11 thoughts on “The Star of Gnosia – Damian Murphy

  1. Copies of my previous reviews of some contents in this book, i.e. from their contexts in the the overall book reviews linked below:



    “A friend of hers, a bookbinder, had created for her a series of blank white books…”
    Simone, a ticket-booth keeper. Her extra-murally methodical placement of ready-mades as more than just art is, in this first section of another bookbinder’s construction, a sacrament to itself, to this book, as if this book itself is or will become a sacred object within her placements. The text feels like it is a gospel, a touching upon your spirit to distil any esoteric faith you may have hidden away. Under the auspices of the dusk, then of the day, as this book has it, we follow Simone through the exquisite genius loci of the courtyards and churches, with the turning-point of this section being when her holy placements are switched overnight by an unknown hand. Intriguing, and beguiling. I only wish I had set Satie’s piano music playing in my reading-room before starting this esoteric book, and not Scriabin’s, as I actually did. I am slipping. (Some of her placements: “Perishables would decay in surprising and horrific ways,…”)
    I shall eke this book out and savour its second section in due course.
    This bookbinder’s art has 72 pages, plus three pull-out illustrations. It is a model of luxurious and sturdy architecture in itself, with a stiff dustwrapper that has bespoke edges on its flaps wide enough to fit the black ridges inside them. Black ribbon marker and radiantly red end-papers. Mine is numbered 23/85. Esoteric, too.
    “She became dimly aware of the presence of some sort of monolith,…”
    Was it a Tower like that in L.A. Lewis or Mark Samuels, or somewhere I’m sure in John Howard or Arthur Machen himself? Even my own ‘dead monument to once ancient hope’? And from around that ‘Tower’ (something that tries to TOW you TOWards Heaven or Wherever?) do radiate Simone’s often effete or fey perambulations in the Art of Wandering (real, imagined, dreamt, half-asleep or barely awake), making this book, as among the others described, take on an even more sacred aura, Gnostic or otherwise, as if seeking a spreading state of self in contrast to more modern iconoclastic spreadings of various states that dog us today outside of this book. I hope I can be forgiven if the items, in these specific numbered pages, that in turn radiate, for me, from those perambulations and lodge in my mind can now be listed, thus: Borges, Baudelaire, the lowest volume possible for music coupled with a broken record player now able to play music backward, “Simone felt as if she inhabited a secret city”, “the cheerful stoicism of the dockworkers”, the gestalt of “several tawdry mystery novels” to fashion a single mystery, the gestalt of many dream-fashioned maps smuggled into a real map shop, “a smattering of Schubert” (how can one possibly smatter Schubert!), “She contemplated the contents of books which had never been conceived by their authors” (echoing my life long interest in The Intentional Fallacy), a vast post-Finnegans Wake Joycean novel called ‘Abaddon’, similar conceptions of textually extrapolated TS Eliot, a “meticulously choreographed” Wandering to follow Simone’s earlier aimless version, the “uncanny symmetry” of Simone’s hands and hands’ general “psychological landscape”, Sir Thomas Browne “like a holy book unto himself”, and, important to many of my real-time reviews, “that a homeopathic effect might be derived from the text,…”, “Rather, it consists entirely of the aesthetics of the books themselves, being endowed with the memories, contexts, and associations which we give them.”
    The rest of LUX ÆTERNA
    followed by EXULTET
    “A ray of light shone through the stained glass window above,…”
    And now, we really do hear Scriabin – amid a chess match in her ticket booth outside the concert – and, although it may be hard to believe, I did not know that Scriabin would be mentioned later in this book. But does his music really turn up in the text as the game is said to be played ‘in silence’. Did I dream it? I would claim not to dare to turn back the pages to check. Surrounding this event, Simone’s more aimless wandering outside of sleep now actually becomes deliberate for real, as repercussions of many of the aspects contained in my list above come to fruition. Does she become ‘like a star’ as is written in the text, or is she the star itself? As she reaches that pre-ordained ‘Tower’ that I made a big premonitory fuss about yesterday.
    This book is the ticket for its own journey.
    The heady language seems to slip behind the reader and become its own altering hands. A book so solid, you would think the text unchangeable. Dare you re-read to see if it’s imperishable… Or has it been switched for another?
    A transcendent experience. From Satie to Scriabin. Dilettante to Mystic.

    The reviewer in Ely Cathedral

    The reviewer in Ely Cathedral



    The Apostatical Ascetic by ALEXANDER SEARCH
    “In the early morning of Lisbon, I feel as though I’m nothing more than a spec of living dust upon the vast face of the earth; alone, yet cast among the multitudes.”
    A series of episodic monologues that remind me of the constitution of the ‘supreme being’ in the first story, Proustian selves as doppelgängers and the heteronyms of the other stories, ravelled through with Hallam’s rite of a rant. It becomes a gestalt of the nature of self and selflessness in interface with cosmic and theosophical influences, topping and tailing with such angels as the ‘angel of ambiguity’ and the ‘Angel of Annihilation’…
    The gestalt of these individually titled episodes flows mellifluously with complex undercurrents that paradoxically “nourish me with their simplicity”, touching upon destiny, the nature of perfection, incompletion against completion, the telling hindsight of misinterpretations about exiled prophets like Christ and Mohammed, the maze of the city streets wherein there is the tedium of the monologist’s office job, and, finally, those ‘fingerprints’ again, each of us leaving such prints in whorled lacework as a mappa mundi, I assume, upon all surfaces, even a surface such as this.
    “…the perfect combination of greatness and anonymity.”



    A Perilous Ordeal
    “Let the flavor of the tobacco linger in your mouth. Let yourself become familiar with all its subtle nuances. A cigarette should be gated as if it were the body of a lover which you wish to thoroughly explore.”
    As in the previous story’s ‘game’, this beginning of a novella has a similar rite of passage, here an initiation of an Adept in some secret society or something mutantly similar to the Catholic Church, surrounded by some diaspora connected with a German city. This initiate, with eyes wide shut, as it were, suddenly finds his journey through the rite sliding away into something possibly more sinister (a role-playing game or in earnest?), as he thinks of his family left behind in the city and the city’s secret destiny. But, more and more, the rite seems to become connected with smoking and later with the cigarette and with the symbolism on its packet… (Cigarettes, coincidentally or not, are also important in much Mark Samuels work.)
    “…having passed through several initiations, each of which had seemed to open doors into progressively deeper levels of truth and revelation.”
    This city is not an exact city, I infer, but one straddling ‘cartographies of the soul’. A passing mention of Der Fuhrer followed by Blakean visions, and a theosophical sort of McGoohan Prisoner scenario whence escape seems possible, even enacted, all make the readers, via their own rite of passage through this story or game, more and more compelled to reach a still ungraspable personal form of truth and revelation, cigarettes and cigarette packet notwithstanding.
    “In any case, he wasn’t sure how comfortable he would be dressing in another man’s wardrobe.”
    This end section of my reading of this novella spans a Proustian memory of childhood followed by various steps towards his as yet unknown goal, in an immaculately expressed Marienbad of Houses, each of the three parts of the text being subdivided by Onyx, Amethyst and Pearl, as if a continuation of this book’s earlier Alabaster, a mineral hardness thus underpinning the gossamer visions, theosophical yearnings and the mission of duty to recent History itself, our personal history, too, spread across the cartographies of each mind that chooses to absorb this text, sometimes understanding it, sometimes not. As before, the protagonist passes from tenancy to tenancy, a phenomenon mentioned earlier in my review, reaching toward new tenancies, trying on the clothes of others as if reaching an essential self via a pixel pointillism of words expressed by smoothly joined-up ones. A perilous ordeal, in itself.
    “The other library obtained two tall bookshelves filled entirely with thick, untitled volumes containing maps of every major city in the world, all arranged chronologically, spanning from ancient times to the present day.”



    “Howling winds entrap the ensuing silence like an endless roll of gauze. They uplift me, these winds, my nature is exalted by them rather than dispersed. I arise like a speck of illuminated dust into a courtyard filled with weeping angels.”
    This relentless novelette (of objects and the connections between them) might be called compelling and page-turning (and it is), but, rather, I felt it was obsessive, as if I was part of an arcane spell, a thread of impulses beyond my control, partly attuned (like the tuning of the contraption described in this text), in any event, with my sensibility of usually finding a preternatural thread or gestalt in all books that I review or dreamcatch, here triangulated or orthogonalised or explicitly octagonalized, alongside me, by some figurative or actual (at one point overtly seen) compass within the words.
    This journey starts on a train with the protagonist Matthieu, where he starts the thread of objects and ceremonials, indeed including a prayerful ceremony of smoking cigarettes that is later reflected by finding cigarettes as part of the onward thread. I will not itemise all the objects in his thread, but it starts with the chance finding on the train of a solitaire game to reveal a cathedral image, his grandfather’s esoteric article read on that train, Matthieu’s own research, the tuning contraption, the compass, the laptop, Masonic symbols, the thread of his patrimonic lineage, grids, maps – I could go on and on. It is relentless. One major find is that of the Minotaur’s journal (written by a soldier with one eye injured) that is imbued with the trenches of the First World War and with war medals that also figure significantly as objects in Matthieu’s thread. The core or convergence of that thread or spell being the star Alkaid (Bowie’s Blackstar?) and an epiphany in the Basilica, and “the gulf of the firmament and into the city of perilous night” in tune with this whole Byronic or Blakean book. I cannot do justice to all the references and powerful images, couched as they are in a relentlessly adept onward prose, but less wild than the prose of the textual collages and word symphonies elsewhere in this book.
    On a personal note, I will mention the Nephilim connection at the end, and the whole tenor of this novelette fitting my own thread in my coincidentally simultaneous real-time review (here) of THE LIE TREE by Frances Hardinge, a novel that recently won the Costa Book of the Year: and the concept of its 14 year old girl heroine named Faith and her ambivalent patrimonic relationship including a specific mention of the Nephilim with reference to her scientific Father’s prize fossil, and much more that cross bridges between both works, without either, obviously, knowing about the other, but reaching out in some inevitable literary connection of unconscious ineffability. They are otherwise significantly different from each other, with wildly different target audiences! The connections are not always clear cut and may only work in part, but I thought it worth mentioning as an appendix to my reviews of both fictions.
    “He arrived at a chapel besieged by the Nephilim; its steeple lost in mist and fog, its foundations decayed by apostasy. […] The terms of his service eclipsed his name, his self-image, all his personal agendas; he was to sever the bond between faith and doctrine, to overthrow the tyranny of necessity, to reestablish the ascendancy of the Mystery in the Temple of Uttermost Night.”
    (The bold is mine within this quote from the Murphy novelette.)
    Also compare re the starlit rip-gash between the bandages with that in the covert of the previous Cantwell work.



      Pages 153 – 169

      “The little bitch can fit into rifts and doorways so small that we can scarcely comprehend them,”

      Contexts are all, but the context of this house is something that controls the context, its front and back tended differently, its rooms and passages ever expanding depending on the particular rite of reading you choose, exploring it like an animal — or as a human being who knows the passages by the words they contain, I guess. Ostensibly, deadpan, sometimes intricate, narrative about Marino, Estrela and Silvestre, each with their own methods of ritual, although a group project, I infer. Their father is away longer than expected and they have books in the father’s library for their own use, if not this one I am reading as a rite in itself, to employ in their own rite of what they have called the Holy Order of the Star of Gnosia. Dreams and realities, which is which, I may ask. The eleven eggs, but only one used. Estrela absorbing moonlight. And too much else to cover here. Depending on what I decide to cover here is a matter for me. I do not want unduly to affect your own ritual use of this book, via the reading of it.

    • Pages 169 – 186

      “Silence, they all knew, was among the most potent weapons in their arsenal.”

      We follow the Gestalt intricacies of each separate, methodical and, for us, intriguing journey of the three siblings (or we assume to be siblings) through the house, including, for at least one of them, an etheric Escher-staired mansion distinct from it. Our own equivalent house or mansion is this very book as readers we each wander. Mention of Melmoth made me mention ‘wander’ there. Memories retrieved by the siblings, too, of their childhood games, some involving pretend saboteurs and secret agents. Bodily cramps as part of one journey or rite. One of them finds letters written to their mother by a man called Renaud, billets-doux, we infer from their contents, disguised as further descriptions of ritual rites or journeys. And there is a poem said to be by Baudelaire in one of these letters. (My own Rite of Baudelaire from the 1960s quoted here in 2013: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2013/09/30/the-light-is-alone-by-thomas-phillips/#comment-1113)

      “They were decorated with a colorful array of stamps in various sizes, the postmarks bleeding over in ill-defined circles lined with blurry characters.”

    • Pages 186 – 212

      “Several weeks went by in the space of but an instant, as so often transpires in dreams.”

      But this is not all dream. From a monocle or opera spyglass to “mathematical secrets”, we feel somehow embalmed by itemisations of the objects within the ever-enlarging house, it seems, that this separate but loosely combined trio of siblings use to enact as their rite, via dreams with “connecting links” to the structure of the house and other methods, under the weight of their Freemason father’s impending return, when they will have to make their excuses for not having attended their educational establishment. With other role plays or real tableaux of Machiavellian proportions involving Royalty. Permutations and names of God. Their eponymous star or another star, one of them finds somehow rooted to the Earth’s core in the father’s wine cellar. Pareidoliac patterns in the wallpaper, reminding me of my own photos of patterns in things discernible by such a labour of love. Towards gnostic illumination. Estrela like the girl in Blackwood’s Fruit Stoners, seeking her betrothed in the skirting-boards. The tailor, you see, from that rhyme one recites over fruit stones! Her reading further in those letters with stamps that I mentioned earlier. Scalding water to ease cramps. The white cat in a winerack. The act of “cheating.” This review is a form of such cheating? Its only saving grace or guide to be found in the very words I have just read in this book… “He had not the slightest clue what he was looking for, merely a certainty that he’d know it when he found it.”

  2. Pages 212 – 238

    “Her prayer resembled fragments of a testament to a lost empire, being equal parts entreaty, paean, hagiography, and lamentation.”

    We follow the siblings, particularly Estrela with her Monastrell, and the ruined church she found in the bowels of the house — shortly before their father is bound to return home with a sudden surprise (his return was always going to be a shock, I feel, whenever he returned) — as they try to make closure of their rituals, although we always knew that process would continue clandestinely after the father’s return. But before we reach that point, we have one of the brothers playing Ravel’s Gaspard on the piano, with misplaced notes or too slowly, with a sense of self-destruction. The white cat born from wine rack arrives at the empty music rack. I think it is no secret that this cat is real and its presence annoys the father after his return. A sense of dementia, in one of Renaud’s letters. And as I originally suspected, the Star of Gnosia is “revealed within the pages of the book.” This book both its own story of paced sacrament as “flirtation with danger” and these contents in turn become the book. “: the star of Ashtoreth, the splendor of Gnosia,” – is this what I know I wanted to know I would find when I would then know it, I wonder? How Ashtoreth is assonant with Azathoth? Never thought about that before now. Azathoth I have long associated with the Earth’s Core, the core that was felt by one of the brothers when in the wine cellar. The eleventh egg now rancid. No, what I knew I would find in this ritually mesmerising book without first knowing what it was was this – “Since his former strategy had consistently managed to baffle his intellect, he’d decided instead to embrace the irrational.”


  3. “She still had not the slightest clue whether the man in uniform was indeed the tailor, […] If nothing else, she’d tasted of exotic fruits that would otherwise have been inaccessible to her.”

  4. “We may delude ourselves, but that’s hardly the point. We must give voice to the irrational as an act of conscience. It’s the closest thing we have to prayer.” – from ‘The Siren of Montmartre’ by Damian Murphy

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s