18 thoughts on “She Sleeps – R.B. Russell


    “As I wiped up a cup on my dressing-gown (it was more hygienic than the tea-towel), there was a knock at the back door.”

    Engaging and intriguing unscribbling from over characters, just out of studentship but still smoking joints in a house share, a backing band, just been deafened the night before by the music from their first LP (also to be CD and cassette? dating it?), Lawrence, the narrator, querying the use on the LP cover of his suitcaseful of photos, scribbled over to hide identities…
    One of the songs – written by would-be FaberBooks poet, Lawrence – ‘She Sleeps’, and we dabble with his striking backstory… scribbled over here in this review to prevent spoilers….
    This first chapter of scribbling and unscribbling making me now forget what the italicised prologue had been about. Chasing or being chased, the act of running away still being running away whichever direction is chosen?


    ‘I’m envious,’ said Simon. ‘I’ve always thought of a record as a magical, self-contained world; the artwork, even the liner notes are a part of it. And now you’re actually responsible for one. Can I blag a copy?’

    I am really drawn into this book, into the times of our past that I predicted above, in the Sheffield of those days that I didn’t predict, a concept album with fore- or retro-taste of Scott Walker and others? Or not a concept album but discrete songs without a gestalt? And L’s current romance working for his lover Xanthe in her record shop. And L’s backstory of love and whatever that is his true concept album? With some scribbled over photos, give or take such album artwork’s connection with his backstory?
    Scratches on the run-in groove, notwithstanding. No spoilers, either.


    “Like my diary, music acted as a kind of time machine.”

    As we follow L, we gather more about him, the people around him, the people in his past, his nagging urge about complaining to the LP’s acclaimed lead singer Richie about the photos used in the cover artwork, and a glimpse (concerning a warm coat in the cold) of inter-gender mœurs in the days when new-fangled CDs, vinyl LPs and cassettes were in temporary co-existence, a photographic image of such mœurs today in 2018?
    With Richie’s album, we are invited to believe the lyrics were written by L with gaps to fill in to complete its concept or gestalt – as a parallel with this novel’s own tantalising overtures to the reader regarding itself?


    “We’re in a weird limbo with music right now.”

    I wonder how significant it is that Mark E. Smith passed yesterday in real-time? How it will affect my reading, now that I have met Richie and seen some more of the extrapolation of the music scene in this novel’s time era.
    Meanwhile, I gather ‘She Sleeps’ itself will be the single taken from the album. And I yearn to listen to it. This chapter they play the music live in a club and build characters, too. As if real life only started at the beginning of this book and is now playing out, gradually, as it were, towards some gestalt of L’s past and his now potential future as the writer of this album’s lyrics. Pity his camera, today, seems to have broken. In those days, any photos were more significant because they were more difficult to produce and were often mounted as things?


    “…as though I was hauling a whole load of misery up the hill with me.”

    A strong sense of time, can’t check the place, though. Thatcher’s mentioned once. I appear in the novel as an old man toting, to sell in Xanthe’s record shop, a lucky dip of sixties records. I sense that the novel’s central concept album has an aura of sixties music, at least? That is my era. It surely must be me.
    And the equivalent lucky-dip suitcaseful of L’s ‘cynical archive’ of old photos is returned to L. L and his lyrics seem a talking point in the music press…
    I should not re-rehearse here the plot as it unwinds, but rest assured it is intriguingly compelling and believable. And I am also learning much about a pop or rock music era outside my own. I love classical music, too. Just an old man laying his cards on the table… I am also a current listener of BBC Six Music and I accidentally heard a mention of this very novel by RB Russell on The Freak Zone the Sunday before last. Honestly. I mentioned it at the time on my Facebook.

    • Thanks, that’s beautiful. And context-enlightening. Catching me with its electronic alert in the middle of reading the next chapter. This, for me, is the essence of gestalt real-time reviewing, triangulating what is on the page from the past while using the present as containing meaningful events of preternatural force.


    “…unconventional chord changes affected a listener’s reaction to music.”

    Just positively experienced that with regard to literature, too!
    A gamut of music names, further glimpses of L’s relationships, and his own piecemeal accretion of lyrical significance within the literal gestalt of the new album and its concept. Only by being sensitive to such phenomena can we understand the power of image-, sound-, poetic- and digital-retention, for example blending formats such as CD, vinyl and cassette, a unique conflux in one moment of time. Thinking aloud.

    “…how there is such a thing as a good tune, and there are good lyrics, but it is only when they’re both brought together that the result is a truly great song.”


    “I didn’t really know London, except with reference to the multi-coloured map of the Underground. I negotiated the system as I always did—without any real knowledge of how the area where I arrived related to any other parts of the city.”

    A bit like life, the tension between a set of inchoate intentions below and those more specific ones above, give or take the help of Harry Beck’s map or that of any author setting a course of events and motives for his or her apparently autonomous narrator. For other tensions, too, such as between exploitation and catharsis. And for those would-be story-controllers circling around to set up other motives, other tensions, those storifiers in the body of the text trying to open up a story within it for their own exploitations and catharses, storifiers set upon their own headlines in pre-‘social media’ newspapers. The tensions seem to radiate throughout every character as they all strive for their own agenda. The tension of whether Richie is still an acclaimed singer or one that needs to chase his own storifiers rather than the storifiers chasing him. A whole future set in 1980s aspic waiting to break out into the fake news and multi-stories of today. And, of course, the more specific tension inferred within young L’s increasingly tragic backstory, perhaps still in flux. And, for this novel, between whether Dead Smiles as an awakening or She Sleeps merely.


    “This is like a great boulder starting to roll down the hill—we can’t stop it now. It’s gaining momentum, but we might be able to deflect it; to change its direction.”

    A few quotes here, so as to form an unspoiling, unspooling gestalt, as I reach halfway in this novel, compellingly, simply told – as well as an allusive, elusive and illusive tale of a time and its music, of conscience and repressed memory.

    “‘She is very pretty.’
    His use of the present tense endeared me to him.”

    Or ‘him to me’? Even the text trips itself up as to its own preterite of the preinternet perception. A tale, too, of fake news and exploitation, still in an infancy when compared to today.

    “It seems to have grown into its role as backdrop to tragedy.”

    Of inferred eeriness. A promotional stunt beyond the sixties’ strawberry fields, now in the eighties’ concept of the man in the woods, woods close to the conjoined and half-disguised school and residential buildings with exhumed faces of a relatively recent backstory’s presumed tragic innuendo.

    “There’s enough of a story here without making anything up…”

  9. CHAPTERS XII, XIII & (first half of) XIV

    “‘No, it was a lucky composition,’ I replied. ‘It helps that the subject is photogenic.’”

    I wrote somewhere above: ‘I should not re-rehearse here the plot as it unwinds,…’, only to find that Richie and his band (including L) have been rehearsed or rehearsed themselves to answer questions in a press conference, about their new album, its cover and lyrics, echoing the tragic events from L’s previous life, events that hit the newspapers five years before.
    Seeking by deliberation the optimum publicity for the album from chance or once faulty decisions.

    “He paused and I knew that he was giving television editors the opportunity to take that part out:”

    “But, ladies and gentleman, that photo is becoming iconic in its own way, with or without the scribble over it.”

    Like a different photo, the one L took of Richie in the bar and managed by the skin of its teeth to retrieve from a terminally damaged camera, and serendipity and chance, as well as deliberation, seem to constitute a very strong hybrid power in all lives.
    Relationships in real-time as well as frozen photos. A palimpsest of scribble and script.

  10. CHAPTERS XIV (second half) & XV

    “It was quietly but efficiently raining.”

    L’s passing epiphany and, for me, a jigsaw still coming together, a tying of links within the gestalt tragedy or discrete tragedies that the pandora’s box of the album has released, supposedly secret poems now released, later reconciling either coincidences or means with ends, and odd images like that quiet rain which gets heavier later, L’s family and their own potential lies, the home his parents changed without his permission as it were, then ‘fake shutters and plastic porticos’, a man falling off a Hastings roof, and the rage implied by L’s wounded hand (was there not a ‘useless hand’ all that time ago in the Prologue, or all that time into the future that should have been an Epilogue instead?)…
    But things may be simpler than my mind is somehow trying to make them?

    “I remembered that it was Quentin Crisp who had written about television purifying and sanctifying those who appeared on it…”


    “….the creak of a loose shutter, the irregular ticking of the wood-burning stove as it cooled.”

    It is almost attritional following L back and forth between London and Sheffield, and tracking the audit trail of his phone calls in and out. Today we would have on-line records of his communications, no doubt, and more information outlets than the Guardian, Mail, Mirror, Star and Sun. L is indeed a “record bore”. He is a mixture of restraint and assertiveness, and, with regard to the ends of the means, ends as rationale for everything, finding a missing person from his backstory, but do we believe him? What was his relationship with that missing person? Writing this review, I try to be laid back and worried at the same time, like L, and it’s almost like composing music and sending it out to be heard. Like those newspaper reviews of the album, with pretentious turns of phrase (“Julian Tanner’s guitar, which sends forth shimmering crystal shards with ghostly echoes that sometimes take minutes to rebound, sometimes a lifetime”), turns of phrase to bring more credit to the reviewer than to what is being reviewed! And now we react to a crucial turning-point, I guess, with the ends of those means potentially at the end of a promised phone call from a still mysterious stranger, a potential call to L about that missing person…
    This book is so page-turning, I deliberately turn aside, as L would, I am sure, from turning them … till I am ready to turn them.


    “Critics have been making a picture from jigsaw pieces that don’t necessarily relate to each other.”

    I mentioned a jigsaw earlier above, before the word jigsaw was used in this book as primary source. But you will never know what I may be leaving out of the jigsaw … unless you check the primary source, of course. That begs the question, however, of the nature of primary sources? And is this novel a primary source (with its so far dubious phone calls and handwritten letters about important facts) or is it an interpretation of a more primary ‘primary source’ one of the levels down from itself, and thus ad infinitum? I noted a minor character just now called Dawn Levels and I have been reading these chapters during the dawn.
    The nature of primary sources, yes, a thought of mine if not necessarily of this book itself, but we do genuinely have in these chapters a consideration of the nature of memory as deployed by a discussion in a radio interview. And the interaction of memory with art Aesthetics, when or if memory is re-interpreted and then re-shelved… Guernica and Chien Andalou, notwithstanding. And that L’s new girl friend, Andy, is a girl with an adopted boy’s name.

    ‘I wish we didn’t have to spend so much time going to and from each other’s houses,’ Andy said quietly.


    “…the fundamental interconnectedness of all things.”

    The plywood surfboards, notwithstanding. Also the fact that the Times Literary Supplement misspelt James Stewart’s name as ‘James Stuart’…

    Whatever one thinks of the denouement, and it is indeed exciting and page-turning, the positive side of melodramatic; there is also a nifty sense of debris created by the preinternet, where videos were still played, photos collected, the soft luggage suitcases of someone’s life kept and rarely ditched. Perhaps such debris never ever went away, with the cloud or a hard drive never being quite enough?

    L and his poems (with which we are generously gifted at the end as song lyrics)… “….incongruously bookended by images of the earth seen from space and a butterfly.”

    And another mystery always ensues. Another tragedy that makes life what it is. She sleeps or smiles. Discrete tragedies or a gestalt tragedy, is one question I have already asked above and I am not sure the apparent denouement here proves anything at all. Just another theory of chaos to be transcended. The old man who sold the sixties records, though, what happened to him? He is somehow represented by some jukebox in a pub towards the end which for me marks out some path through the woods, the audit trail of this whole intriguingly simple-but-complex book… “from ‘Itchycoo Park’ by The Small Faces to ‘Wild Thing’ by The Troggs,…”


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