21 thoughts on “The Canal – Lee Rourke

  1. Pages 4 – 9

    “I could make out: 312 Smar . . ., but the three or four other letters that remained were gobbledegook.”

    This seems to be narrated by a genuine gongoozler (google ‘gongoozler’, a once rare word I used as a title for a story published in ‘Heliocentric Net’ in 1993). These few pages have already captivated me and represent a beautiful account of the beauty of boredom, and the gongoozler’s gradual propensity to walk by the canal, here making deadpan observations that could have been in an anti-novel version of Ishiguro’s The Unconsoled (my favourite ever novel.) I am sadly not bored, though. So far. This and other tings. And Banksy.

    (My very recent review of another novel that features canals: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2018/08/18/gamble-by-kerry-hadley-price/)

  2. Pages 9 – 19

    “I wanted the see them, the dredgers. I wanted to see them in action. I wanted to see what they might find buried in the thick sludge.”

    I turn my own dreamcatchers on this book. This is a section of a canal between Hackney and Islington. I seem entranced by the narrator’s study of the nature of boredom, to embrace it, to fathom it in others and wonder why they battle so fruitlessly against it. This obsessive review writing of mine is one such battle against boredom, no doubt. Meanwhile, I seem equally entranced by the narrator’s growing obsession — beyond the dredgers, that is — with the girl he sees every day by the canal. With whom he actually converses in a tentative way. Observing for us the nature of her clothes each day. The people he watches in a nearby office with snazzy flat screen monitors almost an afterthought now. Are both the busy and the bored always to be unconsoled, I seem to ask myself as I idle through this book.

  3. Pages 19 – 34

    “Desire is boredom. These urges remain with us even when the body begins to deteriorate.”

    Observations of large sleek planes readying to land over London, the office workers (in the block by the canal) sharing a joke about a display overhead, our narrator meeting that girl again with secrets shared if superficially, a deepening relationship still as shallow, I guess, as the canal, and another woman passing who raps out at her dog in tune with the narrator’s earlier rapped harassment by a gang of territorial youths. Rapped dialogue interspersed with “…” And other boring things or tings too boring to tell you about — and, oh yes, a seemingly gratuitous yearning for rich food. No spoiling here.

  4. Pages 34 – 37

    I just had to record this amazing synchronicity straightaway! After remembering his own relationship with aeroplanes and watching those above London today, plus mention of the 9/11 twin towers, the narrator sits on his normal bench by the canal, next to a man humming what sounded to be classical music and who would not give up his already held centreground on the bench. Then this description by the narrator of him:

    “It didn’t take me long to notice he was missing an arm. His right arm, above the elbow.”

    Yesterday, I happened to attend a piano recital – as I reviewed straight afterwards here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2018/09/23/scriabin-bach-rachmaninov-frank-bridge-with-the-left-hand/ – Classical piano music for the left hand alone, as played by someone in the same state of disablement. A wonderful pianist, to boot!

    I just told my wife about this and she accused me of joking her! And it is indeed my most striking synchronicity so far in my ten years of Gestalt Real-Time Reviewing and it is hard to imagine a more striking one.

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

  6. And now, after that sort of shock, to complete my day’s reading of this book…

    Pages 37 – 48

    With a telling incident from his own backstory, our gongoozler explains how once boredom glued him to the spot as a child. And he wakes up on the bench to find the one-armed man gone and the girl whom he has been (mutually?) stalking is sitting there, with her appropriate bouts of yawning, appropriate to a book so far about boredom, I guess. Her life’s mask is painting, she explains. Minimal repetition of dialogue, incantatory refrains to match the earlier rapping. And a frightening incident with that gang of youths… plus freckles inked in and blood let. This book is a satisfying sort of deadpan yawning as a form of reading or vice versa, and a sleek strokeable slow strangely amenable mute swan from the canal end-punctuates the first part.

  7. Pages 51 – 70

    “Those times we don’t say anything . . . It’s when we say the most.”
    “I don’t understand . . .”
    “You don’t have to . . .”
    “But I want you to tell me things.”

    Utterly chilling conversation between the narrator and the girl on the bench by the canal. I dare not tell you anything about it, in case it summons up an unwanted synchronicity in my own life. (Maybe this is the end of Gestalt real-time reviewing and its synchronicities, as a result of this new phobia?) Well, I will merely refer to Gide’s work and maybe Camus’ L’Étranger.
    As an aside, our gongoozler seems to be reaching a gratuitously gradual gestalt of this girl, eg noticing both of her moles together.

    “And as our world becomes increasingly boring, as the future progresses into a quagmire of nothingness, our world will become increasingly violent. It is an impulse that controls us. It is an impulse we cannot ignore.”

  8. Sadly my cough and cold are no better.

    Pages 70 – 85

    “, I don’t generally care about strangers. But that morning their faces penetrated deep inside me.”

    Another day, a second conversation with the girl on the towpath bench. One that’s even more chilling especially with what she says to him in a deadpan manner, “more horrific”, yet he feels closer to her. It is also shocking to me and if all this had been said outside the leasehold confines of literary fiction between each “…”, its freehold author would possibly be arrested. Any narratively misunderstood “irony”, notwithstanding.
    “Over the years, I began to accept these fragments as pieces of me that didn’t need to be unravelled, or put back together to form a whole.”
    But he says shocking things back at her, perhaps based on truth, perhaps on a bravado of fake news. Boredom is perhaps a progenitor of such things. Even the past ‘pub talk’ engendered “island” to which he now wants to take her, a retrocaused echo of a marginal island called Canvey…? A mere toe path between mainland and its coast.

    “The toe immediately next to her big toe was longer. This was concurrent on both feet. Her feet were beautiful.”

  9. Pages 89 – 100

    “It was one of those stories that always sticks in your mind for no apparent reason.”

    …like this one today when seeing two Russian-looking men by the canal who offer you apples to eat, then thinking about various recent terrorist incidents, walking over the London dead, as it were, and a pareidolia of a cloud like a swan floating overhead in this book’s current section called “weight” in contrast to any listless quality of boredom, the girl you have been meeting at the bench now arguably more obsessed with a man, surveillable in that canalside office block, than with you, gratuitous thoughts about the building of canals, a scooter being chucked into the canal by that gang of youths, no names, no packdrill; everything is insidiously surveillable by small contraptions these days, the weight of that scooter now an oily blot on the canal’s landscape, a blot bound to be missed by the dredgers but still absorbable, you wonder, by the swans or Canada geese, yes, you wonder, haunted by your own story….

    “There’s so much about myself that I do not understand.”

    “The weight of those two seconds — the weight I felt — a suffocating weight that consumed me. For those two seconds, listless in its grip, I was dead.”

  10. Pages 100 – 111

    “For that moment, I was sure that I did not exist.”

    Just as sure that today people — as probably caused by the meta-coded abyss of the internet mœurs mentioned in these pages — suffer from the accretive attrition of being in denial, a disease of denial affecting us all, even affecting those of us convinced otherwise, like Judge Kavanaugh and Dr Ford in the relentless wall-to-wall long drawn-out real-time drama streaming yesterday on the so-called ‘news’. Utter, sheer belief. Polarised pure.
    Such a trauma from the past meaning that the narrator’s bench companion has come regularly to this bench to watch the man in the canalside office block and his smoking tryst with a co-employee outside it? Meanwhile, we continue to feel the canal as some objective-correlative of such mœurs, a “conveyor belt carrying a gleaming product through assemblage toward some state of completion.” Gestalt Real-Time Reviewing. Waiting for the book’s own purse of private documents to be left on its own bench as writer’s forge. Or waiting for its own dog-and-frisbee syndrome to alter something before something else happens. Representing the intrinsic difference between a canal and a river?

  11. Pages 111 – 125

    “A lower state of boredom: being bored with something.”

    A telling description of TV watching, as our gongoozler watches the windows of where he has discovered the bench girl lives, observing that the same TV programme is glowing through these windows to the street. Eight years later, would this still be the case, I wonder?
    Followed by beautiful descriptions of planes and swans, worth alone the entry fee to this book “, embracing gravity”.

    “I felt that something great had been accomplished. I wanted to shout to him, to congratulate him on his feat.”

    The telling nature, too, of this century’s alienation, futility, guilt, and regret, this section ending with a “Pilot V5 Hi-Techpoint 0.5 pen”. (I simply know I once included this very pen – in those exact words – in one of my pre-internet published stories of the 80s and 90s, but, despite having spent much time searching the records of my thousand odd such published stories , I cannot locate it! So far.)

  12. “even affecting those of us convinced otherwise, like Judge Kavanaugh and Dr Ford” – from my real-time review above….

    Pages 129 – 147

    “Because even the dredgers were powerless to halt such unremitting decay.”

    Beyond the “two tings rule”, the next part of the book mutating the “embracing gravity” syndrome in the previous part, the gravity of tears downward, the inevitability, the acceptance, as our gongoozler is faced with the inevitable, as it turns out, of what is happening to the area around his canal bench, the “slutch” now been hawled or trawled towards such a shock of inevitability, a shock dulled or even deleted by the endemic weight of boredom, yet a change in fortune as the girl (I stalk books, you know, not authors) submits to a small change of gear that means a lot to him, one that reveals what he and I suspected. Facing that man from the office block now in the boredom infused café down the street – the past’s gravity now clear – or is it one word against another word?
    Plus “eyebrows in a tight V” and the woman from the office block also in the café oozing from her tights or “tight black skirt.”
    Click, click, click… I walk along the Essex Road.

  13. Pages 147 – 161

    “, by the side of the rusting iron bridge that connected everything.”

    Made me think outside the box of this book, or firmly within it, “the whole world a fiction.” In a section where ”extra things” are needed, where space becomes a thing, it says. Perhaps to prevent being bored even by boredom, I wonder about the canal as a liquid form of a pier, and a pier as a sort of half-bridge, an iron one to shelter under when the deluge arrives, if the future rests above us? Do canals have estuaries? Probably not. But books do. Each with their own version of obsessive stalking, interspersed with memories (here of a bus and a tree). Each of us with out Last Balcony.
    Next time, back to normal.

    “How does one get anywhere from here? We’re in the middle of nowhere.”

  14. Pages 162 – 179

    “With that perfect life that isn’t perfect, him acting like it’s the most natural thing in the world, you know, that’s how bad he is, a walking male cliché.”

    A section about impulses good and bad, memories of impulses of rescue, sowing the past with the wisdom of the present, rain, heavy rainmaking of wood-rings, memories of leaks when leaks from roofs were almost considered normal, swan-upping as this book’s gratuitous crux, each of us that Étranger, once wild or callow youths ourselves, a whole sense of reality and unreality that permeates us all…our true self a fleetingly seen pareidolia? And that’s not half of it. Fiction such as this tells you things non-fiction can never tell you. As if fiction paradoxically is the equivalent of the more knowing present and its readers are the naive past, even if the time difference is the complete opposite? Not in denial but around it. Source and estuary.

  15. Pages 179 – 199

    “Those who bemoan the speedy passing of time at the end of their life are surely those same people who tried to fill it up with things to quicken its passing anyway, aren’t they?”

    The gratuitously autonomous result of that highly poignant crux mentioned in my previous entry is hawled to the bank by our gongoozler. The outcome to be coded here like the memory that our gongoozler has of playing his brother’s black and white TV screen ‘computer’ game with sparely designed bats and ball, a triangulation as part of a wider triangulation, as, for ten years now, I have said my gestalt real-time reviews should be – the share of each reader triangulating a book in their own way to reach a consensus of its coordinates … but as a fading spot on one of those old TV sets just switched off, I now wonder? (I remember my son and I used to load a ZX81 computer with a cassette or write the game we were to play by manually typing its code on the screen.) The repetitive rapping of “It was them”, but no names, no pack drill. I can’t even remember our gongoozler having once carved the bench girl’s initials into a tree. Can you? Well, we reach the outcome of this book which is like that ever-strobing ball between the bats. A miraculous study in inspiring boredom. And the book’s weight and gravity, as our gongoozler stares at the real canal over the edge of the iron bridge – but staring at what in it or on it? Yes, a canal does have a sort of estuary: a basin. Wenlock Basin now become Wenlock Edge. The Boeing 747 banking above. The ultimate winding-hole.

    “I can’t begin to describe how that simple act of repetition back then made me so ecstatically happy — but it did.”


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