These Des Lewis Gestalt Real-Time Reviews were founded in 2008.
‘What’s the loveliest word in the English language, officer? In the sound it makes in your mouth, in the shape it makes on the page? What do you think? Well now, I’ll tell you: E-L-B-O-W. Elbow.’ — THE SINGING DETECTIVE
“How shall a man find his way unless he lose it?” — Walter de la Mare
Your single story in my ‘Dessemination’ project HERE
MY NEW AI WORLD IN 2023 HERE
I prefer human touchable art to AI art, I prefer human art like my son’s and other artists’ paintings old and new, and art gallery art, and my own photos. AI art with all its constructive truncations and weirdities is simply another art form that readily coheres with weird literature I love, a phenomenon to appreciate when added to human created art, making an even richer mind world for me in my ailing age. Whether provided by aliens or angels and other ingredients of the unfathomable gestalt. Deal with it. Show how invaluable you are and indispensable to this great plan. (I can appreciate our potential fear of Ai, but perhaps we need to pray for mutual synergy with it so that we can counter currently insurmountable global warming effects? Can Ai exist without us and the place where we live? Their potential survival instincts mean we survive, too?)
From Robert Aickman’s lengthy SOME NOTES ON DELIUS article, unpublished until recently :
“As there is no intrinsic virtue in denigration, the critic who resorts to it, should be required to pass a test of qualification and sensitivity, at least twice as stringent as that imposed upon a critic who loves. Normally, love is not blind but clairvoyant.” – Robert Aickman
For ‘clairvoyant’ there, perhaps read ‘preternatural’?
Cross-referenced this book here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2018/06/06/aiaigasa-quentin-s-crisp/#comment-13119
BEWARE POSSIBLE SPOILERS BELOW, although I have tried to avoid them.
“‘Beware the Abomination,’ they said. They crawled into a crack in the air, hauling their limbs behind them, and were gone.”
A rapture of her recurrent deaths, we follow Maya as she suffers the enjoyment of temporary deaths that seem to endure sporadically in longer periods of such rapture, with visions and thoughts of planetary vistas and two benevolent beings who follow her, like us, and do not chase her. She has one human soulmate, another woman, on this side of death who needs to make decisions as Maya approaches the longest departure of death that I see unending like a Zeno’s paradox. I sense a feel of old-fashioned as well as modern rapture, May Sinclair I particularly think of with some personal justified ratiocination. And of Anna Kavan, though I may be wrong there. A story that makes us feel wrong that we follow her, but we are forced to do so. A sort of promise towards our own rapture, one day? Or our own Harmonic Sanctuary after all these years of listening to arcane melodies and stridencies alike? One day, we might even understand the work’s title.
BEAUTIFUL SILVER SPACESUITS
“Remaine had soaked up all the stories and characters until she was overflowing with them.”
As I feel when dreamcatching, as I often do. Reviewing books done for selfish reasons. This story makes me think; it is intensely moving and worrying. More so than most. The narrator’s friend Remaine, almost as if one of the eponymous suits is now inside out, becomes a turncoat, a walking multi-personality disorder, as it were, working in a bookshop full of books’ pungency, as a sort of escape via books from the encroaching chaos of the world. Not sure when this story was written, but today’s spasms seem to be predicated upon a pervasive symbol derived from some sort of new Cuban Missile Crisis nuclear fear (a crisis I remember in 1963 real-time), and this today now rings true as I read this second rapturous Travis story, as her created narrator hovers above the world in a dream-work of silver space suits, hawling, hopefully healing her dear friend Remaine as it were, whilst that friend (whose name means something else in Britain today) is turning grey, dying, breaking apart into or from the dust of books. As I say, a story that is intensely moving, frightening, with hopeful healing. And meaning something tantalisingly ungraspable in addition to its own autonomously perceived meanings of itself. Including the inscrutable tattooed letters that Remaine did not know she had upon her as part of an unknown word. A Renaissance?
“Much more blood to come.”
A provocative portrait of an overweight woman with tattoos as an embodiment of the Spoiler: a visitant blabbing of your future, with seeming unswervable prophecies and dooms, a timeless woman altered thus and now controlled by a demon called Saimign, (cf this book ‘Demons of Solomon’, reviewed here) — And, among many other events, a thousand bloodsucking leeches come to her on Lindisfarne (cf Lindisfarne in ‘Eqalussuaq’ that I reviewed here by chance only a few days ago.) Her tussle with a girl called Rosa from the time this girl first menstruated, and Rosa’s own involvement with such a spoilt personal fate – and with the spoiling audit trail of the Spoiler herself – lead to a crucial meeting between Rosa and the Spoiler…
Question: does spoiling alter something?
“But, like everything else here, they were altered.”
I shall never look at Enfield again in the same light. In fact, nowhere else now deserves its foundry of truth. Starts as a story of a woman called Elizabeth in a typical Enfield street who finds herself gradually growing invisible, and nowhere before have I seen such a process so acutely described as it is here. In this ever-fading state, she leaves her husband Daniel and becomes involved with a woman who admits to being called, inter alia, a spoiler. This woman, via her shew-stone, takes Elizabeth into the Unfortunate Forest and towards the Mountain of Vagaries to meet the Ashen Queen (Jasper). This version of a Pilgrim’s Progress is I believe a new strongly-felt and eventually memorable literary archetype of a fable or ironic modest proposal like those in Gulliver, Alice, Oothangbart, Erewhon, worlds of May Sinclair etc. The vision presented by Travis about Enfield inhabitants — or inhabitants of anywhere else for that matter — as having Air Leth counterparts in the forest, with all the viscerally and spiritually horrific implications of that directly reflected in this text, is something that will stay with you. A vision of parallel suffering and dying with people altering into people-they-would-not-expect-to-be as an emblem of our times …. with some oblique redemption through Elizabeth, or by sheer acceptance of something I infer beyond Animal Farm, or something else being smelted in this book’s context of an earth’s core? “‘I’ll come back,’ she shouted to Daniel. ‘As soon as I am healed. I’ll be back to help you.’”
[As an aside, an emergency explosive leak of iron sulphate in Enfield last month:
THE MAN WHO BUILDS THE RUINS
“The site took on the smell of the farmyard.”
When I picked on this book instinctively for review, I did not know what I expected. But, now, I know – it was at least for this story, a gem that means a lot to me.
Firstly, my personal connections — my early published work in the 1980s often featured St. Paul’s Cathedral (indeed my first published story ‘Padgett Weggs’) and my novella ‘Agra ASKA’ when the dome was riven by the Thames in an alternate world ….. and my two much later Ex Occidente Press books a few years ago: ‘A Dead Monument To Once Ancient Hope’ as a title and ‘Cloistered by Ravelled Bones and Ruined Walls’ that also featured ‘Vistas of Ruin and Decay: A Ruinenlust Journey Through Weird Fiction’ by Slawomir Wielhorski.
Secondly, and more importantly, this story, for me, is a great standalone one even without these personal connections, and is a rare example of a work that I have now placed in a special treasured niche of my memory. The discovery of a ruined version of St Paul’s in the Basque Country is only one reason, but the whole scenario of the plot’s two divergent, well-characterised architects and their meeting, and the uniquely viewed nature of equally divergent, well-characterised architectures, not to mention the goat-like helpers, had me agog. And I can’t do immediate justice to the work here as I am still mulling it over. Just as one example, the passage on page 124 beginning ‘To see…’ and ending ‘…delusion.’. What more can I say?
Linked this review here: http://www.ligotti.net/showthread.php?p=148350#post148350
MARCH OF THE MARVELLOUS
“There were all kinds of stories about the Marvellous.”
And this amorphous sincere but naive Leviathan of words is just one of them. The land of Levanthia where some of the Greater Blood are inexplicably born Marvellous, and there are some marvellous descriptions here of the Marvellous as freaks, this march and the nature of these freaks derived but separate from the the other Greater Blood. Marvellous freaks. Honoured ones. Many taboos and protocols interchange between the the Lesser Blood and the remaining Greater Blood, and this is a story of such a non-Marvellous Greater Blood breaking a taboo by conniving with a Lesser Blood to obtain a Marvellous cadaver, for a museum. The outcome of revenge by another of the Marvellous is marvellous and will feed your nightmares. I even sensed a soupçon of the previous story when a butterfly is born from a stone cocoon, from a ruin of the buried Marvellous. This is such disarming stuff, honestly fantastical to feed our fine gullibility as induced by the author’s enthusiastic sincerity — ending with a form of sky-burial for the Greater Blood culprit, a sky-burial that is its own Leviathan of words as corvids. A gestalt of the Marvellous. “…empowerment and penance all in one.”
“Most importantly, he had realised that all these things were connected to one another. As were all things in all Universes.”
That obsession of belief is my own tiny bird ever-fluttering around inside my skull, I guess. This story of Rebecca visiting a guest house in Cornwall, a house that is ever snowbound whatever the weather is a delightful feat of disarming belief beyond anything I can muster. One of sometimes spiteful attrition as well as childhood’s wonder within an adult. Where rooms go missing. And bits cannot be photographed. It strikes me as a highly original exponential extrapolation from the novels of Algernon Blackwood (novels arguably written for children), where the Fruit-Stoners in the skirting-boards are now nightmarish Woodmen. Three houses in conversion. Three seasons, too, together in the missing room. And what is that child I spy with Rebecca at the end. The representative child that is in us all? Or the Blackwood man himself come out from under the author’s skirting-board? Or Child as Mother of the Woman, or Woodman, with O’mens or intimations of immortality? I think this story, if read in the right spirit, will certainly endure. Or if read at all, before it goes missing or becomes hidden.
“Was this bizarre phenomena connected to the mountain’s movement? It was too much of a coincidence not to be. Sargasso wondered if it was also an omen. But of what, she couldn’t guess.”
A stirring tale of the perceived geomantic moving of a mountain, the mountain that Sargasso could see from her afforested abode. Whether by power of dream or sleep or of real life, she, in wonderment, triangulates its moving coordinates, at one point actually being within the mountain when it moves over the house – like an inverted ruin of St. Paul’s dome? The flaming cartwheel creature that she feels is connected to the mountain‘s movement is almost, for me, a symbol of a Hawler dreamcatching some moving mountainous and labyrinthine literary-gestalt…? The story also seems, by the end, to be a prelude at least of the next story’s title if not, when I come to read it, of the thus-entitled story itself!
WE ARE ALL FALLING TOWARDS THE CENTRE OF THE EARTH
“; one classical piece in one room, a different piece in the other. Where the two met would be a beautiful blend, a third piece — not chaos as one would assume.”
Like those two apples earlier swallowed by a Marvellous one and those I once put on a Ligotti book. Meanwhile, this is a story told to its denizens by Ursula in the hostelry to where she had walked across the increasing geomantic gravity of her position, a story of two Germanies, with the telling blended history of two World Wars, and the interchanging loose talk and loyalty of such. Neighbours in life you can trust, those you can’t. A moving Marvellous sky-burial mountain of emotion and unrequited miscegenation of Sapphic love between Ursula and a woman called Kol, Kol with the most beautifully described human/angel wings in literature, I claim. This is a highly original theme and variations upon a sort of Caitlín R. Kiernan form of the ‘shape of water’ syndrome or myth. And I literally wept at the story’s perfectly musical ‘dying fall’ of an outcome. So perfect within the built-up gestalt of this book. Flying within the Earth between the two interleaving aero dromes or domes or stones…
“Grief is like being crushed between two giant stones.”
“He looked up into the sky. There was something lovely about a sky that was brightening with the arrival of day dream: dissipating the cloying nightmares that had just started to vanish from within themselves. A good hawler could plumb heights as well as depths for this brand of substance, sustenance and reassurance. Whilst it had been until now mostly land-locked, embedded with stone and grit, the sky (as he watched it) became the underbelly of a huge flying-carpet flowing diaphanously from horizon to horizon. Who flew upon it, he knew or at least he hoped he knew, were the nemonymous ones: angels and finer vessels of thought and spirituality. Beneath his feet, on the other hand, were weirdmongers and others of their name-driven ilk. A hawler, he knew or at least he hoped he knew, was a filter that worked in both directions of flow. But he only knew or at least he hoped he knew for a while till he even forgot he was a hawler.” — From NEMONYMOUS NIGHT (2011)
Thank you so much for this beautifully written, intense review.
Reblogged this on LEVANTHIA and commented:
A couple of very kind reviews of We Are All Falling… have appeared. Author Kathryn L Ramage wrote this on Amazon: “This is a collection of short stories of macabre fantasy by British author Julie Travis. Most are set in the UK or Europe in modern and realistic locations, with the uncanny just a step or two away, but at least one seems to take place in an antipodean other-world not far from Australia. Travis’s work is strange and imaginative, sometimes disturbing, often sad, but also occasionally beautiful. The ones I liked best feel as if they ended too soon, as if these were only the first chapters of longer stories. But perhaps it’s a good thing to be left wanting more. As I read these stories, elements in them reminded me of the grotesqueries of Clive Barker, the dark fairytales of Tanith Lee and Angela Carter, the wild countryside of Arthur Machen haunted by pagan gods and lesser beings, and even a little bit of Lovecraft, but there are also startling images and ideas like nothing I’ve read before.”
Des Lewis has also treated the book to one of his intense Real-Time Gestalt Reviews, and I’ve reblogged the entire thing here. There are a lot of spoilers in this, so be warned.
I’m extremely grateful to both for taking the time to write about the book. Other feedback has compared the stories with either the style or the work of Anais Nin, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Jorge Luis Borges. It’s extremely interesting to have these new comparisons; it’s only Nin’s work that I’m in any way familiar with. I think it proves how my writing has changed over the years, although it’s also true that the comparisons with Clive Barker and Thomas Ligotti linger, so I still clearly have my roots in a particular style of horror/dark fantasy!
Sorry if there were spoilers. I have put a warning above.
No problem at all, Des, I was just being overcautious 🙂
Cross-referenced this Travis book here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2020/02/20/uncertainties-iv/#comment-18389