A fearless faith in fiction — Employing a Kantian or Jungian sensibility and an ‘intentional fallacy’ consciousness — Various passions of the reading moment — Walter de la Mare, ELizabeth BOWen, Robert Aickman and many others old and new — Please click my name below for this site’s navigation and my backstory as intermittent photographer, writer, editor, publisher & reviewer.
“‘Pop songs are just like that,’ I said. ‘Most of the words don’t make sense.’”
I don’t care what you say, but, in my book, this is a Nina Allan classic story, possibly her most memorable of all, one that I have never read before. About Jane, I think, talking to me naively about her friend Angela, from girlhood to later life, coming and going in time, coming and going arbitrarily as well as into each other’s lives. It’s like being there in the town with surfaces under the surfaces of the street, antique shops, the eponymous folk group and their lyrics, sepia postcards from wayside towns with non-descript addresses of the sender, space aliens as a concept that street names alone can embody purely beyond the actual aura of their terraces or garages’ storage, and innuendoes of Angela’s mother and father, innuendoes that might or might not have rubbed off on Jane. Even if graveyards are honest about what they are for, this story isn’t.
“There was also a pack of playing cards with a pattern of swirling stars on each reverse.”
Another story that is disarmingly economical with the truth or at least its narrator is. He is acting as a temporary doctor in a village after being accustomed to a city. The differences of genius-locum become clear, if nothing else does, other than some oblique connection he has with the doctor (Ryman) whom he is replacing, having known that doctor’s wife. And the young daughter of Ryman, and a trepanning iron the narrator finds in Ryman’s cupboard in the surgery, and the eponymous suitcase. And the magician at a children’s party. It is Aickman squared. Pent Aickman. I have found my head bulges with some of the stories I pile up inside it. And this story arguably has not helped. Essential, though, to those of us who want to eschew a skull’s supraletting. I am already beginning to wonder if this book is a long lost crammed suitcase of such essential stories awaiting relief.
BIRD SONGS AT EVENTIDE
“It was Billings who had named it the sward, and even though Billings had died the name had stuck.”
Although being a SF story on a distant planet, it still has the disarming strangeness, the down-to-earth Pinteresqueness of the previous two stories, an Aickman-like soul, as it were, with Isabel, thinking of her Earth home in Swanage, memories of her father and the birds she talked to him about, and here the ‘dragons’ she is studying or guarding and the properties of their scales to be mined, seem somehow in tune with those memories. I learn vaguely, too, of the previous blanket fever deaths among the colonists or scientists, and there is also the whole deliberately (?) confusing panoply of names and people she associates and/or vies with as scientists etc., one emotionally, I guess, and ‘the holes in a horse blanket’, and the blankets her younger sister Melanie (now dead, I infer) who used to lay blankets on the lawn to air in the sun and with whom Isabel watched the film ‘Heidi’. There seems some vague or oblique co-resonance with perhaps yet unseen things in ‘The Migration’ (a 2019 novel) I have just by chance started reading and being simultaneously real-time reviewed by me here: and, also, incidentally, the novel’s main character is called Sophie Perella and here in this story there is a character called Sophie Pellow. The Nina Allan story has a wonderful ending as we watch the dragons…. well, I’ll leave you to see what they do for yourselves.
“The story was set on Earth but I didn’t understand that until the end.”
The story was about surfaces in palimpsest, road surfaces, surfaces of paper, some of the paper Japanese, and the way to make things into space rockets, space stories, from tubular gift wrap etc., a story that you thought from the start was on earth, as the roads and road names felt like ones you have known, and the buses, factored into the life and marriage of a young male teacher, his wife as well as a girl he watched watching buses (a school student he had taught or was due to teach?), and the two women’s evolving backstories, but whose space rocket went to Mars (trade mark)? I am still intrigued by how this story works, but work it does. And, as an aside, if you enjoyed this story, you will also enjoy the stories of Michael W. Thomas that I recently reviewed here. And vice versa. A mutual synergy. And if these writers have not read each other (as I suspect to be the case), I suggest they should do so. For ‘art’ in the quote below, please read truth and fabrication… art as the middle part of earth.
“I had read somewhere that it wasn’t the story that mattered but the art in the tale.”
THE VICAR WITH SEVEN RIGS
“There appeared to be no-one around.”
…except Nonie? She is the narrator with three other grown up teenagers feisty about having sex, but I wonder if the others are in her mind as is the cello playing upstairs in the derelict-but-working hybrid of a hotel named after this story’s title and a painting found within it (within the story as well as the hotel) of what I shall call seven ships and the strangely named Vicar. I can’t possibly continue describing this story as it is a story that resists description of it other than by itself and within itself. A truly remarkable story, one that fills me with wonder, admiration and enthusiasm for its disarming strangenesses, the soul of Aickman or Aldiss within it but without imitation, Ishiguro’s Unconsoled, too – with closeness and tactile atmospheres in and outside the hotel. Let’s cut to the chase. This is a genuine masterpiece of weird literature or strange stories or absurdist happenings or speculative imagination, probably all four. I am amazed it is not more well known. The front so different from its rear.
“‘Do the pigeons follow the roads?’ he asked Marten. ‘Do they have it all stored in their heads or are they guided by landmarks on the ground?’”
I ask similar questions of myself, sometimes, when I read and (what I call) ‘review’ books, such as this one. As some of you know, I already have at least one encounter with a significant synchronicity connected with racing- or homing-pigeons: here. (And also perhaps mention of this author’s own novel of The Race would be apposite, if not about a race of pigeons.) And this is another significant occasion for me in having just finished this stellar novella, one that I would and should have read years ago if the landmarks and roads in my head had been set right at that time. Here, today, there is a road, too, namely the A399 ring road, creating a no man’s land, a sort of Hellespont channel to be crossed as in the Hero and Leander story, the A399 being amid allotments and residences earmarked for demolition, roads and landmarks material to the journeys and synchronicities of happenstance that in this book create a marriage when asking for directions, migrations in his lorry to and from Poland of the hero Finlay’s Dad who is named after Walesa, and migration of Carp from Bosnia, a thin girl mentioned near a buddleia past its best whom Finlay gets to know, and of his mother’s migration to his friend Marten and back again ostensibly like a homing pigeon, Marten being an older man who was once a teacher, with his seemingly documented synchronicities with time mysteries from the future, I infer, just as he employs Finlay to welcome home his pigeon. There is so much else I ought to deal with here. But it is not a story to be dealt with. It is an amazing story simply to be enjoyed. Or having its perhaps complex landscape simply overflown. Saddam Hussein and the photograph of him as a boy, notwithstanding.
“There was an orange light along the horizon that Finlay supposed was only the sunset but that he nonetheless found disconcerting.”
Cross-referenced HEROES here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2019/03/07/the-migration-helen-marshall/#comment-15096
“He told her that he could never admire a man who made her live like that, a man who crippled her life because he was afraid to live his own.”
A godly power of poetry set in stone at the start.
Meanwhile, I bought this book because I was the first to answer a public Facebook post from the publisher who offered a slightly ‘dinged’ copy at a reduced price. I did not not even know the book existed until then! I know that I often boast that I have the instinct to choose books that I end up loving. And this story is another ‘strange stories’ classic, among its other classics now already read. I wonder how this author’s early stories – as I assume these are – have been hiding from me? I wonder, too, how many other enthusiasts of such fiction have missed reading them? Is this something I was simply meant to read, today, and thus real-time review, as follows –
TERMINUS is a relatively short work and takes place on the Moscow Metro (upon which I have in fact travelled myself, in 2010). The work conjures up the Metro’s ambiance, including smells, and features a man and an older woman travelling towards her home where her reclusive husband awaits her. We feel they are having an affair and that he is merely travelling on the train to be with her, as she goes home to her husband. A foreboding sense of their eventual unrequited love. And stations that they do no recognise, empty stations, and they eventually get separated, the man having briefly met a small boy who has got off another train, without his father. The woman still travelling alone to her husband and an attritional marriage, I infer. But that tells you nothing really. The work has a weird power I cannot explain. The gratuitous details throughout creating a sense of disquiet and a hidden godly power of poetry that was set not in stone but in motion at the very start. As he walks upward from the underground.
A THREAD OF TRUTH
“I imagined how liberating it might be if I came to lose the use of my legs.”
This is an incredible work, yet essentially believable. Incredible, in all senses of that word. If I earlier spun ‘Heroes’ as a novella, this work is a novel. The narrator starts as a young man, agonising with the outwitting of fear with facts. Yet life branches out. And he pursues a path of aversion therapy, by facing out his fear of spiders, by studying them. And going to Suffolk on a spider study retreat with others. The characters at this retreat are well-characterised. The story flows perfectly, entrammelling the reader in a beautifully well-told traditional story. Yet with corners that are much more that that. Having a crush on one’s future sweetheart. The study of hand within hand. The prevailing spiders, You feel at home with it. Detailed as well as broadly brushstroked. Horror as if told into your ear, an extension of a hidden gravestone, or a thread of truth told by one’s perhaps sickly sweetheart as a cosy tale of terror around the open fire in the hearth. There is so much here to haunt. It is something truly special, as is this whole book. Hairs webbing from crotch to life-recurring bulge of a belly. Sally Beamish is one of my favourite composers, one work of hers being based on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. And the story even mentions my old school, the grammar one in Colchester. Out-towered by Jamesian Suffolk churches even there. The story ends with the narrator older, but wiser? Honestly, this story is too good to dissect. Just read it as a still hidden thing like it says itself. Hidden, till now? I should not cut its flowers, merely so as to give them to you in a bunch. Read it. Probably the best ending ever.