20 thoughts on “Life, Be Still! – H.A. Manhood


    “The garden had a parched, desolate air, as if it had suffered a rain of vinegar. Dead flowers trembled like sad ghosts among the living, trampled multitude.”

    I received a very strange new book today, as I just told someone in an email. The first ever collection of stories by H.A. Manhood (1904 – 1991). Just read the first story (NIGHTSEED) and it has a very florid style, with many peculiar metaphors, listed hypnotically, anthropomorphic and otherwise, but in some ways it all seems to work! To work on some unknown path of meaning! Absolutely unique,…. and rare, till now, I guess, with virtual acquaintance Mark Valentine presumably having worked on gathering these stories together for some time …(not yet read his introduction.) If you ignore the young male and female couple’s Christian names, their eventual sex and sense of God takes on a slant unthought of except by Manhood, no doubt, alongside the story’s earlier child with a china doll under the table and the old man with a flute. He previously tucked the flute away “as if afraid for its morals.” Yours, Des


    Another refreshment seeker at a wayside purveyor of such, this man called Chance makes this seem to be a distillation of a huge John Cowper Powys novel as if written by Samuel Beckett… and a cage or cager and caged, the chaffinch blinded with needles so as to sing better, a slice of life from some past that never existed but seems all too true and natural to have done so. As if expressing things with these words that could not be put readily into hand movements or even into scryings of living creatures’ spontaneous movements as a new language.

    “‘Poor little bugger,’ he murmured.”


    “It could not be said that the cottage faced the sea; rather did it look sideways at it, a little patronizingly, it seemed,…”

    ‘Dafternoon, I said. Or someone said it, later in the tale. You know, I already knew I had discovered for myself a new classic fiction writer in this HA Manhood, and this story clinches it! Yet another story about seeking wayside refreshment, a cup of tea, perhaps, and this a tale about the woman in this sea-girt cottage who has herself a tale to tell to the narrator, a simple tale of poignant loss. And her husband — separately — has the same tale to tell. Both tales identical but utterly different. A simple gem of a tale of these tales, one that should often be anthologised, I say. Plus a glimpse of 33 pairs of eyes and talk of what spiders’ webs can be likened to.


    “His head was uncommonly large and crowned with dry, sad coloured hair; always was it tilted insecurely in the too-small cup of his collar as though he were listening for the voice of the long dead Queen.”

    Sad coloured, not sand? Yes, sad, I say, as this tale and speech of an old-timer lodgekeeper confirms my belief that this is a very special book of stories too long out of the public gaze. A true belief. A belief that this old God-unbeliever has his own road-just-for-the-sake-of-being-a-road, a road that is a given, a road for this old-timer who believes our world to be a spinning top, ever on the brink of unspinning, a road that is a Zeno’s Paradox, perhaps. A major word portrait of a character, any character, but especially this character, as couched in astonishingly rich and sometimes constructively unruly metaphors and similes. With unwieldy penknives carving cone-birds, a belief that belief — as well as unbelief — leads to unconsolement.

    “All great literature gives such a choice — that is why it is great, immeasurable in effect. After three hundred years they are still discovering new meanings in Shakespeare’s work.”

    But scrape that ambiguity off God with one’s penknife and we reach just the word God?

    This story is a classic that exceeds even the classics of John Cowper Powys whom, for me, Manhood most resembles – and the story will continue to resonate with its own untreated ambiguity, untreated till now? Till the top topples or the road ends.

  5. And the next story could also be entitled LIFE, BE STILL!



    “You do talk damn queer.”
    “That is my privilege. Unless one talks damn queer nowadays, nobody listens.”

    You won’t believe this, but it is true (ask my wife) — an hour or so ago, here, I developed a new phobia for synchronicities arising from gestalt real-time reviewing and then I pick up this book to read the next story and find it is called what it is called! My last significant cough was in October 2016 that lasted a few weeks. I seem to have a weak chest. Well, overnight, last night, I happened to develop a cough, one that I fear is also set to be long-lasting! Anyway, that aside, this story is worth the subject-matter, another classic, grotesque and laughter-inducing (between the coughs); a man who is a writer is nightmarishly plagued by a relentless cough from the tenant in the next building. He ends up paying a mercy visit with medicine, after earlier cursing the cougher, even considering shooting him from a tree opposite the cougher’s window. I will not tell you the outcome, as that would indeed be tempting fate. Suffice to say, that the writer (as the character in the story) probably wrote this great story as a result of his experience in hearing the cougher. A happy paid ending? The book’s prose style goes into even more tumultuous overdrive of idiom and ultra-idiosyncrasy, and the characters involved here are pungently hyper-Dickensian.

    “Upon the floor by the bedside were many clots of phlegm looking exactly like so many wandering slugs.”

  6. Pingback: Synchronicity rampant… | DES LEWIS GESTALT REAL-TIME REVIEWS

  7. Sadly my cough and cold no better today, but am decidedly inspired by…


    “Words didn’t matter much after that.”

    The story of Pomega, daughter to a father who exploited her labour and wants to marry her off to one of his cronies. The downbeat style of her abode, the interpolation of a narration by a young man who decides to save her from such a destiny, the sappy, sinewy, synaesthetic nature of nature where country matters, are couched in the most superlative richness and creative rawness/ instinctive contiguity of phonetics and semantics that I have ever experienced. No exaggeration. A blend of Coppard, Bates, Powys, Lawrence, Bowen’s Apple Tree and Farjeon’s Martin Pippin in the Apple Orchard, and much more, including much that is unique, including the idealised manhood of the narrator come to this culmination or crisis. And who believed whom? The perfect ending. Can you tell I am mightily impressed by this writer, whether come so late in my life or not? Life, be still, while I try linger.


    “The boy often walked along the towpath down by the canal at night after his work in the factory was done. There was nowhere else to go, and he liked the oily quietness of the place. No din or hurry down there between the warehouses; you had time to think over the little there was to think about.”

    (cf the nature of THE CANAL in a simultaneous review here).
    A vignette about a crudely holed vinaigrette in one of the most tactilely fish-and-chips-oiliness in all literature, after a boy takes a dry-lipped, hungry-enough-to-eat-cigarettes old lady from the towpath for a meal, having felt desperately sorry for her. Thirsty enough to allow vinegar upon her lips, while waiting for her tea…like Christ, I wonder? A very powerful work.

  9. Cf Helen Marshall’s “sluggish, bottom-dwelling sturgeon” two days ago here.


    “But luck had driven into his net a most royal sturgeon nine feet long, with a girth of forty generous inches and a snout like a lighthouse…”

    Royally rich with the fish-and-chippy oil of the previous story? Maybe, but this is more about Tom, who dresses foppish or womanish when he’s not hard out hauling, hauling, hauling, hauling church bellows and ugly snoutfish mannish work fishing, rescuing souls from wrecks, now proving he he can play an organ, too, with a woman, himself, or in a church or other more carnal ways; this has utterly beautiful oxymorons of literary haulage, in this community of slick talk and feudal customage of purveying fish or bodies or love…and the hard lust of trawling. Church organ to church bells? A wedding of wrecks or just people swimming with the tide to escape the undertow? A church roof sweating with its own “holy burden.”
    “First and Last We’ll Ever Be”…

    “Her hands came together like mating gulls, chafing each other, but it was like clay attempting to warm clay. Easing them apart, Tom brisked them lightly, fearful that his own horniness would rip her soft skin.”

  10. SEAHOUSES — An Old Rhythm

    “As snuff scattered in jest will startle a crowd, so did the soot of the railway startle the town.”

    …and as these words will even startle the literary aficionado already with a taste for such wordily pungent portraits of a town and its community, legends, history and future. This is rare stuff, no mistake! Grit your teeth afore reading it or visit now the railway town on the opposite side of the estuary’s “tonguing of fresh and salt water” – “to wrench his useless teeth from his blue and swollen gums.” Seahouses is the town on the side of the estuary without the railway but with an infrequent ferry to the town opposite, and we watch it decline. We relish the nature of its pub and remark what a good Christian name for its landlord – Amen. And the coach that comes and goes called the Ark. The characters literally live on the page. The words, too, like real living creatures. Words like “strakes”, “cloam”, “cloop!”, “tunegar”, “yarn-parlour”, “skelderers”, “cheapbrides”, “treacle-ball”, &c. &c. (See my prose poem published in Stand Magazine in 1990, ‘The Brainwright’, shown here, as a then unknowing distillation of such words?)
    There is so much here, about both towns and their characters, and Seahouses itself reminds me of the scenario in the fishing community and laddish emotions and sense of earthen gestalt in a story I happened to read by O’Meara earlier today, reviewed here, a SF scenario that inadvertently synergises with aspects of Seahouses fishing lore…
    Nothing I can say will do justice to this Manhood work and its old rhythm. Direct portraits of impending and fulfilled eschatology and indirect, but inferred, scatology, all siphoned into the reading veins, bypassing the art of story itself. The nature of the bell in Amen’s pub, included.

  11. From SEAHOUSES “: the Hewlers, Gogronds, Kiddens, Shacklejons, and the rest.”


    And now we have Squaler Adams, a dealer in dogs, dogs that “howled mournfully’, a character direly to die for, a spiv or conartist, “Muttering angrily at the crawling progress of a hawker in his path,” as he heads towards a gin-binge at a pub, where he bullies the pub owner to give him sanctuary with his numbered dogs for racing, from out a cage of whips, and then Squaler dickers with Jimmy the Dose for two more dogs, eventually getting his comeuppance of whip-cracking from a gang of boys… all good stuff, all bad stuff, stuff that makes literature blench. All in a Manhood style direly to die for. Prose that has its own crack of whips as words.

  12. There will now be a delay of a few days before continuing this review of what increasingly becomes a review about a major new writer experience for me to cherish alongside my once cherishing the now distant experience of starting to read Dickens, Lovecraft, Robert Aickman and John Cowper Powys.


    “…I was waiting for Timely, dressed uncomfortably in my best.”

    Nobody should need wait for Timely, I guess, if you know when he is coming. I have had to wait all my previous life, though, for the chance to read this story. Seriously unbearable in places, once you read it, you, too, will know you have been waiting to read it, without knowing. And if you did not know you were waiting, it could hardly be called waiting, could it? Timely in this story starts as a Mr Barkis giving a lift to David Copperfield? No? Well, this substantive work, that surely should be on all lists of great literature, starts with its own confession and penance. And then we hear what led up to it. The imaginative boy narrator’s journey to stay with his aunt, while his mother had an operation, the boy taken by Timely and his son Gabriel who happened to be going to the aunt’s place where her husband Malpas was the baker in their bakery home. Timely and Gabriel going there to operate on the broken Malpas oven. There are “crumb patterns” throughout this story. I cannot retell it all. I have waited long enough. You will need to wait, too, till you read it for yourself. Suffice to mention the eponymous nails: Christ’s nails, at least two of the characters deem them to be. Religion as an illness, to be operated on. The outcome is devastatingly deployed, the words themselves becoming as sharp as those nails. The nature of the motivation, passion and obsession clear as a pike staff. The boy narrator imagines his own battles from history in his head. And the inchoate battles in this story will not only seem real in your reading head, I warn you, they will stay there too, perhaps nailed there. As well as the characters and all the bakery lore of short-dough and harvest festival wheatsheaf. An army of screws to bowl over.

  14. Pingback: The Cough – H.A. Manhood | THE DES LEWIS GESTALT REAL-TIME REVIEWS: Books as a Merging of Wood, Metal & Stone into one Block.

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