9 thoughts on “Splendid in Ash – Charles Wilkinson

  1. My previous review when the first story appeared in the context of Black Static #53….

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    IN THE FRAME

    “The benefits of a digital detox: a few wrong turns bringing a fortuitous discovery and he will have an excuse to use the word ‘serendipitous’ when he arrives.”

    Hargadon is Hargadon. And now we have Wilkinson, another of my favourite literary writers, after first discovering him in the SF/Horror genre small press a number of years ago (in Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction, to be precise, and his most recent story, SEPTS, in that magazine, having, for me, an important Ancient Briton link with this latest one in Black Static).
    There are several other richly imaginative audit trails and leitmotifs in this relatively brief gestalt of a text. I shall just choose one audit trail for my purpose, the one of seeking signposts to resume a friendship via oblique invitations to an art gallery in an obscure backwater town, after that friend’s sister broke some rule of suicide by inconveniencing others (mostly strangers) through that very suicide. We follow this unmapped soul via supermarket and bowling alley, via an exhibition of blank nemonymous paintings depicting “absence”, shading into a light touch that is noticeable behind the blankness or whiteness, a touch reaching towards an eventual meaning of shapes in the later paintings. Then within the gutter itself of the bowling alley… To reach beneath the skin. Skittled out. Needled out. One gutter of directive significance chosen, while many others then prick out the more one allows the text to haunt you.
    “We collaborate and then exhibit anonymously.”
    ….as do all these stories, without truly knowing they collaborate.
    But each story is labelled with a single autonomous name. Absence then presence in each frame. A few wrong turns, but suddenly a wonderful serendipity.

    There is much else in Black Static to entertain the Horror Genre enthusiast in addition to its fiction.

  2. THE GROUND OF THE CIRCUIT

    “: heat sinks, backplanes, motherboards — and memory sticks, pearl-enamelled like the inside of sea-shells.”

    This glorious physical book itself, luxurious, glossy pages, striking cover, sturdy outer boards, publisher’s watermark, is also, it somehow seems to me, the sort of book where I am not surprised to find a story where the narration has a husband’s wife who is frequently referred to as ‘the woman who is his wife.’ As if the front cover is her striving to become something beyond that. Magritte and Brueghel combined. The story itself depicts even more by dint of its words; the man who is her husband has taken over this ancient property in hope of optimising its business potential as a pagan tourist destination. The only problem being that it has a sitting tenant, the “occupier” or “resident-in-perpetuity”, a man who co-opts the wife to service her as part of a closed circuit with little or no ohm resistor, I guess.

  3. My previous review of the next story in the context of when it appeared in Shadows and Tall Trees #7:

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    SLIMIKINS

    “; one moment it was as if the flakes were drifting on a level plane; the next, there was a sense of distance, the spaces between them.”

    The flakes, snowflakes, echoing the porridgy attrition of progress in the Devlin-Levy. Here, a striking portrait of how I found teachers and pupils in British boys’ schools when I was at school around 60 years ago, some boys repellent and alien. Some teachers, too. And not to speak of those cross-country runs.
    Following the nightmare that led to losing a pupil, Mr Shooter re-trains as a special-needs tutor. While his wife enters that pea-souper of time’s snowstorm called dementia. Invaded by intruders or those who are still left dying from the old days type of winter snow that beset our childhoods. Or is it dementia at all? Or just the God of Assembly wreaking retribution as time and life’s attrition stretches eternally towards death, but never quite reaching that destination, ever yet.
    Or so it seems to me. Another Zeno’s Paradox. Or insidious Tontine.
    A seminal Wilkinsonite story itself that peers intermittently through onsets of snowy italics.

  4. BOXING THE BREAKABLE

    “, bringing the laws of the undergrowth with him.”

    Or the lesson of the undergrowth? An older married couple in a house in the forest, he in poor health, in the process of eschatological down-sizing, I guess. They are expecting viewers to appraise the potential to buy it, subject to their own survey, casing the joint as it were, or the crack in a Staffordshire ornament. And others, like doctor and policeman, with anagrammatised names assessing the colours around the afforested roof and walls, or the integrity of mini-strokes. The best pottery is translucent, I have heard it said. The best poetry, too, and this house-storified endgame for life’s ornamental brexit is poetic, poignant and disarmingly strange.

  5. My previous review of the next story in the context of when it appeared in Nightscript #2:

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    THE WHITE KISSES

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    I bought this book when I discovered there was a story in it by this author, an author whose works I try to exhaustively collect and study (as can be seen from the link above if you ‘sign in’ there as it were), just like Norvin in this story studies the architectural work of Korcorvian. Beware any Mogson virus though.
    I also see that my review so far has been fortuitously centred around the battle between pale and bright colours, as have many of the other works in this book itself. I tried to list the various phrases in the Wilkinson story relating to colours and they are numerous. I was particularly struck with: “One of the man’s eyes was a pale blue, the other discolored: the broken black egg of the pupil had leaked into the iris.” And there is the accretive attenuation towards bleaching into white and more white, via an albino character, to the ice, frost and snow, in this seaside resort, of his wife’s message for which The Mogson is the go-between. Rest assured this is a Wilkinson classic to be added to his other classics. Absurdism on the edge of sheer insidious horror.
    And I am convinced one of Korcorvian’s buildings was not the hospice as suggested but the previous story’s Care Home in the White above.

  6. THE LENGTHSMAN

    “He seemed cornered by shadows.”

    A gem! Essential reading for those of us who enjoy our peculiar craft of literature. Timothy is about to go back to boarding school, as he mixes with the rougher local boys where he lives in the holidays with his parents, doing maths and other lessons with his Dad. We share the tactile and olfactory quality of his thoughts of going back to school, the thud of rugger, and other factors I recognise. I loved algebra at school, but Timothy prefers the straight lines and lengths of geometry. But he is haunted in dreams and elsewhere by this story’s eponymous figure, whether a white-liner, if not -kisser, you will not forget this sinister figure. (An Eightman, not Aick-, I wonder? Still, a figure of 8 has curves not lines, I guess.)

  7. My previous review of the next story in the context of when it first appeared in Supernatural Tales #35:

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    ABSOLUTE POSSESSION

    “It’s ground rent day.”

    Or ground hog day? A miniature hedgehog version of it, I say!
    I was going to say how CW’s work reminds me of so and so and this and that, but CW really reminds me more of CW himself, and this work is delightful, even caricatural, yes, optimal CW, based on my supertomal survey of his work so far as linked from the above by-line link. No way to describe this unique, haunting work other than as CW-like or Wilkinsonian. Meanwhile, Bernard Hutt (huts are abodes as much as cottages are abodes, subject to freehold, leasehold or this new concept of absolute possession while straddling the Welsh border.) Authors have authority, but I have often given them inferred freehold over their narratives, their narrator or protagonist’s POV being leasehold, and any review of an author’s work needs to pay at least a peppercorn rent to link the absolute possession of some arcane deity who resides ABOVE even the author in authority and what is told below such a deity and beyond any intentional fallacy. I could go on and on about such literary theories as inspired by this work, but suffice to say Bernard, who corks and then uncorks a bottle of vintage wine, becomes a cog in this narrative as he has always been in life while there exist large forces that conspire to divide spire and church from each other. And best to have gone to work in a garage than have aspired to become something better, better, yes, but impossible to attain, like absolute possession of knowledge or of a wife who later left you for an Uruguayan Air Force officer.
    A hedgehog as small as a peppercorn, by the way. Fee simple.

  8. My previous review of the next story in the context of when it first appeared in Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction #56:

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    MR KITCHELL SAYS THANK YOU

    “It’s low tide. Groynes guide his eyes over the length of the bay; the furthest is half submerged, a jagged line like an alligator’s back.”
    image
    Now this work is a highly acquired taste, I’d say. About academic rivalry, neo-Platonism, revenge, a seaside place chosen as the battle ground for such revenge, a genius loci that really exists as a Platonic Form Of Seaside, a hotel like that in Wilkinson’s ‘A World Without Watercress’, and a totemic Elephant emerging from the cliff, if not something even older with its bone or tusk sticking out,,, a work that works well once you have acquired its taste, or once you can get served tastes at all in the Captain’s restaurant…
    I have nothing against Mr Wilkinson ever since at least part of me met him “at a university in the north of England” a lifetime ago. I admit I was indeed “a skimmer of texts.”

  9. DRAWING ABOVE THE BREATH

    “Outside, the hedges, the rowan trees and the eco-friendly units, which had recently been built on the estate, grey shapes are about to merge in thickening November mist.”

    Much November mist around today, including that inside me as well as out, not helped by this rather silly story that is not a Wilkinson classic. But still with the characteristic Wilkinson prose style, a genius loci of a small Welsh town equivalent in many ways to Twin Peaks elsewhere, by dint of characterisation and industry. Complete with mysterious murders of young folk in this dead-end economy for them, bringing the town’s average age down even further, no doubt. A rather ‘mad scientist’ or ‘alien elixir’ tale regarding blood exchange and new nonagenarians of a tall nature coming to the town and their impact on the writing by the narrator trying to pin these things down who knew some of the people affected. And red clocks in a yellow sea having hands being turned back

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