14 thoughts on “Sefira & Other Betrayals – John Langan

  1. “Madame Sosostris, famous clairvoyante,
    Had a bad cold, nevertheless
    Is known to be the wisest woman in Europe,
    With a wicked pack of cards. Here, said she,
    Is your card, the drowned Phoenician Sailor,
    (Those are pearls that were his eyes. Look!)
    Here is Belladonna, the Lady of the Rocks,
    The lady of situations.
    Here is the man with three staves, and here the Wheel,
    And here is the one-eyed merchant, and this card,
    Which is blank, is something he carries on his back,
    Which I am forbidden to see. I do not find
    The Hanged Man. Fear death by water.
    I see crowds of people, walking round in a ring.
    Thank you. If you see dear Mrs. Equitone,
    Tell her I bring the horoscope myself:
    One must be so careful these days.”
    — from ‘The Waste Land’ by TS Eliot




    Compulsive Langan meaty prose. Lisa’s eyes are not TS Eliot’s ‘pearls’, but crazing over with streaks of black into the irises. Anxiety when seen in car’s rearview or McDonalds comfort stop mirrors. Chasing Sefira in her car across USA, Lisa dares not spend time visiting an eye hospital in case she never catches up. The Dolly Parton songs on her car audio, notwithstanding. I think Sefira has been playing around with Lisa’s man Gary? Whatever the case, I do not intend to re-rehearse the plot here, in case of spoilers. But who knows.

  2. II

    “, as he said, it was as easy to fix a rich man’s car as it was a poor man’s, and you could charge him more.”

    Backstory of Lisa and Gary’s marriage, a wife’s typical jealousies and the slight slack she once gave him when he was on a bachelor party with his brother, followed by the most raunchy description of marital sex I have ever seen in print. Seriously.
    What have I got myself into? On the Cusp, myself. Well, at my age, the Cusp is better than nothing.
    How many hidden wheels does the spinning-wheel really have? My seemingly gratuitous question, not the book’s.

  3. III

    “Those mountains shouldered age, history so ancient most of it had been ground off them. Those peaks leaned against the sky as if reclining on it, monuments to unimaginable gods, or those gods themselves.”

    This work, so far, is constructively and satisfyingly attritional with meticulous meaty paragraphs, meticulous with detail but also full of flair, as it describes Lisa’s personal road-movie pursuit – with striking sights for us of the various parts of America she drives through – yet, her teeth, like the above ground down mountains, reach a precarious state that formulate, for me, probably the most anguishing images regarding one’s teeth ever in literature! And her American diet, as she travels from one eating place to another, also accumulates attritionally in our mind. A diet’s nature in contrast to the woman called Sefira whom Lisa pursues. Meanwhile, I resist describing here what I earlier learnt about Sefira’s gestalt of body and perceived aura — and what Lisa has in her car boot…. I resist these things due to fear of spoilers. But please beware inadvertent spoilers in this review. It may be better that you join me on this ride as I read it. Or look at the rest of my review after you have read the work as a whole.

  4. IV & V

    “I will always be in your bed. You will never escape me.”

    I will equally always be in your book, too.
    Strange how some books work on readers, or on one particular reader that is me. This book ineluctably alternates, so far, between backstory and subsequent road pursuit, as if directed by some, as yet, inscrutably named Mme Sosostris, and/or by a GPS that masquerades as phone calls from whomsoever you pursue, the routes of the roads, the names of the places. The reader sees them, too, like a scenic rollercoaster. And the pursued sometimes seem to double-back in person upon the pursuer, rather than by distant connection. All to the backing track of past compulsive searching on-line for whatever built climax you might otherwise not attain. “with gifs and laughing skulls…” Love a polarity between itself and hate, no more, no less – like today’s general intrinsic raging polarity? “You want to know what eternal torment looks like? It’s repetition, doing the same thing over and over and over.”

    • As an aside, “You want to know what eternal torment looks like? It’s repetition, doing the same thing over and over and over.” – synchronously in tune with the Bercow statement today on Brexit.

  5. VI

    “Dignity does not preclude revenge.”

    This narrative’s uniquely attritional extrapolation or mutation of the earlier marital raunchiness, the porn gifs, the retrocausal gps, the blackening eyes, the precarious teeth, the American diet, now extended to the gear-grinding, tail-twirling style of driving a car, then the discovery of … what? Gory with or without Gary? Well, I leave you to imagine, assuming you are not following the text with me, or have not already experienced the whole text without me. Meanwhile, I wonder if the image — that I precariously used by chance in the photo above at the top before starting my own reading of the text — is a symbol of the ‘hives’ or of the rods and pinwheels along the envisaged pathway to Mme Sosostris? Whatever the case, along with a sense of evil, Sefira seems severer AS FIRE than as FIShERmAn… “…the fire, fires, all the fire…” (My underlining.)

  6. VII

    “She had been driving so long that, standing still, she continued to feel herself hurtling forward.”

    There is something deeply attritional about any pursuit transpiring simultaneously with the pursued also purposely pursuing the pursuer, the pawns or puppets of the pursued, one by one, whether male or female, hidden in plain sight or not, pursuing the pursuer’s identity by name before they try to end the pursuer’s pursuit, one of them with a revolver spinning off, another with a knife…
    Via a precarious timetable possibly thwarted, and black shrouds pervading the perception of not only the pursuer but also the pawns and puppets of the pursued, plus a garden of yellow fangs, the fish and its lamprey, yes, via all this and what I might call a fisherman’s cast of spear-carriers, the mutual pursuit seems about to crystallise in this strangely suspenseful attrition of narrative.

  7. VIII

    “‘May?’ That’s the best you can do?”

    We step back to the root of the rationale of this book’s suspenseful pursuit of Sefira’s ‘nest’, the gory of Gary, the card-turning advice of the Waste Land’s Sosostris, the told-about hooking by Fisherman Sefira of the still warm heart, then cradling it like a prize catch (something I would naturally call ‘hawling’ and that this book calls a process to “hook your soul”), the nature discussed here in the dialogue of this hawling in Hell where some entities move close to the ground like spiders, then seeming hokum about the ‘pneumasphere’ … a hokum that makes me question whether we can believe what the characters are talking about. Fingers probing like needles … an essential evil that stains these pages.

  8. IX, X & XI

    “Already, she had identified the spindled form as the one she had seen in the memories the soul cages had driven into her,…”

    Driven into her, as it says, or driven BY her, with her teeth having been already decayed by her journey’s priming for the retrocausal candied finale. “…the mouth lined with bone and glass needles.” That white card, primed by blackened eyes, too, the white card that Sosostris turned, not a devil’s Trump but a wild card, one that can be slotted into the audit trail: a blank joker such as me? I will not reveal here the final outcome of the pursuit, but only hint at the wild duel of Langan’s crepitating words that outpace each other in their own pursuit of each other. No way to do justice to their meatily cumulative, attritional power. Studied aggression, not anger, in distaff combat. Ticks and green shrieking. Soul cages and trenches. Swarm prose. Layered sentences. I feel as if I am the “grotesque parody of an old man shaking his cane at the kids on his lawn,” when I address myself to this text. Layers and layers of clothes on the orgy’s bed after the party. “… putting what spin on it she could.” I am in its power, “hokey as the words sounded.” As they still sound, while I now swallow them.

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