SNUGGLY BOOKS 2019
My previous reviews of this author here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/david-rix/ and this publisher here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/snuggly-books/
When I read this book in due course, my thoughts will appear in the comment stream below…
—> Page 26
“Art always find a way.”
An amazingly engaging start to this novel, not very surprised, but also very surprised, if that makes sense, as I follow the narrator, amid the perfect wordings for a benighted wandering London, and the narrator’s attempts to lay the narrator’s head under a train’s metal wheels, giant metal wheels, in a forbidden raw corridor of London, a corridor bespoke for such trains, then accidentally rescued by a woman, up to no good, perhaps, in the same forbidden corridors, the colour of her clothes turning out later to be deceptive, when fully seen, when the narrator sees them upon waking from a long sleep under the housing or arch of a sea wall or railway (with severe housing shortages, I am told, making people in these days camp on a Heathrow runway!), or a Soak or whatever, in the limehouse= fenchurch= cannon= shadwell lands, in which lands I used to wander randomly in the early 1970s, when I was NOT visiting St Paul’s, that is. The narrator is later about to be introduced to the ‘others’. Before reading any more, and not yet knowing anything about this novel other than what I have already read, I will link — as a wild guess at a chance mutual-synergy — to my previous real-time review of a Doris Lessing novel here.
HOPEFULLY NO INADVERTENT PLOT SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW.
From my erstwhile review of that Lessing novel: “…a scene at the end of this section that has affected my guts more than any other book has ever done in my long reading life, and unlike Alice, I have read many books and don’t pretend I’ve read them, books that harbour their own guts for words to slew in their metabowls.” (sic)
Except my guts have now happily been reconstituted…
—> Page 39
“It tasted nice.”
A sense of Xan Brooks, too. But this Rix mix is unique … so far. And I am indeed entranced by the Picasso (collective noun I just coined) of four nicknamed characters whom our socially-ill-at-ease, arse-ends-of-buildings-and-backstreets-wandering-surveyor, once suicidal (still is?) NARRATOR meets in an urban clearing or viaduct/archway shelter/abode where some of us readers may feel we have gathered to watch a near open-air theatrical. And we have indeed done so. What ‘forbidden’ food as a pink prop is brought out by the others to cook so as to welcome our narrator (despite some of their suspicions) is indeed a coup-de-théatre. Some studied tentative gestalt-forming, on my part, as I soak in the nature of this genius-loci where this commune (?) has its ethos in a gathering world that I have not yet gathered, through the eyes, of course, of our very interesting narrator. A general scene beautifully conjured, with sporadic well-honed constructs of prose worthy of books on ethics.
—> Page 49
“What does blue sound like? What colour is someone sobbing? I might compare it to certain fruit, with a quiet subtle flavour that contains great depth.”
The nature of food’s flavour and texture is one startling thing about this book so far, but also the maze of under-urbs and salad-like chickweed, too. As we follow the narrator whom I shall call Train Man for the moment, as he departs perhaps temporarily from those he has just met in an archway near Limehouse Cut, a wanderer on foot, if not food, and by train, a wanderer by faith. A new Iain Sinclair or Moorcock. Or a refreshingly baser Ackroyd. I am LIVING this book by its vicarious art. So will you, I trust, as the type of person who reads my reviews. This book I have seen mentioned as the author’s first novel, which implies it’s an earlier pre-Brexit novel prior to later novels, yet it seems to have already recognised the endemic RAGE of London, our polarised world and its mazes. The rage lands, whereby we judge human values by many things, such as sea level, mushroom-disguised blades and adventurous urban decay. We all feel the endemic rage wherever we are. The wingnuts, et al. Still, MY first novel was my last novel.
“— I like travelling and watching — I like knowing London. It’s my thing,…”
Cross-referenced with Vernon Lee here: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/22826-2/#comment-15149
Cross-referenced again, a day or so later, with McQuade’s pink meat here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2019/07/17/best-british-short-stories-2019/#comment-16673
—> Page 66
“How can you burn a bike?”
There’s so much to quote here, but as a reviewer you have to be abstemious. There is also an ‘elephant in the room’ (my use of this expression) about this book, one concerned with something tasting nice, and if you followed that link directly above this entry, you might reach some sort of plot spoiler about it there, if you are not too careful. The elephant in the room is bound to come out in my review, anyway, sooner or later, I guess. “Regardless of leanings, food always seems to excite strong opinions.” Meanwhile, the chapter headings in this book are unfolding days of the week. Another Book of Days. And with the Train Man back in his capsule room in a house share somewhere in London near where we were before, no doubt, I am (un)surprisingly beginning to become even more impressed with this novel. Seriously so. It should be on the shelves. Judging by it so far. I really do get a strong picture of where he lives, his house mates, the society around of housing shortages and that ‘elephant in the room’, and what is on Tv, and his crush on the Slovenian woman called Tea (if I recall correctly) whose bike is mentioned above. Involuntary surgery in some video report he watches. Cramps in his bowels – from what tasted nice yesterday? And so much more. And two quotes I cannot resist:
“It seems a fundamental flaw in the human animal that suicide should be so hard when as a culture we make sure that it is inevitable.”
“One of the basic rules of life: always live with people slightly messier than yourself.”
—> Page 83
You reach a point in a book when you feel the utmost confidence in it, as I have now already felt with this novel, the prose style, the build up of characters, the genius loci, the ethos, and here a sense of what sort of world, alternate or not, I may be dealing with. My own world does not exist, and this book’s world does, during the reading of it. And sometimes afterwards, too!
I hope to continue real-time reviewing it, as well as reading it. I am one of its hunters now. One of its hawlers.
So far, it’s like entering a version of Antonioni’s Red Desert one inimical moment but something far more amenable the next moment. The concept of potential suicide as a liberating force, somewhere between the two.
—> Page 100
“In this part of the city, canals and rivers twined like lovers through the marshes and it took all my mapping skills to know which was which.”
This is in mutual synergy with Lee Rourke, complete with similar sporadic “…” interpolations. More or Lessing. One who enjoys Rourke fiction will enjoy this Rix novel. And vice versa. Meanwhile, there is also incredible stuff in the Rix that I DARE not tell you about in case you SNARE me for reading it and disseminating it here! Yet, disarmingly, I am with it. I can even empathise with the inchoate rage of one of the characters, rage that is unfocused like many people who have raw emotions. Even viscerally naïve ones as displayed here. I empathise, too, with Train Man’s reaction to being comfortingly hugged by each of two women on two separate occasions. Also his seeming inability to nurture his own rage, finding it hard even to be angry. And the theatricality that I identified earlier is now satisfyingly made more explicit towards the end of this section of pages. These five characters really live. I am sure the novel may not be as expected. It is something lateral to something else I have not yet quite identified. The King’s, not the Queen’s, hat, notwithstanding?
“What the hell was all that even about?”
Sometimes I wonder if I am reading so far in BLAST a new Swiftian Modest Proposal or an old Quentin S. Crisp Graves or something else altogether! A lateral Mark Samuels A Pilgrim Stranger? A nod towards The Good Terrorist by Doris Lessing?
Caveat: I naturally tend, where any text allows, to eschew didacticism in literature and to promote l’art pour l’art.
The take on the Falklands War in the new McEwan or the jester’s hoax that resides within Ligotti?
I also believe in the gift, that some possess, of a preternatural instinct in curating literature rather than – or as part of – any conscious intention or design.
(As Star Girl does in the next section of BLAST currently being read, with my having identified her clothes earlier in this review, I now find she actually curates clothes and their colours!)
—> Page 108
“The age-old desperation for a simple solution — something nicely black or white that we can all comfortably blame — even though that never exists either. Or conversely something we can imagine is perfect, when it’s actually meaningless.”
Today’s increasing rage of polarities, prophesied when this novel was first written. I get the impression it was written longer ago that I originally assumed. Curating clothes, “performance art”, and even mention of David Attenborough. The Socratic dialogues between the characters here are nicely madcap. Make some sense, too! I can’t help thinking of Xan Brooks as well as the other cross-references above. I don’t know why! Rosanne Rabinowitz, too. And the stewpot at the end of this section of pages, reminds me of Alice’s stewpot in ‘The Good Terrorist’. Whatever I say about these cross-references, I am sure of one thing: BLAST is UNIQUE!
—> Page 138
“I traced my finger from my nose, to Tea’s eyes, then in a graceful arc towards the computer that was blaring out this racket and mimed a sharp explosion.”
…as if Train Man, the narrator, is measuring…and a bit like how this book has erupted as a process in my mind, so far. I have gathered how counterproductive would be reporting to you exactly how I am learning about Train Man (his social unease, his thoughts, oblique desires etc) and about this London within which he lives, because, like me, you need to encounter some pretty remarkable, but truly believable, habits and events and items as they unfold in the book, and my telling you beforehand about them risk altering the reading journey itself. Rest assured, this book so far is elegant in style if not always in what the style describes — compelling, too, startling, page-turning, with concepts galore, conceits, names for certain things, sound and silence mixed, visualised speculations that are inexplicable but you know they CAN and probably will be explained. Sexual mœurs seemingly formalised. Things that are only one audit trail’s single step away from our own reality’s audit trail, but that step, I suggest, is really a giant leap. And if this novel has been hiding away somewhere before now, one needs to loudly ask WHY?! Meanwhile, this particular section is of a young person’s urban house party in the house where Train Man lives, mainly held in Tea’s flat (Tea, wearing her eyepatch that later gains some traction of explanation) but also partying on the roof, too…
“People are people. People interact — always have done, always will, within the realms of possibility.”
—> Page 158
“Just a jumble of verticals and horizontals in various shades of brown.”
From now on, take it as read, what I have already said about this book’s general compelling assets of readability. I can’t keep repeating it. Meanwhile, you won’t forget, in this section of pages, Train Man’s alarm clock diatribe, and his views on the work /art balance, the sinister cuteness of cats, pizza boxes as illegal structures, and others’ views on illegal substances and not just drugs, fulminating on the housing crisis, the fridge door in the fridge’s back, the measuring signs between Train Man and fellow tenant Tea (the latter being a perfect name for a woman in a QSC fiction, I guess, as well as in a Rix one), and Train Man, during the next day’s aftermath of last night’s party, meeting up on the roof with a girl called Feather whom he had met earlier there, and, for me, she sets, by her talk, this book into a new startling gear! No point in my telling anyone about it. It is all in the book for people to read. I would, however, just remind myself of Tea’s earlier throwaway line about setting her boyfriends on fire, and then introducing us to a boy friend with sideburns! (I say ‘us’, because Train Man as narrator has already encompassed each reader by conniving with each reader.) And, oh yes, Tea and this boy friend are trying to measure each other’s shapes while still being in the early stages of an intimate relationship, a relationship that no doubt started with a BANG! If not a blast. Just one gripe, a shed on the roof? (You know the one, the shed with a bag of animal bones in it leading to someone’s misuse of the word ‘cannibal’). Well, the first hefty gale would surely have removed such a shed?
“There are enough problems in the world without deliberate mysteries.”
I suddenly wondered if I should also be cross-referencing this unique novel
with Nina Allan, say, The Rift.
—> Page 176
“I liked these forgotten places in the city; I liked venturing into the private places on the other side of gates—“
These forgotten or not yet noticed places of literature, I like venturing, too. And I don’t think I am exaggerating when saying this book is increasingly turning out to be its own such inbuilt city of words: the optimum such reading-venture, paradoxically the pessimum, too. Riven with housing crisis politics, yet somehow not didactic. There is something going on here beyond didacticism. Something mathematical, something graffiti- or art-orientated, something transgressive, enclave-engendered or alien, with, say, a mention of many thoughts and visions that seem part of a Jungian collective unconscious being revealed — for example a mere mention of a Crying Room that I seem to have encountered before. Each time I pick this book up, I think to myself that I shall be on a plateau of good reading, good writing, a plateau that I have already reached, only for it again to reach new levels I could not have anticipated. Here I follow Train Man, accompanying Feather, into her world. A new commune or enclave to match the earlier City Hunters at the sea wall. Now an ostensible mail dump. With corners like shrines. A book that is quickly becoming its own (what I earlier identified) performance art. Beanbags et al. Clear and impenetrable as “the disconnects of the world” or the gestalt I ever seek, scavenging for gems of expression, cross-references with angles against the backdrop of London’s new landmarks. Being spooked, maybe, but also ready to explore the city further or get back to old places, any spookiness to be transcended. Another personal cross-reference in this review would be an obliquely connective one, i.e. my recent triangulation of Middle England. “Be ready”, other tags and pieces available. We need to polyangulate all viewpoints. The biker, the walker, the train-traveller, even the car driver. And those supine in makeshift corners or boxes. Some nearly dead. I am currently all of those things at various times. Ah, not a biker, though. Not since I was a boy.
“It felt as though performances were being put on all around with every action fractionally unreal. […] These were all classic dramas of the city night…”
Some connections with review entry headed “—> Page 150” here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2019/05/08/machines-like-me-and-people-like-you-ian-mcewan/#comment-16684
—> Page 208
“a noticeable blast of heat”
Sea Wall time again, yet one more ratchet up from yesterday’s level, a hot night, following the ‘Face of Twilight’ at the tail end of the previous section (“Red lights. Gossamer threads of light. Faces. Vertices.”), Mark Samuels blended with Lee Rourke and others, with canals, railtracks, and secret concrete boxes or chasms that make both suspicion/timidity and expansive adventure bedfellows, plus Canary Wharf’s “glittering towers”, and the surrounding psychogeography, Train Man’s lack of bodily confidence (“unfit blob”), unfit but unfat, when he is faced with an accretive eroticism in that twilight, a twilight now a night of mud-wallowing and magical madness, here amid the “green to orange” and nakedness of a special night, with two other explicit “blasts” yet to sound out in this section of pages, one a blast of a “bomb” with riots and the other a “blast of emotion”, prior to sight of London’s last scheduled red bus, the last ever? A world drifting sideways into dreams within dreams within dreams. Like the power of a slowly moving train in the night, a power strangely greater than that of a fast train. Stealth travel. Scars on bare skin that told stories…
“—an over-arching structure simultaneously supporting and binding this world we live in, on some level fictitious, on some level not at all. Lines and angles filled with tension and glowing an impossible red beneath the cityscape. Permitting it to exist . . .” (the book’s ellipsis, not mine.)
—> Page 232
“—and after a few complex seconds.”
The new normal. The mocking and raging infecting us all from the internet — as if aliens were/are using WiFi to take us over? … my latter pondering inspired by this book, not necessarily the book’s own pondering. The London Madness. This book does indeed have something special, a genuinely professional writerly quality underpinning its bitingly fell transgressions, over and under bites, those bones in the roof shed again, and things I can’t tell you for fear of spoilers. I will tell you, though, of the highly believable rage scene between housemates, those people trapped in their own little boxes when they get together. And there is the most beautifully written description of Train Man reading a book aloud to someone. This book has moments like this, arguably gratuitous, but perfectly woven into its patterns. And a wounded Tea that needs more than just a plaster. And, oh yes, this reminds me about the Canary blasters, the concept of biking things mass-communally is a very striking image. You will know what I mean when you read it. More than just a good terrorism à la Lessing…
—> Page 246
“Aren’t we all just a little bit mad? Aren’t we all just telling our own stories on the substrate of an unknowable world?”
A section of half dream, half reality, yet even dreams that tail off are indeed real in themselves, even those communal dreams of flesh. A continuing evocative vision of colours, angles, possible alien/human-oppressor imposition by dint of something ineffable that this book touches upon, including the oppression of the underclass, arty or not. Imbued with the reality of London, its impending omens of strife that we feel even stronger today wherever we live in the land. But there has turned out to be at least one more red bus, after the night’s cobweb of red lasers, a bus with electronic ticket bleeps, that Train Man boards with feathery Feather, whereby they discuss underground life, beyond all our mail dumps and measurements. Our measurements and those of others.
“My head was swimming trying to find a catch…”
Two coincidences –
half an hour ago, I was writing about things swimming in my brain with regard to ‘Blamol’ here – and last night I was discussing with my son the various shades of black with regard to the pixels on my television. Well, my son was telling me things about it, rather than it being a proper discussion! As Train Man also does today in this section!
– “the colour of that black shape”
—> Page 273
“If London was indeed an orchestra, then we were slowly building up from an eerie quiet with the occasional sharp phrases from the woodwind through to some serious brass eruptions — demonic fanfares and dissonant trombones.”
Eruptions, or blasts. That is at the beginning of this section. Not always Penderecki, though, but rather John Cage’s 4’ 33” mentioned towards the end of this section (also the title of the world’s first blank story as published in Nemonymous 2002, proving there is no such thing as nothing) – silence as shades of black or white? – and this mighty section is some sort of grown-ups’ Lord of the Flies performance, but one that takes acting towards a reality of impulse, when the mask or masque becomes you, and vice versa. Hide & Seek and Catch, fun amid chaos transcended, sometimes traumatised. On the brink of danger attuned to the London Madness. With Train Man’s learnt confusion of sex. Now a polar bear. All here compared to painting (Delvaux) as well as the above music, and ‘a surreal movie.’ I myself mentioned Picasso earlier. This is a mighty section of the book, one with these growingly iconic characters, seriously memorable characters projectable into the future, characters that one can easily imagine being cinematised as well as what-I-called-earlier theatricalised. Reading this book is like sharing a ride with Train Man on his bike. Or becoming the book’s duck or rabbit.
“And whatever you do, don’t think in black and white.”
Another cross-reference to this book: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2019/05/08/machines-like-me-and-people-like-you-ian-mcewan/#comment-16703
—> Page 326
“…it was one of the most complicated silences I have ever experienced, with almost an entire novel’s worth of narrative and information.”
Train Man as the author’s narrator is still explicitly colluding or conniving – on and off – with the reader. And the reader is me, is you, and, I, for one, feel as if I have been on one helluva literary journey through this section of pages that I decided to read in one fell sitting. But even more than just literary, if that was not enough! Let me take it in stages, with blanks to avoid significant spoilers. First the duck scene – different from any later impossible fuck scene – one I will never do justice to, in its raw culinary detail, a Ralph Robert Moore crescendo with duck preparation and its inferred Easter eggs of meanings within it, where the duck becomes, for me, tantamount to the endless Fishes and Loaves in the Bible! The ‘stealth browsing’ of the dark web or underground cooking. Train Man trying to retrieve his ‘white bear.’ (Cf Tem’s excavated bear.) The germs in the weather of WiFi or mass hysteria. Contagious crying or riots. Reference to Japanese girls in an epidemic of fainting. Did Murakami reference that, too? Various ceremonial toasts, one to “curves”, this book’s geometric ones I guess, not bodily ones. The flesh-phobia of eating. Then there are three substantial scenes or events that really affected me in the guts. Few books have managed to do exactly that in my reading past. (See the book’s own telling take on the use of the word “guts”.) First, a journey for Train Man to another secret abode (in itself a description of residual living quarters you will not forget) amid a post-Iain Sinclair East London landscape of sea walls and encroaching river tides – “a sense of a singingly beautiful ruin”, a ruinenlust – a journey description that outdoes even the earlier one Train Man had with Feather, a description now leading towards his own telling experiences with another woman, one who leads him to such ruinenlust. Yes, the second event, the most incredible series of personal feelings described by Train Man, being a literary event to outdo most literary events, surely, in the history of all fiction scenes of characters reaching some sort of physical fruition, and the thoughts that go with such usually non-precontractual acts in our own world. Followed, by the third event, a scene where some of the now iconic characters are observed by Train Man meeting moments of authority. I will draw a spoiler-free veil over these moments, but rest assured they make a deeply poignant pattern with the other two major events of intertwined place and two people together. “That’s what it is like when you have been this close to catching a train.” And when having a shower becomes a back stage intimacy as a complement to the front of that stage. Followed by moving moments of lightning, as the London Madness develops new symptoms… and other ‘spans of time’ that the narrator turns into his own blanks of “time passing.” Railtrack workers and other such ‘coincidences’, notwithstanding. The event horizon. “…a blast of beautiful coolness”, as this section’s coda.
Postscript to previous section above, before reading the next section –
To eat or feel flesh, eroticism or phobia?
—> Page 374 (end)
“‘They are just a metaphor,’ she said soothingly.”
Just? Meanwhile, a number of soliloquys, info-dump dialogues, sermonising, yet somehow perfect for this book’s theatricality of performance art. There was indeed no need to worry. I was dreading that the climax would not be a climax at all. I was desperate for it to reach even beyond the last plateau, towards not necessarily only a Wellsian invasiveness but an essential peak of Rixian light shows. And, indeed, again, I need not have worried. THIS IS SOMEHOW A MAJOR BOOK MANQUÉ, I feel. Manqué, because it was hidden too deep. A novel on the brink of something with a literary éclat or “breathtaking” blast. Not really SF, not a mere McEwanism, but something other for our times, literary as well as an ‘adventure’ in open mind and closed passiveness, as written a few years ago, I suspect. Still keeping my powder dry away from the river’s dark muddy tides. All that I thought on the jagged graph of my real-time reviewing of this book heretofore now reaches some sort of anticipated fulfilment or gestalt, characters and their hang-ups now fleshed out despite the ambivalent ministrations OF that flesh. Reader and author on no name terms. Like some of the blanks that disable the ability for Train Man to say certain things to one person among other no named people. Here are some final unconnected moments from this last section as a personal nemo book or mnemonic for me — “As dawn crept over the sky, a new sound intruded into the world – the rumble of a train.” — “A logarithmic spiral of dwindling water.” — “the knowledge that a half-expected doom is right there waiting for you.” — “If this was a different kind of book, then no doubt I might have been able to come to the rescue at the eleventh hour.” (Ironically, as he did with a mudlarking Feather!?) — “22, red light, 8, red light, 47, red light, 34, red light, 12, red light – somehow like a very slow musical composition,” — “Then with a blast we emerged from that pipe,…” — “…well there was only a blank. Utter blackness.” — “What did it feel like to be finally measured and found wanting?” — “Or was the conflict between the angle and the curve somehow eternal?” — “A few cubes of white flesh […] I was pretty sure it was rabbit.” — “‘For all sorts of reasons,’ I said. ‘Bear with me as well.’”
The leaner Bacon triptych?
Just cross-referenced with the Nogle here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2019/08/02/vastarien-a-literary-journal-vol-2-no-2/#comment-16717
Cross-referenced again: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2019/08/17/an-american-story-christopher-priest/#comment-16734
The phobia/ eroticism nexus of touching and eating flesh mentioned here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2019/08/17/an-american-story-christopher-priest/#comment-16738
Also re a ‘mathematical romance’ earlier in that review,
And again that nexus later compared here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2019/08/02/vastarien-a-literary-journal-vol-2-no-2/#comment-16743
Later cross-referenced here with Wretched: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2020/12/10/the-new-abject-tales-of-modern-unease/#comment-20554