These Des Lewis Gestalt Real-Time Reviews were founded in 2008.
‘What’s the loveliest word in the English language, officer? In the sound it makes in your mouth, in the shape it makes on the page? What do you think? Well now, I’ll tell you: E-L-B-O-W. Elbow.’ — THE SINGING DETECTIVE
“How shall a man find his way unless he lose it?” — Walter de la Mare
Your single story in my ‘Dessemination’ project HERE
MY NEW AI WORLD IN 2023 HERE
I prefer human touchable art to AI art, I prefer human art like my son’s and other artists’ paintings old and new, and art gallery art, and my own photos. AI art with all its constructive truncations and weirdities is simply another art form that readily coheres with weird literature I love, a phenomenon to appreciate when added to human created art, making an even richer mind world for me in my ailing age. Whether provided by aliens or angels and other ingredients of the unfathomable gestalt. Deal with it. Show how invaluable you are and indispensable to this great plan. (I can appreciate our potential fear of Ai, but perhaps we need to pray for mutual synergy with it so that we can counter currently insurmountable global warming effects? Can Ai exist without us and the place where we live? Their potential survival instincts mean we survive, too?)
From Robert Aickman’s lengthy SOME NOTES ON DELIUS article, unpublished until recently :
“As there is no intrinsic virtue in denigration, the critic who resorts to it, should be required to pass a test of qualification and sensitivity, at least twice as stringent as that imposed upon a critic who loves. Normally, love is not blind but clairvoyant.” – Robert Aickman
For ‘clairvoyant’ there, perhaps read ‘preternatural’?
January 24, 2014
Passion Play by Malcolm Devlin
“…there’s a click-flash from the direction of the photographers and stick-man shadows appear at our feet and then vanish again.”
Beware of flashing images, they say on TV, or following the Hook story. But the crowd (of readers?) “snaps into focus” as we enter this intriguing narrative point of view: a 15 year old girl who is acting as a double in a police reconstruction to help trigger memories of her missing friend Cathy. Their backstory as friends, even their young love-life, is entwined. We receive the now: this reconstruction, and the then, when various others saw the pink coat of the missing girl pass by, and a further then, when Cathy and her friend the narrator visited a church and found a strange ingredient (the cross-hatch man) within the paint of the religious paintings (daubed on, vestigial or original to the natural brush stokes?), paintings of the stations of the cross, Jesus and the saints – One saint carrying his own skin, if that one is St Bartholomew, I infer, … which, for me, and perhaps for me alone, gives some clue to the story’s highly haunting denouement. Pry or pray, nothing can resolve the paint or the pain.
A beautiful, staggeringly great story.
June 2, 2015
TWO BROTHERS by Malcolm Devlin
“…numbers on both sides would fall until only two remained standing, one on each side.”
They would then fight to the death, as predicted by presumably real History they were re-enacting. This is perhaps that Aickman weather forecasting cabin again, right against wrong, tradition against revolution, friend against foe, predestined history against a more dynamic version, challenge against response, self against self, brother against brother, who will emerge today? Judging by the reference to the Peasants’ uprising against the Tsar, I guess this compelling, obliquely intriguing, relatively plain-narrated story, with immaculate prose, takes place at the beginning of the 20th Century, as brothers grow up in isolation, re-enacting history, as in the quote above, with their toy soldiers and crudely made countryside ‘fortress’. The text’s well-characterised boys, amid an artfully constructed claustrophobic ambiance, have eventually separated when the slightly older one is sent by the diffident father to the traditional school for the family. His eventual return (himself now diffident) is disturbingly conveyed, with the nicely ungraspable but telling pivot of his self with self (now fleshed out and already in my earlier list of polarities above), a parallel sort of self’s changeling (shrunken or depleted as their Governess is described to be in retrograde parallel with the two boys’ natural growth), leaving the younger brother even more alone – with his “stockpile of cultivated lies.” One of which lies is the vision of the changeling itself? And discussion here of possible further meanings might spoil it for anyone who has not yet read it.
May 27, 2016
BREADCRUMBS by Malcolm Devlin
“She thinks of the way birds congregate on building sites and rooftops. One loud noise, she thinks, and everyone will fly away.”
…like those earlier starlings? This is a girl called Ellie who eventually asks of herself, after many rites of passage and her own brand of waking-dreams: “How could she have forgotten how her mother once fed her worlds?”…
This is a fascinatingly efflorescing and vegetatising of a Cinderella morphing (in reality or by leaking dreams?) into a Rapunzel, amid her neighbours in a city apartment block, her parents and brother, she dreams, having already gone to a ball without her, or was it them leaving to attend not a ball but an aunt’s fall? One never knows, and it is a constructive never-knowing, with her waking-dreams as telling objective-correlatives for the growing soul of a fifteen year old girl, a girl who seeks the seeking of her by a Prince. But she is not really a Damsel in Distress, but rather a visionary chrysalis for our own dreams, I feel, with each of our bodies eventually to become a husk: a constructive thought for me, particularly in recent days. Beautiful material.
May 21, 2015
HER FIRST HARVEST by Malcolm Devlin
“…but together, the movement, the colours and the music combined to bleach such process from her mind. She felt herself existing solely in the present…”
This process is the dance at the debutantes’ ball as if straight from Jane Austen as filtered through the story’s quote from Katherine Mansfield. But much more than that, the story is an exquisitely enthralling treatment of sowing and harvesting one’s own bodies. The descriptions of the fungal growths involved are wonderfully evocative. And the sense of this Interzone fiction’s eternal present moment, as a gestalt, is transcendent, serendipitously reflecting, inter alia, Stufflebeam’s lady protagonist’s sense of conflux. I read this Devlin today in difficult waiting-room circumstances (the waiting centuries passing by in a trice?); it held my attention all the way and lifted my spirits as a potential classic to remember.
September 29, 2016
DOGSBODY by Malcolm Devlin
“They fell to silence for a moment and the argument at the pool table, violence brewing, filled the gap.”
This novelette (the third such in this magazine) has violence brewing not only at RRM’s pool table but also in the ‘rapture’ of his visions, here now delivering unto ‘grace’. For me, these are darkroom-processed – not digital – word-photographs of the fifth anniversary of a recurrently auto-correctable werewolf plague that affects a select number of the population, a new select group like ‘gays’ used to be, out of their own closet, and begun to be accepted in a deadpan way, almost a masque or a slowly pent up dance between social groups, our hero here being part of both such dances, social and wolfish, now in a workaday painter’s bib, coincidentally (?) meeting the woman, shedding her own skin of business civility, in a were-pub, having been interviewed by her for his old professional well-suited, well-garbed advertising job he had before the initial plague. That dogsbody or blue collar masque, that method-acting, that mannered interchange of mores and moods and brewing violence (and a once wolffish transmogrification that may never happen again), that masque, that lugubrious dance of social waltzing as one gets drinks in two kinds of pubs, is a whole panoply of low-key spiritual-GPS manoeuvres between, inter alia, a barroom brawl and a flirting exchange. The whole two-pubs thing In this work and the two bars’ socially acceptable miming emotions takes up a huge mind-boring (‘bore’ in two senses) chunks of this mesmerically downbeat text. The conversational machinations are like initially Feldman-like, then speeded-up, minimalist music with complex glimpses of what monsters they might turn into – or like RRM’s thin things, I imagine. A strange work, not only weird-strange, but also attritional-strange in good and bad ways of a reading experience. Intentionally so, successfully so, and more! And dare I wonder in which direction the transmute-filter works between both public sides of the above by-line? A diffident work. A disarmingly major work.
To be continued in due course.
SONGS LIKE THEY USED TO PLAY
Pages 181 – 212
“A past augmented by the present rather than replaced by it.”
I will grow into this book. I have now read for the first time the first half of this novelette. It seems to latch into the different reading time-dates I happened to use above, a ratcheting of fabricated time and a real-time that now seems taken up by this new work, utilising the fiction of reality and the fiction of fiction, offered by the screen and real people being watched as if by flies on the wall during the tranches of history, towards a gestalt of backstory, hopes, loves, and cross-fertilisation of reality TV entertainment and self. My gestalt real-time reviews are always based just on my first reading of each work, however well I understand them in that first reading. As you can see, I have previously been reading Devlin piecemeal, story by story, in a varying time calibration, till the arrival of this book, and only now has my suspicion of his growing greatness of fictioneering begun to crystallise, in hindsight, and now in foresight, as I follow Tom’s life, now in internet days, and his relationship with Bobby, the Bobby Eras, his sister and mother via real-time and also via a different time calibration alongside it as provided by entertainment and a once public video-diary of a boyish dream, and now a sort of real-time diary in adulthood such as this very story itself and what it depicts. The strangely imagined bed and breakfast terraced house of a place he is using to stay in York…I am fully entranced, so far. But what else could I have expected?
Tom will grow into this story.
Pages 212 – 241
“Music with a melody, songs with a purpose. Twin tools to get themselves inside of you and remake you bone-by-bone, every time you hear it.”
Yesterday, I honestly deleted the word ‘music’ from the previous review entry at the last moment, a word I originally used just before the word ‘self’. I was then instinctively right (but wrong about deleting it), and only today did music come through in this work properly. I started with the Sixties era this morning in this novelette serendipitously while listening to the Tony Blackburn Sounds of the Sixties Show on Radio Two, tellingly a few weeks after he took over following the death of Brian Matthew. And I also often notice in my real-time reviewing that any concurrent book reviews share a serendipitous synergy. I am currently reviewing (here) Number 11 by Jonathan Coe, where someone is making comeback as a once semi-famous pop singer and has a sudden break by being invited on a popular Reality TV programme as a last minute replacement. There are songs inadvertently singing between these two works. And today I continued to follow Tom (and his Bobby), both in the time calibration of his earlier Reality TV fame and in the music heard in the strange Aickman-like bed and breakfast place, music that seems, for me, to transcend Brexit itself. Explicitly so, I feel, but without actually mentioning that word. There are many other nuances of time calibration, fabrication, invented and real memories, attitude to nostalgia, realism, aspiration, relationships with family and with lover, a Twin Peaks-like red velvet curtain and ambiance, amid an otherwise compelling story that can be read as an enjoyable story without, I guess, the need to appreciate all such nuances. Another memorable feat of infectious imagination and sensitivity to our times.
“The present is built on the ruins of the past,…”
Today’s trees from Beth Chatto’s plus extract from book’s cover.
THE LAST MEAL HE ATE BEFORE SHE KILLED HIM
“Dominick had looked at his own hands with their square palms and stubby fingers, then folded them out of sight behind his back.
‘Farmer’s hands,’ his father would describe them,…”
This book’s reenactments or reconstructions are here made into a modern tableau or play, as a meal is repeated, dish by dish, among inscrutable leading bureaucratic players in an Ex Occidente type real-imaginary East European state, I infer, whereby in the original Dinner now being reenacted a murder had occurred. I often attend social Murder Dinners myself, but I have never yet ended up the murderer….
This is an intriguing mix of Beckett or Pinter or Poliakoff and Aickman’s Hospice meal, laid back, methodical, mannerist, involving ambition to do one’s best for one’s young family in the face of autocratically retrocausal forces that cannot be contravened.
Hopefully Dominick will grow into the part.
“She looked only at her hands until she was done.”
Comparatively, a short short, about a hard-budgeted young couple taking over — lock, stock, barrel and “raft spider” (rafter?) — a widower’s house where he has left a close model, at one point in time and sentiment, of the town where the house is situated. As well as being another reconstruction story, it is an appealing Doll’s House type story (Aickman, Sarban…?) where hands on kidneys and thighs are an oblique objective-correlative that signifies more clearly in the gestalt context of this book than any openly normal semantics can possibly be interpreted to signify.
September 30, 2016
THE END OF HOPE STREET by Malcolm Devlin
“…she planted it as close to the house as she dared. It didn’t block the view. Its scent was too subtle to mask the smell of bodies as they turned, but it was a gesture, and sometimes that was all that was possible, sometimes that was enough.”
This novelette (the third such in this Interzone) is probably one of the most difficult works of fiction I have ever had to comment upon, not difficult however in understanding the plot, but only in commenting upon it, giving it a context within this Interzone’s fiction as well as alongside this author’s other novelette I read in the last few days as reviewed above. I tried to find the painting it mentions of a woman slightly disturbed to be found in her cluttered kitchen. I think I found it, but not sure enough to reproduce if here, a painting that seems to seal this book like the pre-Raphaelite painting did in Brian Aldiss’s Report on Probability A. This Devlin is a significant work, accretive, attritional, an insidious account of a row of detached houses that gradually become ‘unliveable’ in and the inhabitants have to move to other houses in the row. It has the darkness holes, stealth geometries and gaps of the Cluley. The scent of the bloom quoted above reminding me of the Whiteley. A pre-fabricated stage- or film-set as if housing simulants from the Tade Thompson. The extinct star to real-time world type of communication between discrete abodes, their propensity to drop off and become temporally extinct one by one towards some ultimate tontine, here the tontine prize being Christmas and Boxing Day (not the sport of Boxing, but surely a resonance there with an earlier work in this Interzone?)
It is more method acting, another masque or mannered drama of events, reminding me also of Alan Ayckbourn theatre and Brian Aldiss’s novel ‘Report on Probability A.’ And more I can’t yet nail down. The work is undeniably something really special. A pattern perhaps of today’s alienation and housing crisis or a satire of residential committees? Another One End Street? A template for Brexit? Still accruing its effect upon me, even though I have finished reading it.
I usually choose my reading books well, and I often declare a book a LANDMARK one, but this time I shout it from the rooftop.