28 thoughts on “The Boke of the Divill – Reggie Oliver

  1. Chapter 1
    Pages 11 – 18

    “….troubling boy bottoms, bottoms with wings…”

    I am indulged with an atmospherically witty collage of Morchester, some of its characters and thoroughfares, the film crew, the Very Reverend Dean’s dreams, his wife &c. … all dead-centred upon the rare eponymous book…book within this book with some names pseudonymous if not nemonymous, including the town’s bookshop keeper…


    A book of over 220 pages, with artwork announced as by Santiago Caruso, but that also reminds me of artwork I reviewed here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2016/09/26/the-hauntings-at-tankerton-park-by-reggie-oliver/
    And with my assessed timbre of literature that I already sense may be as side or bottom splitting as the author’s ‘Virtue in Danger’ reviewed here in 2013: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2013/07/02/virtue-in-danger-by-reggie-oliver/

  2. Pages 18 – 25

    “He was a composer known to people interested in modern classical music…”

    (Count me in.) So far this is literally crammed with characters and incidents, and private marital and ecclesiastical intrusions, into sex and dreams and church politics and hierarchies and competing modern secular delving into perhaps what should remain hidden. Including a film crew where (Cut) is called from time to time. The search for the Boke with a stylishly scatological and crudely eschatological tale-telling texture. And a filled ancient well. And two women, in the film crew, one the organ grinder, the other the monkey, as it were. It is the latter who has found some path to dark discovery? (Cutbirth)
    [BTW, I loved the Reverend Gary’s wife’s dream of a labyrinth of doors and a naked squat human-like thing, from which dream she seems disappointed being woken?]

  3. Chapter 2

    ‘’Course it’s a bloke. I’m not a fucking les, en’ I?’”

    Bloke or Boke, this book is so far utterly reprehensible but full of rich pastiches of antiquity’s palimpsest of words and historical / ecclesiastical references plus angry satires on today’s mœurs and human fallibilities of all classes. I infer the anger, by the way. I feel the hilarity under the anger. Despite my normally holding onto the literary theory of Intentional Fallacy….

    “‘Anselm’s Ontological Argument.’
    ‘Nah. It’s crap, Kel. Anselm! Fucking wanker, if you ask me.’”

  4. A18D6439-B39E-41D6-8946-881585C078BC
    Chapter 3

    “…’done from the death rather than from life.’ The skin had been painted white, with a slight yellow tinge, the cheeks were sullen and gaunt and — a rather troubling detail —“

    Emma (my aforementioned ‘monkey’ assistant to the ‘organ grinder lady director of the film crew) reads (and so we read with her) one of her discoveries in the books she bought, here a long eye-witness account of events and their then backstory in the 19th century centring on Morchester Cathedral. Dealing with the fulfilling of a Deanish inheritance, the moving of monuments, a sense of interfering popery, uxorious admonitions, a ‘building’ of Rooks, and much else, and – WHETHER it is the madness of whoever wrote this account as narrative leaseholder of Emma who is in turn a narrative leaseholder protagonist of the freehold author (be that God, the Devil (Divill) or the man with his name on the outer spine of THIS book (this book or Boke with interior artwork, a photo I have just shown (alongside) being of one of its interior artworks (the only one I intend to show in my review) assigned on the copyright page to yet another name), THIS MADNESS I sense, plus previously perceived anger and hilarity, is as if it is a mad (but equally skilful) version of a MR James who has now written at least some of it, including the article Emma has discovered and which she has just allowed us to read at length. Much of my preoccupation so far with this Boke co-resonates with the Rooks and clinical treatment of madness in something I very recently finished reviewing here, called THE FEATHERED BOUGH (something also with striking interior artwork).

    • CC0235F8-5AC8-4954-9EBF-D6A2186E7FD8
      Based on the evidence of my previous experience with the Reggie Oliver canon of works (here), I assess that the interior artwork on separate pages is arguably by Reggie Oliver himself, the copyright page being a misunderstanding or typo.

  5. Chapter 4

    “I Googled you.”

    There are many characters, events, antique pastiches or real inspired evocations of past texts or real past texts, for all I know, all crammed head to toe, with felicitous passages of vintage Oliver, and frightening MR Jamesian glimpses. With such things hitting modernity head on. Amid a slowly evolving threat of unknown proportions. So far, for me, not so organic as the author’s ‘Virtue in Danger’ novel, which is a pity. I found my eyes sliding over parts of this collage of crammings. Maybe they went into my brain, though, and the eventual gestalt will prevail? The Millais portrait hangs over the whole text, I guess. The music, too, in various forms. And the aesthetic physical books in interface with googling. (Yesterday I read and reviewed (here) another reprehensible work (one by David Erik Nelson) where the sentence “I Googled it” became a madness of repetition.) This Boke itself is a case study to study for its own signs of madness about madness. Out on its own limb … or feathered bough?
    In this chapter, we learn that the bookseller from whom Emma obtained books, was earlier involved with some plagiarism scandal.

  6. Chapter 5

    “‘Life of prayer’ — what did that mean?”

    Not much to add to what I said above in my previous entry…
    …except more serious empathies with the Dean’s sexual thoughts for choir boys (spying on them in the process) and later thoughts about his own wife’s bottom. Nothing else like it beforehand in any literature, I suggest.
    And reference to accusations of his mercenary intentions as an evil – by inviting the film crew to investigate this Boke (or, from within it, investigating THIS book in your own hand?)…
    Plus more religious visions – or Fortean ones?
    And thoughts of music by Byrd, Tallis, Gesualdo, thankfully. 🙂

  7. Chapter 6

    “I suppose the meaning is that if the Devil were dead, who would be the Enemy?”

    Emma, trusting in the harmlessness of the ageing bookseller called Basil Valentine or Basil Nightfall — the bloke who is a representative on earth of this book’s supposed freehold author, I wonder? — accepts his invitation upstairs in his shop for a meal and to read many lengthy letters (as we are thus given opportunity to do so, too) from the late 19th century, covering events and characters germane to this book’s thrust of implication and inquiry. A host of philosophical and religious thoughts, such as Free Will, Devil’s funerals for suicides etc, Eschatology, the relativity of Good and Evil, the frailty of mankind in the face of sexual yearning, together with gossip and dark vision, and a Bishop’s distribution of penny whistles to the choir boys, ants in a prayer book (as if its letters had got loose?), and much else, I guess, that I failed to pick up. The frailty of the reader, therefore, put to the text by this unforgiving book. Put to the test, I meant to say. I only wish Beethoven had done Seven Last Words from the Cross as well as Haydn.

  8. Chapter 7

    “Beyond them in the little combe bordering on Cutbirth land a tent was being set up and various scene-of-crime officers were wandering to and fro in white overalls to prevent contamination.”

    Echoed in our times? An event disrupting the BAFTA seeking film crew’s work. Meanwhile, Emma and Basil seek access to Bishop Hartley’s box with the Dean and his wife whom we learn he had come upon and taken from behind. I am wondering, in view of more concupiscent revelations, whether Boke is shorthand for ‘boy poke’ and DIVILL strange Roman numerals or a code for something else? Any suggestions place in a sub-comment here, please.

  9. Chapter 8

    “Then I was afeared, so I did put on the ring, and saying the words Abrax Abraxas, I went forth boldly, albeit from the back doore…”

    Emma and Basil read (and thus so do we read it) a long (e-added for t’other antiquity) tract written supposedly in the 16th century by this book’s hinted-historic-legended musician, adding Oliverian horrors and boggarts and t’other nightmares to the inchoate mix of the book’s plotted thrust, while use of the words “booke” and “Devill” add to my theory that Boke and Divill are codes. Also the tract seems related to the discrete story I reviewed in ‘Holidays from Hell’ a year or so ago as follows in that earlier booke’s context…


    “On Midsummer’s Eve Anno 1592 I hearde an olde blinde fiddler playe a fine melodious tune (though somewhat melancholique) in a fielde.”

    A fine linkage there with a part of this Tartarus booke itself and an equally fine transmutation of the previous story’s horror genre eschatology toward this story’s Shakespearean ripeness of scatology, full of damnation, witchcraft, lovely-dreadful turdid terminology, the transcribed-narrator’s skirmishes underground for what I shall call some Malebolge of a book so as to ease some Satanic path for a well-characterised witch and for this 16th century composer nearly as good as Tallis or Byrd.
    It did not seem to speak to me (with its mere added end ‘e’ or added ‘k’ to ‘-ic’ etc.) directly from the 16th century as effectively as did ‘Absalom’ from the 17th.


  10. Chapter 9

    “Iä-R’lyeh! Cthulhu fhatagn! Iä! Iä!”

    Some brilliant, compelling Oliverian horror prose in patches. It is also the lovecraft chapter, one with more rampant noises of a Church Dean in marital embrace – or marital abuse? This is Basil’s chance to allow Emma (and thus us) to read long extracts from his father’s diary in the 1930s when in a sort of Abbot and Costello sidekick romp (tinged, sometimes daubed, with foul and fell darkness) he became involved in surveying the Cathedral’s well for more of that blasphemous ‘moving of monuments’ disturbance…Bishop Bulstrode (Middlemarch reference?) wanted it replaced with a drinking fountain for Cathedral visitors. A sense of “insouciant mockery” as this book as a whole generally possesses, “full of rage”, the Christian Pious versus the (more creative?) Pagan, “the House of Dagon”, contemporary references to Hitler and Chamberlain, a vision, among crammed different visions, of “human beings kneeling in homage, heads touching the ground like Moslems at prayer, before a strange lopsided creature with a head far too big for its body.” Will we all end up in a “special Church of England nuthouse”, I wonder, after reading this book, and when we finally formulate its unholy gestalt or an even unholier holism from its emerging patchwork quilt of this author’s mind or whatever controls that mind at a higher (or lower) freehold level?

    “I wish to God I did not understand.”

  11. Chapter 10

    “The irony escaped him.”

    And maybe escaped me, too. This chapter, I judge, has some of this author’s strongest ever writing within a patchwork that may or may not be more or less than its parts. You simply need to read it for this chapter alone. You must read this whole book, too, to judge for yourself if it is as unredeemable as the human creatures within it and their self- or outer-inculcated beliefs, their hypocrisies, their foulnesses and their states of being in solid denial. Here we have observer and instigator, in clerical form, and I wonder if that drug-addled couple recently near Salisbury Cathedral had such an observer and instigator to make them pick up their own vial of poison or bottle of hair restorer called Palestrina or, even, the Boke of the Divill itself…. But this observer or voyeur turns out to have his own observer in the shape of Cutbirth (a symbol for Ligottian anti-natalism that I recently re-Christened ‘anti-conceivalism’ as morally preferable?) — How many observers do our own acts of good and evil warrant, leasehold observers rolling back towards the ultimate freehold Observer as God or Devil?

  12. Chapter 11

    “Absolute victory makes vulgarians of us all.”

    “I’m not sure what I’m doing, why we’re looking for this book in the first place,…”

    Me, too! But as this chapter also implies, if we give up the search for its gestalt, it would have worse consequences than not seeking it in the first place, too! Meanwhile, the maze of machinations regarding the film crew and Deanish marital matters and choir boys continues, including now a real ancient landscaped maze with Pan at its centre, and “strange random occurrences with which we in this mortal existence are occasionally beset.” Null Immortalis.

    “Phyllis sets down her tray. ‘I made some of my rock cakes,’ she said. ‘I thought they might soften the blow.’”

  13. Chapter 12

    “We are in the fourth dimension. The book opened it. The discovery of the book; the theft of it. And for the first, but perhaps not the last time in our lives, the gates of Heaven and Hell are open for our inspection.”

    It is arguable that this very Book of the Blakean Boke (the Marriage of Heaven and Hell) is the only true exemplifier of this phenomenon in literature, if you can transcend with your reading its inchoate gestalt of crammed strands, as I see it. The discovery or theft of it being yours and yours alone. To INTERPRET, if not evaluate, it for itself rather than via reviews like this one. This chapter is from a catamite to a catacomb, plus an inferred treatise on Art Aesthetics between various tastes perceived as crude or sophisticated. For example, I think I would enjoy Cutbirth’s music as much as Britten’s (or Scott Walker’s.) Incidentally, there is a historically scandalous passage in this chapter about Britten (the Arch Boker?) from which I dare not quote. Even if it is merely quoting from within the mouth of a fiction character! Meanwhile, can one construe DIVILL as the Roman Numerals of 666?

  14. Chapters 13 & 14

    “One thing he knew: that he had a choice. He could haul himself, hand over hand, up the silver rope or he could slip downwards, carried by his own weight.”

    Two relatively brief attempted loose-end tying-up Codas to this Scriabinesque Reginald Oliver Symphony, also arguably an atonal critique of its own atonality as well as of others’, and that quote above I just made chimes with my own dilemma as I am faced with a lifetime of what I have been doing within the creative arts as Cutbirth finally hears his own music in some Hellish version of the Concert in THE UNCONSOLED by Kazuo Ishiguro. The fact that I find reason to mention that greatest of all novels in the same breath as this Boke surely means something? Reginald Oliver, his own Unconsolation, I wonder?


  15. I paid for the hardcover of Boke of the Divill last year and it STILL hasn’t been printed. When I asked the publisher about it all they said was it’s going to the printers soon. If it wasn’t for the fact that I adore Reggie’s work I’d have asked for a refund long ago. I’m sure he can’t be best pleased either. The publisher seems to crowdfund a lot of stuff so maybe they’re broke, but in any case may I say Divill take them…

      • It has changed. The limited edition came out finally 2019 when the paperback was 2017. Looking at both my Reggie Oliver books published by Dark Regions, while Divill hardcover looks to be in separate signatures it looks like they are glued in rather than sewn, while the Sea of Blood looks like it’s perfect bound. If I’m wrong, apologies, but I’m used to expensive hardcovers clearly stating that they are sewn. Odd.

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