14 thoughts on “I Will Surround You – Conrad Williams


    “I knew my knots and could tie them blindfold.”

    An intriguing, ultimately insidious, musing by a man of his own past, and his study and eventual consumption of roadkill he trawls.
    That mention of blindfold may be significant?
    A fine prelude, darkly flesh-and-bloodiness oxymoron of precise/inchoate. And the equivalent duplicity sometimes of politeness.


    “Off the Earth layered like mille-feuille. Generations compacted.”

    Caveat: I shared with this author the contents list of the now legendary fiction zine DEMENTIA 13 in the late 1980s. Meanwhile, I can safely say, objectively, that this is a great story. One that at one moment seems to be fused with warm glue and the next clear and cold as a snowy Uk city street. “STATIC BLACK” counterpointed with a tattoo as both an indelible skin stain and a steady throb of a giant pile driver. The arcane communion wafers as pages of rare books, as well as stiff sheaves of print with designs for tattoos whence to choose or eschew. And a believable male protagonist, now single after a relationship, on the brink of a relationship with Lisl the tattooist. And much more that will find basement libraries in your own brain. Loved it. And, from ‘Manners’, it also deploys and extends the flaying and flensing oxymoron of precise/inchoate.

  3. I previously reviewed this story and below is what I wrote then in its context HERE:



    In itself a compelling story with a man aspiring via imagined graphic body innards towards a career as a surgeon – Jeffrey Siddall, a peripatetic labourer all his life, gradually being re-absorbed by memories, as he synchronistically merges into the area of the school of his 1970s childhood, his mates, his teachers, and the girl’s life he tried to save by amateur revivalist gutting during school dinners. Who had stayed, and who had escaped?
    But, miraculously, it also follows each of the patterns of the VHL and RP stories, the metamorphosis as autonomous surgery, and the rite of passage across the lake of time back to the home where he began, to rescue himself or the girl who had vanished across that lake before him? Not Alison, but Jen?
    Or Jeff? Closure as satisfying finitude or calmative darkness?

    Also the pattern of the MR…
    Was he wicked? Was he good?

  4. F79D95B2-8A29-42F0-948D-C245A308A8E9This is my long-term pareidoliac Yieldingtree that has accompanied my photographs for many years. But I am not a real photographer: I know nothing about apertures such as f/8, unlike Tommy in…


    “There was a smell, he felt, of something organic and flawed, like the metallic edge that was present in a cancer ward, or delivery room.”

    Yesterday, in a concurrent real-time review here, there was synchronously also a significant smell of a cancer ward, literally so. Here, Tommy, made bereft by his father’s recent death by cancer, and his now estranged wife’s loss of their baby in delivery. Agonising and powerful passages here about his own photographic compulsion of pareidolia, including that tree, I guess, and messages, following being riven by lightning himself during a night shoot. Post-visions of guilt and inscrutable burial, his burial or his doing? I cannot explain everything. I would not wish to do so. Another classic weird fiction, one about Fate (f/8?) and framed or figure-freighted planes… (cf “freight Jumbos”)… I will surround you?

  5. I read and reviewed the next story in July 2015 as follows –


    image“You can’t show a child that. You can’t be afraid.”

    Crossing themes with the threatened or enhanced child from the involving-impasto effects of painting as locked in a previous Nightjar of various colours, this wonderful story is of an artist, naive like Henri Rousseau, who lives in the ‘homeskull’ of a one bedroom flat with working-at-home wife, and a toddler son Fred.image This protagonist is, for me, physically paranoiac, if there is such an expression. Scared of his own shadow? Overly protective. The eventuality of a jungle adventure gymnasium to shelter from the rain with Fred, as crossed with a nightmare version of the first painting he had not been able to sign, makes a fitting climax to all seven reviews of Nightjars I have just conducted one by one in real-time.


    “You’ll hear it in Hendrix and Black Sabbath. But you’ll also hear it in Liszt and Wagner.”

    There is a lot darkly going on in this relatively short story that is not made explicit, not even explicit to its own protagonist whose point of view we follow at one narratively imposed remove, and I’ll leave you to find it all, whether sheathed or unsheathed. You will need to stretch your fingers superhumanly on the fret, after fiddling with your plectrum, to reach the story’s base chord or interval. I love music but I know nothing about its technicalities, even less perhaps than I know about professional photography or surgery of roadkill. But this story will surround you with its chords, Jimi Hendrix’s or not. Its precise/inchoate oxymoron. This middle aged enthusiast still learning to play the guitar, his coping with bullying, in his own respect and perhaps that of a younger self?


    I am afraid I could not get on with this novelette. My fault.
    A plainly narrated horror story about a recently and tragically widowed man in his seventies holidaying in the Channel Islands. The holiday ‘cottage’ is a previous Nazi occupied Fort. He is sharing it with a married couple and their young son. Take it from there…. And tell me what you think.


    “The end was never the end. We were all passengers in transit.”

    I quite enjoyed this journey by Don to relive the car journey that eneded as the crash in which he and his wife were involved, and she and her snow globe being destroyed while he survived with no damage, no damage except guilt and perhaps a few glass nicks still sinking under his skin unseen. As part of spelunking scenes into which he is enticed by a fellow hotel guest, I sense this is a broad blend of the book’s earlier guitar lessons and photographic apertures… with telling emotional elements. Our planet and soul as one domed or damned irrigability. I will surround you.

  9. 31DC4217-7600-4065-BEC8-944B292E29E9


    “Fearne gazed out at the compressed edge of sea, like a beaded line of hot solder.”

    Fearne is 13, on her own cusp girls of that age understand, at the cusp or turn or offing of a seaside, an entropy of salt and sand, but in which direction is the offing? IMAG0703Intensely, darkly evocative, as she spends a break here with her flighty mother, one who purports to be an amateur jeweller, one of precision or not, and her photographer father, whose creeping vanishment is some cusp, too, between Dirk Bogarde on the beach at the end of ‘Death in Venice’ and a modern Dad, between tide and no tide. Something even more inchoate impends, though, beginning to surround you … a truly affecting story, on the optimum cusp between the morb-o in the horror genre and the stuffy dryness of literary restraint, a restraint in its own cusp with the richly elaborate. The beige towels, notwithstanding.

    “…a set of steps, the lower risers of which were disappearing into the sand,…”

  10. THE FOX

    “The child is father to the man. Well, yeah, maybe. The child is also a hideous stranger.”

    A well-written, slightly Lawrencian account of the father’s teenage backstory, and now his family’s holiday camping near a farmhouse in the New Forest area, him, his wife, two daughters: baby and an older sister. Surprisingly cold enough to turn Siberian. A story that was eventually too neatly parcelled for me, of a past influencing the present in a dark and bloody way.
    One stand-out image of his wife’s eye.


    “It was as if death had upset him so much that he had the time to sit down against the foot of the bed and cry into his chest about it.”

    …almost as if he imagines his own widow’s chest the smoked kippers instead of her lungs? Things that might even outlive cremation!
    On the surface, a brilliant-in-itself portrait of that widow, a woman suffering encroaching age, missing her husband with mixed feelings, the repercussions of a lifetime’s smoking (my own grandma always had a smouldering fag stuck to her lower lip), suffering, too, the modernity of Facebook life these days, that of her daughter and son-in-law, different standards, different dangers, different fears. And her six year old grandson she often looks after and today takes on an eventually frightening officially guided tour of Manchester Under the Ground… Full of telling expressions and descriptions, that I recognise in a new crepitating light from my own 70 years of life. Almost a constructive, very slightly absurdist, caricature of such feelings, and events. To such an extent, this work really captured the characterful, sporadically black-humorous, blackened tar of an eventually terrifying allegory of death itself.


    “It seemed that death came easily to some people, whereas others died awkwardly, or with difficulty.”

    Shaddertown’s death of a grandmother merges with the death throes of another grandmother here. This work seems to incorporate the book’s guitars and photography, too, with the gestalt Lawrencian prehensility of ‘The Fox’, and ‘Manners’, here birds, Ted Hughes sharp birds, alongside a young man’s point of view having sex with a prehensile woman called Dervla. Followed she was towards public toilets by all manner on men, meanwhile. Prey and predator, combined. A story of Endism in everything. Death in control, surrounding you. As a work, it was not my cup of tea, its sometimes staccato sharpness of raptor rather than rapture and its raunchiness all off-putting. The story’s first sentence was: “We fucked once.”

  13. CWTCH

    “It was as if the wood had lungs and he had detected the rhythm of its breathing.”

    …in telling contrast to this book’s erstwhile kipper lungs of some old people who chain-smoked when it was fashionable to do so.
    This work is a classic camping story, one that ‘The Fox’ would have been if it had not been so neatly parcelled between past and present. Here, we need to consider all variations of what happened then and now as well as the choice of words as synonyms used to unparcel it. Bridging the devil’s interval of future with past. [Together with the concept of ‘rust ghosts’, one for any writer to die for.]
    A Grandpa-type goes camping on his own to a silence-friendly site without children. But the disturbances in the night about which he plans to complain represent only one variation of an expressed nostalgia for his childhood camping holidays to Wales when his parents told him to share sweets with his twin sister Mo. An essentially disturbing connection to and fro across that interval of time. A remarkable work caught between words and worlds.

  14. RAIN

    “The shriek of prey or predator in the garden.”

    A novelette somehow infiltrated not by Somerset Maugham but by Georges Simenon. This work is utterly utterly disturbing, an inchoate fiction that starts with precise identity, a workmanlike build up of characters as any well-constructed fiction should develop, a father and mother who started off as school sweethearts with a sort of awakening foreplay DURING a biology lesson! That was perhaps a first clue that this was not what it seemed. Now with a four year old boy, they are drifting apart but still together, decamped to their leaky property in France, and a rainstorm that will actually eat you up with its ferocity and length. Attritional to the nth degree. This is amazing stuff, as I go through it all again. Real, whole, but fractured like the little boy’s head after…. after what? If I continue madly working my way through it for you, plot spoilers will accrue, I fear. But I fear a lot more. There was early on no text break between being in the French house after building a bonfire for the boy outside it and a previous burglary in England, making the two scenes seem to flow together. At another point, there is the possible misuse in the text of the word ‘immanent’ instead of ‘imminent’, but I do know the first version means God surrounding you…. And there is a reference to the word ‘endometriosis’, so significant in my own family’s life, something spreading from us into one of those we created. Or was it in her all the time? I was mightily affected by much of this inchoate/precise tour de force and I cannot possibly convey all its twists and turns; it just seems perfect to end this book’s symphony. I keep my powder dry about it. However much it rains. See how far it spreads…

    “—his mind offered as an insane coda—“


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