A fearless faith in fiction — Employing, since 2008, a Kantian or Jungian sensibility and an ‘intentional fallacy’ consciousness — Various passions of the reading moment — Walter de la Mare, ELizabeth BOWen, ROBERT aiCKMAN and many others old and new — Please click my name below for this site’s navigation and my backstory as intermittent photographer, writer, editor, publisher & reviewer.
Part One: Shrapnel From a Broken Smile
(i) The Collector of Memories 1915
“There hasn’t been a train on that line since it closed in the 1950s,”…
From the wartime trenches, via inscrutable characters, to an aspiring alternate world in the future? I am not sure.
I do know for certain, though, that the vision evoked here evokes a hauntingly crafted language and style that in turn evokes the vision that created it. I do not pretend to yet understand the significance of the eponymous Theatre and the nearby Coffin factory.
(ii) & (iii)
“One day, I imagine we’ll all be jumbled up and not know what day it is.”
I have reviewed a number of Cate Gardner’s works before (linked from here) and I just browsed through what I wrote over four years ago about her Punch & Judy novella and I feel similar now and so far constructively part of the above quote! However, it seems appropriate that Theatre of Curious Acts was published two years before that Punch & Judy review of four years ago. Retrocausal powers now panning out?
A vision as if emerging dead or alive from the First World War trenches for Daniel, led by others, into a parallel present or a real future or an alternate future of an absurdist theatre with motley characters and much more. Suffice to say, there is something tantalisingly unique about Gardner the Cate’s work, and it is dream-incubating to the Nth degree.
Part Two: Paper Dragons
“At nineteen, Daniel felt like an old man.”
“The White Horse Inn reminded Daniel of his father. It listed to the left as the old man always did after a long session and they wore the same stale-beer aftershave.”
1918, we’re told, and I am being lured into this book, come what may. A reunion of those men from the trenches – some glimpses of the ghosts of dead ones in the theatre audience – together with what I imagine to be a preternaturally felt sense of that war’s aftermath, the sadness, re-visions of war’s horror, the character differences between the ex-soldiers, the labels on beer bottles and confectionery packages of those days, the variable nature of grief and guilt; it is almost as if we are there. Perhaps we are there. I am even visited uncannily by another book’s central character of a single crow as part of my concurrent gestalt real-time review here.
“A solemn crow, perched atop the theatre, regarded them.”
(ii) & (iii)
“Am I the only one aware of the insanity of this place? Of these women?”
If any fiction can have more Lewis than Carroll, this can! The soldiers, still youthful striplings, fall through a rip in literature from the theatre to a fairy tale sort of place where four women or girls choose between the five of them… lightsomeness hiding dark, I guess, while presenting an extraordinary and disarmingly naïve nonsense which nevertheless gives me a sense of some intrinsic meaning to grab hold of but remaining beyond my grasp. I don’t think I have ever encountered a work of fiction quite like this one. And it still remains to be seen whether I can actually stay who I am with this story ever becoming something else.
“There is a dark shadow in your words and on your heart, Daniel Cole.” She pressed her hand against his chest. “I’d hate for it to seep into your veins. You have something the others lack, a capacity for love in comparison to the fear, hate and ambition that fuels them. Your scent is intoxicating.”
This book is really bearing out my original preternatural expectation that it would be a potential past classic of weird literature. Or of Nonsense Literature, upon which it borders constructively. Gossamer delights and budding love underlain by the horrors of war. Needs to be read. My retrocausal view of a work that might in itself be either ABOUT or CAUSED BY retrocausality… naively or disarmingly so …. or at least this specific chapter within the foregoing context I have read so far promises all that. We shall see.
“And you might find your finger rotting on the road if you poke it at me or my sisters one more time,” Blanche said.
“This new enemy came in packaging intended to beguile.”
“water or whatever”
“If you followed your timelines in the proper manner, you’d realise that time is done.”
I have been defeated, but in the end it is my victory. Victory-Defeat, this book’s oxymoron? Its “sleep-monger”, amid counting his sheep mentioned, turned into my version as Weirdmonger. Wagger Market! Wagger Market! They said my stuff, that sort of Wagger Market stuff, in the old days, defeated the readers in the same way! Here, my own victory at last is letting the images flow over me and soak into some dream sump for later tapping. Let’s hope the rot lurking within the heart’s shell is just part of some gestalt that strengthens it instead of dissipating the fairy story and the potentially new mythic archetypes displayed here radiating back towards the dream sump, from the cuteness-pent dark trickery of women to the dragons and the market worm (in Spenser, Worm being another name for a dragon, I recall.) It is the boy soldiers who are naive, not this book that is naive, when they question what is happening around them in that very book that has now taken on a more ‘knowing’ look about it. The naive reader, too. Not the author.
The world around us today in itself seems to be a veritable theatre of curious acts…
“You’re not the only one who has seen things,” Daniel said. “We stand with monsters and I can only guess at their names. They told us of them in Sunday school, they warned us of them in battlefield services, they’ll carve their names at the end of the world and yet I dare not repeat them. If I choose to ignore their true forms, I do so for the sake of my sanity. I can walk beside them and think there is a way to defeat them. Haven’t we witnessed enough monstrous things?”
Forgive me for quoting so much. Or put me in a cage or sarcophagus. If I retell what happens here, you will never read this book. Obversely, if you read this so far retrospectively landmark Weird Dark-Wonderland Wagger-Market Fiction book, you would be pleased that you did and thank me for bringing it to your attention. Also, now the men encounter and are asked to perform in the eponymous theatre, a theatre now in reverse or in mirror image, that makes more sense from today that I remember my earlier mentioning retrocausality in connection with this book?
“We can speak for ourselves,” Daniel cut in. “My friends and I have no wish to perform in your play. We’ve had enough of that nonsense already.”
“For a moment, she looked crow like, her shroud visible.”
I mentioned Worm and Dragon above somewhere. Maybe not Spenser, but the Lambton Worm? https://community.dur.ac.uk/reed.ne/?page_id=2322
“In this place, there was truth to the saying you can never go back.”
But does truth lie or not lie in any one place to the exclusion of others? In one head and not another? We all feel we at least FEEL the truth. And that statement’s irony, for me, UNDERlies the soldiers’ Tontine, where one by one they attenuate. But who wins the prize of this Tontine of war, of all wars? And not only the songs of the First World but also those of other Wars impinge alongside concomitant Blakean wing-furling Angels and a boozy Boschian Inn…
“Daniel felt the same and wondered, not for the first time, if they cowered in a trench while bombs tore apart men. It would make more sense than this.”
My Facebook memory-anniversary of Hieronymous Bosch today –
(viii), (ix) & (x)
“Daniel considered this place a delayed punishment for surviving when so many other men had died.”
This is EITHER an inchoate masterpiece with an as yet undiscovered coherent significance to our times, the coordinates of which need to be triangulated by any number of gestalt real-time reviewers, a masterpiece lost within a past amorphous mass of small press publications all striving to outlast posterity OR a throwaway nightmare vision gratuitously controlled by one of the four horsewomen of the apocalypse in a moment of frenzy. Either way, it is worth having a view on it, with its Tontine of dead and dying soldiers some of whom are dredged from the lake in a bus, with disconnected descriptions of festering sores, too, plus a paper dragon that sometimes appears real in different tranches of this vision, and much more, including the numbered traintracks of time … I recall often playing in my friend’s garden during the early 1950s seeing and hearing a mighty behemoth disguised as a steam train (at the end of the garden) as its passing-by did soot-smut the clothes on the washing-line, all of them, I now suspect, pegged up containing the ghosts of those who had died a few years before in the then latest war. I have already glimpsed ahead to the following part of this book and seen that the next chapter has at its head: ‘2018 (“The end of the world was just around the corner.”)’
Part Three: Anticipating Pitchforks
“The end of the world was overdue and everyone knew it.”
Well, it seems now we know which man won the Tontine of a hundred years before, still alive, but I won’t reveal his name in case it’s a spoiler. Somehow, I am not surprised the newsreader on rolling BBC News wears an orange jacket. Nor that our Tontine winner has been invited to an ArmagedDON ‘do’ at the eponymous theatre. But do such ‘dos’ entail a dress code?
In hindsight, perhaps this would-be masterpiece of the weird should have ended here, and then it would be, should be.
(ii) to end
“Cages constructed from human ribs hung suspended six feet above the ground. He’d seen them occupied many times—by men gnawing their hands, by women digging their fingers into their ribcages—but never by a living girl.”
I think the girl has been trqpped by her own book. By a pirate ship, with some of her characters on board. Not a Tontine after all, but an invitation to have a bespoke straitjacket fitted. By other visions of the past and the past’s future. A sheer panoply of things that got to me without touching my brain, these last sections, a panoply that needs triangulating, nay, traingulating, by several gestalt real-time reviewers before assessing or hawling out its worth and significance. If it had all ended before these final sections, I would have been more happy with this work as a finished masterpiece, if a constructively ungraspable one, but now it becomes a wild monster. Seeming to point to what followed the OR above not what followed the EITHER. But I could be wrong.
I need YOU, other readers to triangulate, dreamcatch and hawl alongside me, upon what has become either its own inbuilt pirate Flying Dutchman of weird literature or simply the madness of today as we face the edge of 2017 into 2018. I admire its pluck.
I have decided to award this book with being honourably listed in this site’s Dysfunctional Room here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/dfls-list-of-constructive-literary-dysfunction/#comment-11280