Titan Books 2017
My previous reviews of Nina Allan HERE
When I review this novel, my thoughts will appear in the comment stream below…
Titan Books 2017
My previous reviews of Nina Allan HERE
When I review this novel, my thoughts will appear in the comment stream below…
Pages 7 – 32
“, mathematics textbooks intermingled with biographies of Dickens and Einstein and Chekhov, and an opera singer called Farinelli, a castrato who was a star of Handel’s operas.”
This is a satisfyingly chunky book with rough paper pages making me feel I am about to read a popular blockbuster I would normally eschew. But it immediately captivates me with the ‘before’ and the ‘since’ of two sisters and the older man they laughed about as young girls, a man (a maths teacher) who carried around a Japanese fish and acted or looked peculiar. The backstory is his, but it’s the girls’, too. With a sudden breach or rift where, from our point of view, one sister Julie vanishes (“Her absence defined her.”) leaving the other called Selena as if she is the on-going life of the book’s main protagonist. A life about which we learn. Including, today, watching Antiques Road Show on TV, wherein a ‘broach’ is discussed, not a ‘brooch.’
I will not itemise the plot in detail for fear of spoilers.
But I am already convinced this is the sort of novel I shall find both inspiring and entertaining.
By the very nature of gestalt real-time reviewing, there may be inadvertent plot spoilers if you read my review as a preview.
Pages 33 – 57
“The lad she fancied was called Ethan Crossley. He ran cross-country instead of playing football and he was in the chess club.”
Crossley, Cross, Chess, nothing ‘salient’ to see in that sentence except chance. Just as Julie’s vanishing without anything salient to report about the last time she was seen, to use Selena’s ‘salient’ word put in her mouth as it were by the author – or vice versa?
The ordinary details, meanwhile, of girlhood and later life all ring true and glow beautifully, transcending such minutiae of reading. This continues captivatingly to flow along, but I wonder if there are salient things I am missing. Ordinary things that are secretly significant. The compelling character of the Russian woman who employs Selena to sell diamonds (cf the brooch earlier). S’s need to learn gemmology. Watching ‘Stars in Their Eyes’ on TV. A back office that has the feeling of arriving on another planet. How a little unnoticed thing could change a whole gestalt. Or a big thing like Julie vanishing. Or finding that she hadn’t vanished at all?
I find myself in suspense to read the next chapter straightaway. A good sign. (I am however eking out my savouring of this book.)
Pages 58 – 87
“Like pressing a button and sending time forward. The things we normally never notice, because they happen so slowly.”
As you can see, I could not resist taking up this book again today. Absolutely absorbed by the considerations of meeting someone you were so close to a couple of decades ago, scrying the differences, toying with the guiltiness you could thrust upon them, all interspersed with regrouping in your mind the whodunnit circumstances surrounding the original rift and comparing them with what now fills the rift.
The present and the absent that define our Earth planet as Raft. My thought, not the book’s.
I am thoroughly grabbed by this book. But I am still determined to allow things to happen slowly, reasons for whatever caused things to happen in the past to evolve even if they never happened at all?
I almost imagined weeping at the mention of the coq au vin that may have been thrown in the bin all those years before….
Pages 87 – 115
“There would always be that gap.”
Selena watches vaguely hopeful salient documentaries relevant to kidnapping, distaff slavery, those famous cases of which we are all aware, as in some hopeful vaguebooking connection with the Julie ‘jump’ as it were. As well as our following Selena’s scavenging the salvage of a dead Dad’s detritus. His own wild Valiant Razalia investigations (btw, that excellent diptych novel of a box of SF or Fortean documents may well be connected to this novel?), her deceased Dad’s attempts to explicate the Julie glitch, Julie-then, Julie-now, that even with her return has not yet been solved. Her own deceased Dad’s shortcomings. I, too, as a Dad myself, have much detritus for my kids to clear up! This book so far is a personal journey as well as a great novel in itself. Survivor guilt, notwithstanding. Select a future. Xenometallurgy. Scheisse. One learns a lot from a simple following of this novel. Becoming one with documentary parts of someone’s gestalt now being hawled away in a skip or jump. Trapped in or abducted from the wrong life?
“Fish tank/aquarium, plastic (1)”
Pages 116 – 132
It seems right to fall asleep on a phone to someone on the other side of this Earth, as long as the other one realises and hangs up. The “tiny salient detail” was that he was there and not here. He was a bit of an intrusion, for me, anyway, Selena’s ex called Johnny unexpectedly ringing her from Kuala Lumpur. As a reader, I want to keep Selena to myself. Intrigued as I am by her investigating her late Dad’s Brillo box of documents, one of which documents seems to prove something about her sister’s state of being ‘missing’ (a word weighed like a stone ready for skimming)?
We now reach a part of the book that’s headed ‘A Voyage to Arcturus’, this being a book I read in my younger days and can remember little about. The author was David Lindsay I recall. But there follows a mention of a film I know well, the one called ‘Picnic at Hanging Rock’ (there was a significant split rock in Lowry’s UNDER THE VOLCANO that I finished reviewing only a few days ago) and I now I magine the rift in a hanging rock where the girls vanished, a hiatus, a breach, a broach, a breeches birth, all of the things that the film of ‘Picnic’ summons up, with my once having real-time reviewed the actual book here, the book that preceded that film, the book, yes, by Joan LINDSAY!
Real-time reviewing in Hanging Rock time…
Pages 133 – 164
“I know you won’t believe me, but I’m going to tell you anyway: on Saturday July 16th…”
You will believe me, however, by just glancing above at the date, that this is 15th July. And I wondered if I had skipped or jumped or leap-frogged a day, too, a day early. But then I realised that today IS a Saturday, after all, just a glitch away from the truth, then.
And I imagine a world as convincingly studied and constructed as the Dream Archipelago, but of course different to those islands, if aligned to a similar world by means of a rift to a rift, and again different for every reader by means of the day they decide to read these pages? Entering these pages is like Julie entering her own ‘missing’ story. A story or stone poised to be skimmed like a star or several stones or stars, derived from a simple childhood phobia of black holes? One star where she now lands as if from rift to rift? Raft to raft. Each a Venn diagram. Selena, as reader now, listens silently to the new constructed world. A gradual of salient realisation.
“There was a strange word printed across it – Marillienseet – and a tiny delicate engraving of a fish.” Contains the word ‘salient.’ And evokes Kayleigh. Also, I have mentioned in many earlier gestalt real-time reviews my phobia that books change their text overnight when resting.
Real life has intervened and there may be some delay before resuming this review.
Pages 165 – 205
“How do you know which books will turn out to be important to you, until you’ve encountered them?”
Some books, for me, are parthenogenetic like creefs, growing inside you until they take you over.
I am not sure yet whether this book has yet entered my own rift as a creef, but it’s certainly one where its gestation is a gestaltion in the terms of my real-time reviewing, where cohering or hawling, as I call it, extracts from the creef of an alternate world (although alternate world is the wrong expression) is taking over this book by dint of other books’ fragments (with build up of alien characters and sexual longings) and Julie’s inter-narration for her sister Selena, a sister who she tells someone in the creef book is a brother! We learn about the shimmer between the creef book within the book that is my creef book, a shimmer between the creef world and the world where Julie lives in Coventry, estranged from her family, living there with her sexual longings, Sapphic ones, etc.
And I’ve not even mentioned Urfe Station. I used to run a sort of pirate radio station in my waking-dreams mind as a child, and that was years before Radio Caroline started in 1964 near to where I lived then!
I am still suffering delays in my reviewing.
Pages 206 – 234
Is it an accident that the word ‘creef’ rhymes with ‘grief ‘ and the two words are used here in one sentence? Followed closely by a sentence where ‘creef’ and ‘rife’ are included? So I was not surprised that there shortly followed a sentence with ‘creef’ and ‘rift’ included. It seems this is writing itself, para-story within para-story within para-story, the deepest within including a ‘Handmaid’s Tale’ type enacted coitus of three as if writing about imagining your own participation in it is tantamount to creating it for real. Imagining the couple in actual coitus as siblings? A fiction that builds truth in this way travels back through levels of retrocausal belief and disbelief. Deploying the tragedies and joys of life’s relationships as a complex piece of word music. I personally factor in things like the red coated girl from Schindler’s List (a film that is mentioned) and a passing reference to ‘The Birds’ reminding me of ‘Don’t Look Now’. I also remember mention of Coventry Cathedral and now a pendant with the visually disturbing creature within it that is given to Julie, a pendant that one day may appear on the ‘Antiques Road Show’, or visualising Julie coming out of the dramatic clouds (as someone famous she is made to resemble) in ‘Stars in Their Eyes’? Like and unalike equally helping to form a gestalt of fictional truth by creef accretion.
Pages 235 – 262
“Would a monster feel excited by its victim’s terror, or sick to its stomach? Sick at the thought of the things it’s going to have to do before its prey stops screaming.”
We return to that day in July, a few days ago, that was also so significant to me, as it was to Julie. As we follow Julie, masquerading under the name Selena, submitting herself to a sort of voluntary abduction by a man in a van. But that of course is not the whole story, with disingenuous links (by the omniscient freehold author trying to reclaim her text?) to previous musical and other tropes. I am withholding certain things as gestalt reviewer, until I can summarise the whole gestalt without revealing blatant plot spoilers, but I must mention, vis à vis the Fish trope, a new reference, one to Ted Hughes’ poem Pike. I know a tench is not a pike, but they are similar. One of the most significant questions in literature: “Is it a Tench?” as asked by John Cowper Powys in his ‘Glastonbury Romance’, who himself, judging by that novel, had inferred abductive links with alien worlds aloft. There is also a ‘story’ shown to us disingenuously by the freehold author, one that Julie wrote at college, reminding me (if my memory is good enough?) of some of Nina Allan’s own early 20th century themes in some previous works I have reviewed. I hope I am not astray here, too.
As an aside among many others I could bring to your attention, Julie’s sexuality as a young girl is central to this work, and here in parallel with that visualisation in an inner book of this book I mentioned above, she visualises her best girl friend with an ‘angel’ boy.
Google – is it a tench cowper powys – for references to this crucial question, particularly the Margaret Reid reference, significant to The Rift, I contend,
Pages 263 – 285
I am glad the book now links Julie’s ‘alien’ pendant with the Antiques Road Show as I did earlier! Selena’s persecution or anxiety dreams following Julie’s story will, I guess, haunt my own now. The documentary evidence from newspapers etc. as to Julie’s ‘abduction’ or, even, once suspected murder, and the whodunnit list of possible culprits and their motives and passions are ideal for a gestalt real-time review as this book itself is a gestalt real-time review. Since I have been doing these since 2008, I have been wondering whether they have influenced any writers in the way they write books? Andy Cox has already publicly said that they influence the way he programmes the various stories in his magazine anthologies, Black Static and Interzone …. both of those magazine titles, incidentally, being attuned to the Rift itself? And Nina Allan writes wonderful articles for Interzone.
Meanwhile, we wonder if Julie’s story about alien abduction is madness or guile, Valiant Razalia or Narnia, mysticism of Powys or just a fiction mystery? Marillions or Millions, Black Holes or Birds on thrumming wires. Stars in their Eyes or Blind Date.
Is it a Tench or Pike? Picnic the film or Picnic the book? (The latter has an alternative last chapter that is not in the film.)
Pages 286 – 320
“…a difficult image to dispel once it had wandered in.”
Or creefed in? You begin to know that feeling, particularly with this book. And with the books and stories or documents within it. A feeling later now containing the question of whether madness is catching. There is a moment in these latest pages which is shocking, a moment of declaration with regard to missing people and then finding these missing people again, shocking, yet I now realise that I half-expected it. However deadpan events become, however deadpan they are described, they can still conceal a packed punch. The sax riff bleeding into the outer edges of the Milky Way, notwithstanding. Soapstone box or rosebush, too. (That’s rosebush, not rosebud to which it just autocorrected.) Sapphic manipulation or no intimacy whatsoever. An alien that might be me. Watching a video on tuna fish.
Pages 321 – 352
“She speaks in the same offhand way as when she was telling me about the silverwing. It is as if she is tired of telling her story, bored with it, almost.”
From a reminder of the older man (maths teacher) at the beginning of this book with the Koi Carp (a fish, I gather, with my own review pride, very related to the Tench!) and a reference to watching a film about a shoe, a film somehow that vaguely reminds me of a stray shoe in “Number 9″… we reach another document, the diary of the xenometallurgist woman (friend of Selena’s Russian boss), passages that represent one of those reading experiences that is completely compelling and unputdownable, as Julie takes the pendant to show this woman…however deadpan or ‘offhand’ Julie’s delivery, complete with throwaway mention of Shoe Lake….
The Jewellery Orphans, notwithstanding,
I am seriously beginning to think this book is what JCP had preternaturally in mind when he asked “Is it a Tench?” in a 1933 published book of Mystic connection from stars to man and back again.
Pages 353 – 384
“…each a single second’s reminder of a world that has vanished or of a future that can now never happen.”
The relationship between the sisters, Selena and the rediscovered Julie, ebbs and flows as does our knowledge of the skimmed ‘missing’ of Julie, and Selena’s Russian lady’s backstory factored into an evocative visit to Amsterdam, a city with an alien feel in itself. All intriguing grist to the mill of accretive various general connections and fishy tropes (catfish and rainfish being too close to comfort for me to tench in my own believability of alien forces at work even here in my gestalt review let alone in the book itself!) Grist or rift, as we retrack to the genius loci of the lake where Julie was said to be rifted all those years ago…
I envy people like Selena and her Mum in their ordinary world beyond the reach of such rifts and tenches. It’s a burden for me to carry: a too easy believability in self and in preternaturalism, which essentially this book, for me, is about. I wish I could make do with just ‘movie versions’ of life. (Cf Picnic with Picnic, though.) Movies with found-footage wobbly lenses, et al. Sleeping Beauty, notwithstanding. Hansel and Gretel, creefing back?
Video of carp, tench, pike and catfish: https://youtu.be/U0mXonA9npo
“Could a story change a place?”
Pages 384 – 418
“The lay-by was dank, greenish-grey, edged with trees. A nowhere place.”
A nowhere book, too? The gestalt of various documents as well as more wrap-around narrative and collation by the freehold author, about the two sisters, the ‘missing’ of one of them skimmed fictionally at us like a stone or planet, a perfect balance of possibilities as to what really happened, none of which I shall divulge here. I sense this is the optimum book for which my hawling, my dreamcatching, my gestalt real-time reviewing techniques and (dare I say?) skills have been deployed since 2008. I have been waiting for it. Maybe it has somehow been waiting for me. Ricocheted towards me at the right time, at the precise moment of potential rift in my own life. A rift now hopefully healed. At least for a precious while. That mention of Mr Rustbucket, notwithstanding.
This is a nowhere book, “a nothing-looking volume […] that falls down the back of the shelf without you realising,” falling there despite its blockbuster substance of physique, but, equally, somehow I know or at least imagine its freehold narrative force is of alien birth itself. Born from and with True Grit. And a book indeed of substance, collated by connections. Rift and trench.
“Until all the the appropriate tests have proved positive, the identity of the substance you have in front of you remains open-ended, a series of probabilities.”
As an aside, precisely at the moment I finished reviewing this book, Suffolk Police announced on TV that they are giving up the search for the missing RAF Airman, the trail ‘growing cold’ at a landfill site that they searched for a number of months.
Later this afternoon I played ‘Message in a Bottle’ by Police.
Cross-referenced The Migration by Helen Marshall here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2019/03/07/the-migration-helen-marshall/#comment-15058