Mount Abraxas Press, Isolationist Publisher MMXIX
My previous reviews of this author here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/d-p-watt/
And of this publisher here:
When I read this book, my thoughts will appear in the comment stream below…
Over 122 pages in each book with all the particular luxuriance and startling good awakening taste of Mount Abraxas books over the years. The orange paged one numbered 3/122 and the red 4/122.
“Looking on the back she found a cross, in bolder letters, that didn’t seem to make any sense, horizontally it reads ‘NDSMD’ and from top to bottom ‘CSSML’, with the second S intersecting with the third letter of the line across.”
“Cecilia turned back to the Romanians, who were all huddled together like a bunch of schoolgirls.”
An engaging story about Cecilia Harman, having just finished university, able to take the seasonal opportunity of the ‘vendage’ in a wine area of France, grape-picking with others. Wonderful genius-loci of the village and the vineyard house, and nothing I can say here will satisfy the need to read the book itself about it. She meets the Cunninghams, a family running it for 200 years; again nothing I can say will deter you from or draw you to knowing more about them, and how or why Cecilia manages to get close to them before the other grape-pickers do. Something I personally feel about the name Cunningham strikes me as not worth mentioning to you. Nor should I mention here the object given to her by an old woman in the village, an object with the letters mentioned above before Cecilia even reached the vineyard in the first place. I do, however, think I should mention the Gewürztraminer wine she has for lunch (better than ‘plonk’) as well as a reference to the room called the ‘Mater Suite.’
Meanwhile, the title of this book is a word that I first encountered when reading Jeff VanderMeer’s Area X (aka Southern Reach Trilogy), and I have refreshed my knowledge of it: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terroir
NDSMD = anagram of the name DESMOND but without its two vowels?
II. SHOOTS AND LEAVES
In Cognac now as guest in the queasy angles of another family house… Another sort of shoot, too, before she leaves, a shooting at a boar as a Cunningham family legend or curse, amid a feud with another family; Cecilia — as part of the story beyond any Droit du Seigneur Marcel Cunningham may or may not duly possess over her — is now called Cici by Marcel as her correct nickname rather than ‘Cissy’. There is also the petulant Sebastian to account for and the woman servant who bugs him. All beautifully written, an evocation of place and characters flowing with a prose like the fine wine of the area, the colours of the paper pages notwithstanding… “That should be a delicate red, edging to brown in a wine of this power, he said.”
“, overflowing with leathery, fungal, nutty savouriness, with a hint of something floral.”
…the truffles, and a joke about turning vineyard workers into pâté. And Cici earlier mock-expertly called the wine she was drinking ‘leathery’. Meanwhile, for me there is a multitude of sins in the phrase “seeing each other” leading, after the earlier boar shooting, to a shotgun event of some suddenness. This book sweeps you off your feet, too, as Cici is by the Cunninghams, this book with its earthiness and almost forced intoxication, its ‘cunning’, too, if not this word’s shape of other semantic fields. (Semantic makes me think of a possible neologism: sexmantic.) The family mausoleum, notwithstanding. And the other implications crowding in on us, during what should otherwise be a happy occasion. Almost a ringworm scar left by a coin, too? A coinspiracy of coincidence. Randomly, while I was reading this book just now, YouTube played me a film of Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater being sung in a small French church. Meanwhile, in this story, that takes place in our internet age, there is little sign of the internet where the Cunninghams live….
“But the map is not the terrain.”
Indeed, neither is it wholly the terroir of the precise, mathematical blending of the wines (remember the two precise dated wines to celebrate a match earlier), matched by Cici’s sight of the wine barrels in a afforestation, within a strange building like many of the war forts where I live. A blend of English and French. Do I recall correctly Cici now recalling a connection with her own family, vis à vis a certain Reggie Cunningham? I may have imagined it. But you will surely tell me if I am wrong. A vast underground expanse of barrels in this wine fort, barrels with red-stained taps, to match a vast undertow of sensibility to this book, where its blending resides, as here the book truly takes off with its own blending of atmospheres, as Cici takes off, too, beyond any stultifying ennui or faux acceptances of labour by others, takes off wandering the woods to find that fort, at one moment scared by a boar with tusks and teeth, and her imagining what sound like noise-cancelling headphones on her head. Bluetooth, I wonder, to match the thousands of blue boars in this country as inns etc.? Blue is mentioned three times in this chapter along with a kaleidoscope of other colours. Then she feistily wanders into what I shall call the Stabat Mater suite. Standing to become part of the very grain of the wood. We learn so much more. We learn this book is something special, but I somehow managed to know that already, “so many little codes—“
“‘Two hundred years is nothing,’ he sighed. ‘Barely time to have unpacked your bags in history’s shabby hotel.’”
The reader, too, “mistakes a shadow for a monster”, I wonder? The earlier tusky boar figuratively comes out of the blue, as part of a panoply of ostensible superstition with votive candles and later a damning serial tradition of patriarchal easement out. To ironically match NDSMD’s earlier perception of the Stabat Mater now become “The hole was a grave […] there he stood” (the book’s emphasis, not mine), and there are many other visionary textual tranches for Cissy including a prayer in an unknown language (“in a rich blue and black tapestry of tasting notes”) that you will never forget tasting, I am sure. The claustrophobia, too, is tangible, yet your escape from it, I feel, via stoicism or durability, remains open, as we all now read in real-time the short coda headed VI. DORMANCY. Vintage vines of this author for you to harvest, even if that shadow was a monster, and that I in Terror you.
Pingback: Wise Choice | THE DES LEWIS GESTALT REAL-TIME REVIEWS