11 thoughts on “Buried Shadows – John Howard

  1. My original review of the first story in July 2013 in its context at that time…

    To the Anhalt Station – John Howard
    “It’s as if it’s his whole life, and it depends on those stations.”
    One of the most atmospheric first paragraphs I’ve read for ages, as the obsession of the railway spotter in the first story is taken to the nth power of Berlin, an obsession that can be cooled by ordinary life or romance with a good woman, but here the palimpsest of past railway stations infiltrates the present architecture of time and words, building again the railway quest, resonating with the Liverpool Street Station of WG Sebald’s ‘Austerlitz’, surviving the division of a city like Berlin… Immaculate prose, immaculate aftertaste.

  2. My original review of the next story in December 2014 in its context at that time….

    imageMr S. And Dr S. by HORACE JAMES FABER
    Is it any accident that Faber is often seen as Faber & Faber, a fact that is at least half germane to this story, I propose? Seriously, if I have guessed correctly as to the true identity of Faber’s double or mimic (also see VanderMeer’s ‘Area X’) as author of this story, this is another of that author’s masterpieces. Incredibly impressive.
    “A handwritten manuscript is another matter entirely. Within certain bounds they are as personal as fingerprints.”
    Fingerprints as another form of this book’s second story’s ‘finger-lace’? And there are many considerations within the lead-in of this S. story that, for me, addresses Nemonymity as well as Heteronymity and Proustian selves. I love the expression, embedded in the text, of “immortal anonymity.”
    This story is a story of Portugal in the 1930s, being a travelogue of a would-be boulevardier and journalist, one who usefully here compares the coastal and weather similarities of London and Lisbon. He actually meets dignitaries such as the President and Prime Minister, the latter being, on the face of it, a sort of Prince and the Pauper character, our protagonist meeting him again synchronously in a common tavern. Or does he? A highly tantalising treatment of those doubles and mimics as originals and fakes. This story seems like strolling, but it must have taken much exertion to bring this off. “…the fine art of wandering.”

  3. My original review of the next story in May 2015 in its context at that time…

    LEAST LIGHT, MOST NIGHT by John Howard

    Following the ‘sinking sun’ at the end of the previous story, this one starts with a quote from Sacheverell Sitwell (whose sister Edith (note Edith in respect of this Howard story!) was an icy lady with beads I used to see on 1950s black and white telly): “Why is the sun worshipped, never the arctic cold?”
    This immaculate text of a delightful (quietly lit like an old wireless) story having a 1950s feel itself, with two men for years in the offish office suddenly socialising at the house of one of them, including this anthology’s renewed concern over the niceties of calling people by surname or forename, plus the Art of Wandering in an urban setting (see my very recent review of a Howard story HERE about this), coins exchanged on a bus journey (currency being another common Howard theme), and, as this anthology’s ‘strobing’ (now, hot and cold) theme (so far): the snowflake, the crystalline, the foggy, the Arctic from the Sitwell quote, as a haunting cult (see my review of Howard’s significant fiction-essay about this ‘arctic’ theme HERE).


    “It was all happening too fast.”

    I read it in the garden this midsummer evening, while intermittently looking up at the pareidoliac clouds aloft.
    This is a fine tale that is speedily business-like yet stylishly laid-back. No mean feat.
    I gauge the period as the 1960s in London, with two well-characterised and gentlemanly exiles from the recent wartorn Europe dealing with each other, an architectural commission to build an observatory over London and its fulsome sky from Hampstead’s roof, with subtle intimate connections by one of them with another gentlemanly sub-contractor. A Balkan urge to return the League to Hanseatic via a golden cartographic cloud. Utterly beautiful stuff.


    “Come exactly as you are,” I said. “Please do.”

    In many ways a shocking story first published I see in 2013, and thus, if one calls it a story with which to be empathisable, then you’d become shocking yourself and not easily shockable. It is as if the business-like speed of the previous story has now become a sexual act, an unlingering impulse on one’s own or an act together with all you other readers when we are smothered as it were within this architectural splendour of words, its stone pillars, its touchable sensual walls and open lift-shaft…
    This is a tale of three gentlemanly architects, one dead and in the past and being celebrated today in the 21st century, another still alive who knew him and his Birmingham’s splendid single eclectic tower built in the 60s, and a young, less gentlemanly, leather-coated, budding architect from today, and it tells of the spent seeds of their creativity and disarming stuttering starts to mutual fellowship, of the need for synergy of this tower structure and living human flesh, and the need, too, to spot, from such a splendid structure, one’s own window and home amid such vastness of “urbanity” (a word cleverly or inadvertently used here for ‘urbaneness’), an urbanity that surrounds such an imposing structure of flourishing civilisation’s past evidence – an architectural structure that outshines the more corruptly clad towers in the news today?

  6. My original review of the next story in November 2012 in its context at that time…

      “The women’s faces covering the wall stare out at him. He returns their gaze. They are terraced like spectators’ heads in a stadium, or at a thousand tiny windows.”

    [Cf Sand’s Dusk. And James Joyce’s Sermon on Hell.]

    NUMBERED AS SAND OR THE STARS is a novelette by another of my favourite writers – John Howard –  cf my review of his story ‘The White City’ here = and here the currency talks like more stamps or faces on the wall, evoking a historical Hungary facing conspiring regents or hyperinflation or other loose ‘borders’ of integrity – even that era’s  equivalent (my inference, not necessarily the book’s) mentality of Stalinist ‘ebooks’ when compared to the hard currency of the stiff paper pages which this book boasts.  Hard coin or paper money? False borders or fixed geomancy? All in a stylish prose to die for – and to be buried with.

    Loved it.  The ambivalence of right and wrong amid a Philosophy of History as another version of the ‘synchronised shards of random truth and fiction’. Challenge and response in endless cycle. Imagination or belief as you hold a banknote or a page of fiction. Or, God forbid, an ebook!


    “Lewis had taken from his pocket and shown Matthews a small thin book…”

    Judging by the ambiance of London and the moon and its magical awe in yer face with a city’s substrata and this story’s finale as a holy epiphany of urbanity and urbaneness, I wondered if, for Matthews, I had recommended Mysterious Kôr and Other Stories by my favourite author who sometimes lived in London? Wishful thinking, I guess. But that is what fiction is. So yes, wishful thinking.
    I sense “the Author”, here, however, as collected by Matthews, was another sometime London-living visionary of fiction and the occult and the art of wandering, as I explore with Mathews the recurring layers of architecture, interspersed with builders’ or more arcane symbols, buildings from effulgence to crass, to effulgence again, to crass again. But with their own bespoke stages of power, such as the architecture of books themselves from crumbly paperback to ExOcc sturdy resplendence…
    This story is the apotheosis of magical awe, whoever the Author.

  8. My original review of the next story in April 2015 in its original context:

    MORE THAN INDIA by John Howard
    “–to drown with an ecstasy of abandonment in a wonderful merger. Would this be fulfilment or extinction?”
    A nemonymous merger with the back-up of self as in the previous story, or a blending with or a drowning in the river, here the Thames redolent with its boat race tradition, the double addressed ‘you’ (Aaron and Patrick) as two sides of a coin of the realm whereby the respective thicknesses of its two sides make the whole of that very coin? But where does that leave room for the older you (Edward), other than as (previously) the younger Queen the story tells you is on one side of that coin?
    This is a mighty story, redolent of other days, those bright young things, days of empire, students of the river, swimming against the current of the Boat race as one young man once did, viewed from a ‘veranda’ overlooking this transposed river as an Anglo-Indian word, a loggia or terrace, and I believe the word ‘balcony’ is used here, but I can’t find it without a complete re-read. It is a romantic story with utter power, steeped in civilised unrequitedness and (self-)sacrifice.

  9. My original review of the next story from January 2014 in its original context:

    You Promised You Would Walk by John Howard
    “…the oddness of being surrounded by all those streets and rivers and parks of paper, an additional thin barrier between him and their realities beyond the walls.”
    Another entrammelling preoccupation is building again in this book, and it’s here at first in embryo then in fractal fruition as Jon visits at last the Berlin as an earlier dreamed-for quest experience. A striking palimpsest of this city’s eras evolves via his friends’ guest room called the Room of Maps — in tune with Hughes’s geometrical extrapolations that lead here to more of its cobbled corridors in a ‘Cabinet of Caligari’ fashion of geometry amid sexual yearnings and/or fears following skewed insecurities where even good friends can somehow scare you…

    One can learn more about a city’s soul — from such a Great Inflation of fiction truth filling the secret passages of real time — than you can actually learn about it through serious text books or even by going there yourself in the wrong mood … or within a misleading synchronicity. Or maybe a misleading synchronicity is exactly what this story provides, misleading that it is misleading at all. The rough trade of reality and dream in their give and take of travel.

  10. My original review (each part reviewed separately in the real-time during May 2015) in its original context:


    THE FLOOR OF HEAVEN by John Howard

    1. Meditation in the Streets

    “He had not wanted to give her cause for any sorrow. As he continued walking Snow realised he had never asked her name.”

    The first section of this novelette has fully gripped me by the London Adventure lapels and I want this tantalisation to last as long as possible before continuing to read it. I sense this work is something special, special even from this its author whose work I have grown to relish more and more over a number of years now. It has the rhapsodic mystic undercurrents to London of endless suburbs radiating from the city centre, as Snow is invited to attend a party in an unknown part of this London, a party held by a long lost friend who is about to get married. The journey is evocatively conveyed, and I feel in my bones that the story itself expected the main happenings within it to involve this friend of Snow. But the story is waylaid, as Snow is also waylaid, waylaid by a church in the vicinity of the friend’s house, and a woman who helps him on his way, after giving him some unusually refreshing water. The friend’s party then becomes just a passing event.
    I don’t intend to itemise the whole plot from this point onward, other than that Snow yearns to meet the woman by visiting the church again. However, its area of London remains mysterious – and unknown to most atlases and mapbooks that he seeks out, except one…
    Not helped by the intervening years and the London Blitz.
    You’re on your own now with the storyline of this novelette, although I do intend to report back from time to time on the page below.

    2. The Way to the City

    “They always seemed slightly distracted, as if searching;…”

    An Ackroyd sense of London as a living character, here in fiction, thus somehow de-fictionalising it toward truth? I am eking out – savouring – this text. And, like one of the leading characters, I, too, am imbued, in this second symphonic movement of expended time, with London, but the character himself is writing about it, semi-professionally photographing its fast-vanishing bits, post-Blitz, at a time when you can still spend shillings. He is beset with a church tower’s ‘gothic mirage’ that brings to mind at least a feel of L.A. Lewis, and with adventurous escapades concerning a rare atlas, involving a woman and man in a rare part of London, escapades as if from ‘Three Impostors’. But I am mainly struck with the sense of inscrutable or distracted men hanging about hereabouts, in and out of reality, almost importuning me… Making me feel an elusive allusion I can’t quite grab amid the illusionary leitmotifs of the eventual gestalt I’m striving to reach.

    I had cause to cite John Howard fiction in a review here that I happen to be simultaneously conducting alongside this one.

    3. The Wonders That Lie

    “The whine of the mower, the smell of the cut grass, the bright figures sitting on the benches–”

    The third movement, an era where shillings have gone and the Internet arrived, and our hero (a palimpsest of three such inter-narrative, almost reincarnative, atlased-out ‘heroes’) has again been ‘waylaid’, now by redundancy… Where the ‘Art of Wandering’ through an equally palimpsested London takes on a new and unique slant that will last as long as Machen’s own slant in our minds, I guess. Highly haunting, such as the L.A. Lewis like Tower, or Samuels’, a mystic brightness set against darkly Blitzed modernity. An unrequited sense of male importuning set against feminine wiles to steal back what was lost, but which chapter or movement is the Impostor, or all three are? London as Heaven’s Floor. Or Flaw? Whatever, do change what you wear on your feet when you walk on it, I say.


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s