23 thoughts on “The Ballet of Dr Caligari and Madder Mysteries – Reggie Oliver

  1. A beautiful book of 300 stiff pages generously peppered with characteristic authorial illustrations. My copy is signed and numbered 42/400.



    “I don’t share Longfellow’s opinion that ‘the thoughts of youth are long, long ones.’”

    This young narrator about to go up to Oxbridge has tall thoughts, though, eventually on a long descent. An ‘easy’ Blakean descent to Hades? Or to this story’s Hollow City, no doubt. A maze and a nightmare vision amid this engaging academic adventure. With a few factual antiquarian info dumps, this is a well-evoked tale of the young Englishman to a Greek island with background myths of, inter alia, a two-headed hermaphrodite beast that is not dissimilar to the heads of two co-residents at the hotel where he is staying! And ending with a Fix to quaff in an English pub, hopefully, later. And much more. Including a ‘broach’ on a woman’s dress that should have been a ‘brooch’. But who is the donkey, the reader or the author? Madder mysteries are hard to imagine.

  2. f6a10d17-4756-4752-945a-b6c0a92a385bTHE HEAD

    A story of assisted dying, and it is a Reggie Oliver classic, beyond even its own provenance. At the end, it seems to show evidence of dementia in its narrative male mind. A possible chronological forerunner to the objective-correlative of sea-flowers later in the author’s fiction canon. Meanwhile, the actual head in the title belongs to Ron who is a customer of the chauffeur-narrator called Edward. Ron, for me, is genuinely one of the big-headed people, whether the head is on or off the neck. The exquisitely grotesque humour and horror in this work is the only provenance you need. There is also artwork, a Raphael head, as payment for an act of ‘assisted dying’, an act that you will never forget. Far more than just scribble. A story of Aesthetics as well as other sex acts.

  3. TAWNY

    Baby-spoiler, and inferred lycanthropy, this is posh people gossiping after a posh christening in a posh house, a short dialogue that could effectively be staged theatrically. Or featured as a sketch on Monty Python alongside Anyone For Tennis. There is at least one line towards the end I would have loved to have delivered. (The words ‘farouche’, as well as ‘tawny’, precise terms for oblique qualities, or vice versa? Not sure the definitions of these words spoken here are correct.)


    “Children are cheaper anyway.”

    Until i saw the new Stan and Ollie film in the cinema this week, i did not know that Laurel & Hardy themselves were put up in second rank actorly accommodations when they first came to perform in Britain in the 1950s. 196E8404-BD76-42AC-953C-07FFFE7193D3You can easily imagine what these places were like, these places and their landladies. My own grandmother also had a needle though her fag. The Reggified narrator here was one such actor. A place where stayed, too, the eponymous midgets who often played Snow White’s dwarves (a group named after their non-midget manager). Imagine the shenanigans of hiding-seek games and i think then you would have no need to read this classic story of apolitical-incorrectness comparing midgets with dwarves, and the subsequent freakish haunting after a certain fracas in a pub between the two competing groups of midget and dwarf actors. May i send sympathies to the Reggified narrator. And, oh yes, to the landlady involved, too.

    By M.R. James, completed by Reggie Oliver

    “Thus the game becomes a kind of battle between the hiders and the finders, but generally it descends into good-humoured chaos long before any clear result is discernible.”

    Never good-humoured enough, as our world is bitterly polarised between them, even today. A tale of a man stalked by a woman as his dead cousin from whom he inherits a frightening children’s book. What more can I say? Well, quite a lot. But the story contrived to hide from me and I could not find it.

  6. and more


    “Even if you believe it to be a fantasy and completely untrue, you must believe that I believe it,…”

    A tour de force combined with a coup de théâtre, an unmissable Reggie Oliver work that is as effectively nightmarish as his ‘Flowers of the Sea’ story, and just as obliquely meaningful to our existence and closeness to madness. d0ed1f0c-d8f5-46a5-b068-34b0566ea37bWe see a near-death or temporary-actual-death experience through an actor’s eyes, as he tells us his life story, his fascination with theatrical productions, theatrical tradition and the theatres themselves, their sinister atmosphere when empty, his closeness to his mother which is germane to the visions he describes, the learning by rote and meaning with the lack of control in delivering the correct lines or the wrong ones, and much else. The visions follow an accident during a performance as Sydney Carton in Tale of Two Cities, a rollercoaster ride for the reader, where the theatre audience almost becomes a Cthulhu monster, sometimes summoning elements of the Concert Hall scenes in Ishiguro’s ‘The Unconsoled’ and of VanderMeer’s ‘Annihilation’ and of something crucially unique that will live with you forever, for however long forever lasts.

    “The theatre has always been an obsession with me, even before I recognised that it was.”

    “the crowd of my own ‘clones’ — or ‘clowns’”


    “…a succession of horrific and bizarre escapades involving flying skeletons, giant toads dressed as monks, strange shifts in perspective, and, worse still . . . No! You’ll just have to read it for yourself!”

    For me, a rather silly, satirical Reggification of a distaff academic – this time with a distaff ‘partner’ and with a career thrust towards ‘impact’ – built upon MR Jamesian type research and arcane textual info-dumps of information about an obscure poet from the past and something called ‘The Castle of Oblivion’. Otranto, eat your heart out. Fracking, too. (See also this author’s distaff satire ‘Coruvorn’.)


    “Mr Davenport always makes references to Death as a person of the female persuasion, a peculiarity of his.”

    Starts off as an engaging theatrical novelette, narrated by a carpenter building a gallows for a performance of ‘Maria Marten’ in a portable travelling theatre and then the eponymous trap for a bricks and mortar theatre. Much of interest but becomes, for me, a rather muddled, long-winded plot of rivalry and revenge, with lots of characters.

  9. I read and reviewed the next story in 2016, and below is what I wrote about it then, in the context of ‘The Madness of Caligari’…



    “I could have constructed a pastiche of, say Alban Berg, or Webern with a hint of Kurt Weill, and I believed myself thoroughly capable of bringing it off.”

    Pastiche, or, rather, constructive cubist mutation of such composers’ works blended as one. Wishful thinking is more than half the battle towards creation, I find.
    This is a story-archetype of a story, a REAL crafted traditional story story rather than a jagged vision or off-the-wall dream such as in the work of the painters mentioned here like Matisse or Braque. The story’s text duly uses all the Caligari names from the film including a feminisation of the sleepwalker Cesare for a ballet, and there is also a svelte woman whose creepy love-making feels a bit like having sex with a shadow, plus a 75 year old composer who commissions the young narrator to compose the music to fulfil a long-held, but imputedly recurrent tragic, ambition of creating a Caligari ballet (in symbiosis with Giselle, perhaps). Although this is a story story, it’s a madness, too. Just like this review of it, a genuine review in that it gives my truly felt reaction, but also a mad pastiche of one. And the narrator glimpses at the end a cubist town like that in the Caligari film as slipped in by some other power up the pecking-order of narration, just like we are shown an asylum ‘on the borders of Essex and Suffolk’ by a puckish story-teller, or by someone who “was a stranger to the graces of true informality” like the old man called Dan.
    Not sure if all of this worked, I am afraid. Tell me what you think.

  10. I read and reviewed the next story in 2018, and below is what I wrote about it then, in the context of ‘The Scarlet Soul, Stories For Dorian Gray’…



    “A paradox is a way of creating a new truth: a pun merely desecrates an old one.”

    A richly traditional stylishness in treatment of paintings and painters during the age of Millais, Watts, Burne-Jones, and of banal catchphrases in the good old days of variety, and the theatrical living tableaux of myth and sucked-out compulsion, of small angels at the cute end, of maleness and beauty, of foreignness amid our accepted mores….at a worrisome edge between moving stances of love and death, of life and non-life. Not sure how all that was managed, before its curtain finally fell.


    “You’ll find me rather remote.”

    …with or without a philosophical or spiritual sat-nav? This is a story of a once womanising, aphantasic, intellectually austere, positively rationalist Philosophy academic, now in his eighties, as narrated by a younger professional academic woman who once met him in the past (an engaging person, for me, but one seeking her own ‘impact’ as a radio interviewer?) – yet, this background takes a backseat to a perfect Machen-like vision on the eporsonymous meadow, a vision of white ghosts, one that is spiritually touching, even to me – out-transcending any austerity of Death. Gestalt as Wordsworthian pantheism. A story to cherish. Eat your Gluck.


    “, vaguely reminiscent of Jackson Pollock but with none of his control and subtlety.”

    …like the Boke of the Divill, as rewritten by a master.
    This, meanwhile, is, genuinely, an engaging, ingenious story, and disingenuously old-fashioned (in a good way). I dare not itemise its plot as it is full of spoilers. A story broadly, then, of a hidden Titian painting of a lady with a rose, and a struggling English painter as narrator in 1960s Rome, hired by a Prince who claims not to be ‘omosessuale’ (he had an affair with Lady Constance Martlesham) and has a thing about not giving out his telephone number — the narrator as hired by the Prince to paint the Titian again, meticulously stroke for stroke, part of which job is to paint the difficult rose, perfectly, of course. I think, however, that I am not sure whether this story is the replica or the original, as they are certain to be identical. The Prince himself differentiates between a replica and a forgery, despite the end result being that they, too, can prove to be identical, whatever the intention. But who is fooling whom? All I know is that the rose can kill if squeezed too hard in passion. And it is a lady with a rose that thus ends this charming, sometimes horrific, book of staged eschatology, with a subtle literary antechamber that threatens to squeeze you into its coffin. Or its misangled cabinet. One or two genuine original masterpieces in this book as well as a few that are not. Some madder than others.


  13. Pingback: A Maze as Mask | The Des Lewis Gestalt Real-Time Reviews

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