Ominousness is just another word for wanting to know more. Trying to resist page-turning this book too quickly. Keeping it nicely pent-up.

  7. Chapter 7 Alone to the Kalama

    “Spinning lures, that’s what we called them back then.”

    An amazing chapter that takes this book into constructive overdrive, but only an overdrive that has been possible because of its foregoing well-tempered context. Well-tempered, other than the marks on Karl’s body?
    Guy guys steelheads, and now gets hands on with them alone in this genius loci, recurring vision also now almost hands-on, as face to face. Not an epiphany so much as a prophany. What do we expect hereon in? Another ceremonial gutting?
    The cuts in the trees stir my thoughts. I often serendipitously review books alongside each other, and fortuitously I read yesterday ‘Aspen Graffiti’ in Melanie Tem’s massive Singularity of Stories that has just been published (my on-going review here.) Tem hints at a diaspora of maritally lost husbands by a river’s bank in that story, as well as gouged trees. I love purely accidental or preternatural synergies like this! Alikeness in disparateness.
    “One minute it’s the end of the world, the next it’s like nothing ever happened.”
    “Allowing for a thirty minute walk each way, that means I fished more than ten hours. That’s impossible.”
    “I’ve emerged into some imposter world, everything replaced.”
    Or has he?


    Chapter 8 Sleep evades what never rests
    Chapter 9 Frame without a picture

    “…rationalizing a string of disparate acts as if they’re somehow connected.”

    That’s not Guy’s view of himself but of Michelle’s view, Michelle over whom he has not yet got. He’s still trying to transcend his own prophany. A holding text, these two chapters, sleep problems, his collection of 17 books, his bullying boss nicknamed ‘Hollywood’ and machines at unregular Guy’s workplace, working as ‘office girl’, and Karl’s mysterious absence perhaps with “brown bottle flu”, and those macho machines at work again, the river, a prophany as yet within empty frames… I list some of this holding text’s accoutrements in case a holding text becomes a crucial one in some future gestalt yet to be clinched in hindsight. But does full hindsight EVER arrive? Does a remembered list of perhaps trivial moments in a life ever produce any that become more important than they seemed at the time, retrospectively important only because they were remembered at all? The same with retrocausal fiction books as with lives. Thinking aloud. Thinking silently, too.

  9. Chapter 10 A flow that never ends

    “I’m not Karl. Instead of trying to be less myself, I should be more.”

    Candles, cologne scents, Japanese tea, music like Nyman or Reich, tiptoeing past Michelle-blanking milestones, toward a blank story like mine or blank music like Cage, Miró, Jung, antidote, 17 becomes 21. A flow that never ends.
    I am still listing accoutrements for the reason given in my previous review entry, except I made up the blank story and the Cage.
    And I have decided not to mention another encounter by him with the vision of the woman, with her now in town rather than the Kalama.
    And is it still him, is it still Guy, in any event?

  10. Chapter 11 Faces clearly remembered yet never actually seen
    Chapter 12 Drawn to the gap between trees

    “This is my inescapable obsession, a catalog of details from a possible future.”

    Knife blood drive to river woman but which woman carved lines in tree no fishing gear goosebumps more a cabin than house is Karl watching woman from watercolour to focus from prophany to epiphany? […] yellow gate car work

    I’ll leave you to absorb the rarefied […] without my help or inadvertent spoiling, other than to say that the book’s own book of pictures and poems within and its amorphous quality of comprehension and incomprehension is a landmark parallel perhaps to my whole hyper-imaginative goal of gestalt when establishing this dreamcatching site in summation? Yea, possibly that important.

    Meanwhile, I am pleased that I anticipated Guy’s need to categorise and catalogue by first recognising it in myself earlier through this book.

    “As if you don’t need anything more than you already have.”

  11. Chapter 13 Now that I know her name
    Chapter 14 Speculation on the value of a gift

    “This goes beyond personal evolution. Something weird is happening, not just changes in myself.”

    It is ironic that Guy’s boss at his machine workplace (with Guy as one of the ‘office girls’) is called Constant, and now we are faced with three inconstant books, the one received by Guy, the one found in Karl’s room and this book I am reading that contains the previous two.
    Like Guy, age makes me more ‘self assured’ but unsure whether I have lived too long, not that Guy is as old as me, but in his own terms, he probably feels old. Like Guy, I am unsure of the timeline, there and here. And the inconstant woman, the inconstant wife, too….a florid foppish restoration comedy or hard-brexited modern life?
    This, so far, fir me, is not a Weird Fiction novel, but a mainstream novel about weird things. Florid (even pretentious), especially about blood and rituals and carved trees, like much Weird Fiction, but a book that ever oscillates inconstantly between reality and weird fantasy, where the latter is an inimical force of double bluff trying to take this book off the horror bookshelves among the catalogued and categorised and number-counted books to the diffuse effectively uncatalogued mainstream shelves…or vice versa?


    Chapter 15 Sadie revealed

    “Women give important gifts to men who give us their most intimate selves. It’s like a trade.”

    That’s a woman talking, but which one? The gopher or the golf-ball?
    Guy meets Karl’s new girl friend whom I earlier called Sadie, the woman he saw sitting on Karl’s bed. She is still called Sadie, but is it the same woman?
    I think I was right above to refer to three books, Karl’s, Guy’s and Griffin’s. Each with a different woman or the same woman? The catalogue of strange things printed in one book then described by another book. An incantatory refrain of listed whimsicalities or weirdities. This review is increasingly written in their spirit. Being filled with it as it is. On another level of reading, things are relatively simple and linear. A Thai takeaway and a film. Sounds good to me.

  13. Chapter 16 The role of delusion in the remaking of selves

    “Days spent living within the book, trying to intuit significance from sketched shapes, colors, textures.”

    I rest my case on that quote and the whole paragraph whence it comes.
    But this book that creates that book is not a book but a tranche of someone’s life, and I am not here to gainsay it with clever clever critiques. There is a real life beyond the words. Time perhaps to re-read Tyger Tyger by Blake?
    Meanwhile, this seemingly core chapter, with Karl or a ‘fake casual’, alternative-factual, all-mouth-and-trousers version of Karl that isn’t Karl at all, as he male-bonds with or acts as devil’s advocate for or counsels Guy (we all have presumed memories of sexual encounters to harbour from our pre-teen childhood, don’t we, passive or active?), a whole timeline with his ex Michelle that our Guy needs to order from disorder, to unscramble time gaps into one of his audit trails, as I have found myself needling to do in this review, in my life itself. Seeing people so utterly familiar we need to strip off their mask of skin to see if they are real. Unacting the acting. Flaying and flensing any wishful thinking.
    I dread this book flaying off its own skin by the time I finish it with my discovering it is not the book either I thought it was or I think it is.
    Hieroglyphs instead of words.

  14. Chapter 17 Weightless in a bed of self-deceit
    Chapter 18 What she gives and what I seek

    My free verse theme and variations based indirectly and directly on quotes from these chapters —

    Subtitle – The Art of Proustian Selves.

    Memories an endless stream,
    Events which someday I should organize.
    Women’s faces distinct,
    Each body unique.
    Don’t confuse one with other.
    This compelling urgency confuses me,
    Makes me feel victim of external manipulation.
    [as Courbet’s creation of the world]
    Work in progress
    When each image is erased,
    I hold it in my mind forever.
    The next always arrives to build upon the last.
    Our bodies breathe each other for air.
    Mixed feelings
    Water connect to water
    Fragments of leaf, shards of bone from dead animals,
    Blood and guts of river fish.
    Bridging the gap between one woman and another],
    Where one is pure blank otherness,
    The other is over-embellished,
    A vain and fussy self-regard.

  15. Chapter 19 The clarity and confusion of waking dreams
    Chapter 20 I return to the field
    (up to “Nobody will ever come.”)

    “Dream myself backward, spiral through time, drift toward yet another loss.”

    Perhaps Guy’s impulsive return to the afforested area that is central to the conundrum of three books and three women. As the text itself states, a tale untold yet to be distilled from its words – or its hieroglyphics of blood and bone?
    From houseboat to another house that has sunk. A woman who has vanished along with her book. Leaving a labyrinth, a carapace of a human, an amniotic membrane of memories.
    The other side of the same house.
    This is the stuff dreams are built upon, with no milestones and a million identical trees.
    The need to forge connections between different places.
    I have yet a few more pages to read in this ground-breaking (literally?) novel… I hope for the best, fear it, too. A book that feeds off its own dissatisfactions of identity.
    “The best I can hope is to receive vague and poetic hints of the same kind that left me dissatisfied before.”

  16. Chapter 20 (rest of)
    Chapter 21 All is past

    “This room is so familiar, exactly like my old living room. That’s Michelle’s now, decorated with things I helped pay for. ”

    “…unlike any place I’ve seen before, outside the boundaries of my understanding, this is the beginning of fear.”

    That fear I feared.
    And we see, along with Guy, an old or older man, somehow at first mistaken for Karl. The old man I mentioned at outset who is EITHER myself as the particular reader and reviewer of such a reading of the novel, a novel and a review that are both self-indulgent and seismic in a sense that still develops even after finishing them OR the first emerging figure in a diaspora of lost husbands, lost partners, lost aspirant souls that I mentioned above earlier in respect of the carved tree or aspen Griffin graffiti…
    OR on further thought, a frozen statue of Pan.
    Houseboat as a novel mobile enough to reach along a river to scenes it conveyed in a different book, a different house one where the woman has a child, the enforced mating’s congress of purpose?
    Wordsworth, Baudelaire, Wolfe, Hemingway…and now another of my own examples of Free Verse based directly on this part of the novel’s text itself…

    I’m not sure what exactly we call existence, if nothing solid lingers.
    Life passes so quickly, it’s impossible to react in time.
    Reproduced on paper, ideas fall flat.
    Hints build upon hints, toward full comprehension.
    Language is a code.
    I take the pile, all twenty-one, out to the dock, all the way to the end.
    Every river is the same river.
    [Or a single river is never the same river?]
    Molten metal spits.
    Drops of steel hit the water and steam.
    [The once fished steelhead Guy held live in his hand?]

    And, from that, you can see this review itself is a work-in-progress, a description that the novel’s text also gives about itself. A truly remarkable novel that both frustrates and inspires, and I feel increasingly confident that the deliberate-seeming balance between frustration and inspiration is perfectly poised.


  17. Pingback: Real-Time Review Reaches the End – GriffinWords

  18. Pingback: Des Lewis Real-Time Review of An Ideal Retreat – GriffinWords

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