The Moon In A Silver Bag – Colin Insole

MOUNT ABRAXAS PRESS, Isolationist Publisher, MMXX
The Carnival of the Drowned, plus
Oblivion’s Poppy MMX
Alcyone MMXI
“This Edition has been printed in Six Days in January, MMXXI, at the House of Pareidolia in Bucharest.”

My previous reviews of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/colin-insole/ and of this publisher: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/complete-list-of-zagava-ex-occidente-press-books/

When I read this book, my thoughts will appear in the comment stream below…

9 thoughts on “The Moon In A Silver Bag – Colin Insole

  1. Leaving description of the discrete poster and its obverse till later, the book itself is a highly worthy example of this publisher’s acclaimed customary art-design and luxurious architecture, with around 130 pages. Mine is numbered 5/203.

  2. The first work I reviewed in 2010, as follows, in its then context (so please ignore the precise page numbers below)….

    =========================================

    OBLIVION’S POPPY

    Strikingly, this is what is said of the book on its Publisher’s site: <<We should be very clear about this: Colin Insole is one of the very few genuine exceptional authors to emerge on the weird scene in the last years, if not in the last decade. To describe his labyrinthine stories, his masterly language, his arresting imagery and symbolism would be not only futile but also rather indelicate. […] Oblivion’s Poppy is a breathtaking work of European decadent and weird literature. Certainly not for those who drink their wine with water.>>

    I keep my powder dry. I have not yet started it!

    This is what the publisher’s website says of its format (and it is indeed a beautiful book): <>

     Surprisingly, beneath the above dustjacket, the book’s hard cover clearly shows in large gold letters a different title embossed on its front (there may be a reason for this that I have not yet fathomed) and this is: <>

     I am unnumbered. (23 Nov 10)

     =========================================

    Pages 1 – 14

    A Retreat (or Redoubt?) to where humans migrate with the homing instinct of nature’s creatures, accompanied by the astonishing prose music as well as redolence of the immediately prior direnesses in Europe. The Retreat’s Masonic stone guardians, as well as its real unfettered Host, watch the wet arrival of those for whom there had been earlier scavengings continent wide – one a female whose passage by past photograph is facilitated by the telling of it and all others by their earlier coming of it. One reading is not nearly enough. But one reading will suffice for these my initially risky real-time impressions.

    And deep within a cave, near the Wilderness of the Wild Apples, a lynx twitched its ears and dreamed of the wildwood, in the old times, before humans breathed.” (23 Nov 10 – 2 hours later)

    ===========================================

    [It has since become clear to me that the ‘title’ under the dustjacket is not a title at all but a quote! One that I shall comment upon if this seems appropriate when reading the rest of the novella. However, I maintain that it looks like a title in large gold upper-case lettering right across the front. Indeed, with nothing on the spine, if any edition of this book ever loses its dustjacket (as books sometimes do) and then turns up in a secondhand bookshop, someone will pick up the book and may assume it’s THE SEER IS NEVER THANKED by Stefan George. He’ll likely put it back on the shelf without looking inside. After all, he was looking for a book by his favourite writer Colin Insole! That’s not a criticism, but an observation. In fact, I think it’s a clever trick.] (23 Nov 10 – another hour later)

    It is contended that it’s ‘obvious’ that it is a quote not a second title under the dustjacket. I may agree with that, using the benefit of hindsight by looking further into the book. But first impressions, at least to this reader, indicated it was a title ‘creatively’ conflicting with that on the dustjacket. Should it ever lose its dustjacket, the design shown below would be the only exterior wording on the book. (24 Nov 11)

    ===============================================

    Pages 14 – 23

    “… Beethoven’s Third Symphony and while it played, sombre and proud, he sat deep in thought, his eyes filling with tears.”

    I am beginning to agree with the statement I quoted above from the publisher’s website: “To describe his labyrinthine stories, his masterly language, his arresting imagery and symbolism would be not only futile but also rather indelicate”. I do feel somewhat ‘indelicate’ attempting this real-time review, even to describe these pages I’ve just read as an exquisite series of ‘backstories’ to the ‘migration’ and ‘direnesses’ hinted at in my first attempt at engaging with this book above.

    The inward, initially unseen ‘title’ or ‘quote’ is perhaps merely a literary ‘exegesis’ as warning to any approaching this book’s mysteries lightly.

    I shall continue, however, and, meanwhile, I am obliquely, ‘indelicately’ reminded of what I wrote about this author’s story in the anthology ‘Cinnabar’s Gnosis’: –<<The Weimar Spider – Colin Insole: …exquisitely wallows in the sense of Mittel-European turn-of-the-centry towards mid-twentieth century weaving Baudelaire, Verlaine, Alban Berg, Ezra Pound – with more ‘rumours and possibilities’, relationships crossing time and tarot. And a magic mysterious bookishness akin to that of Mark Valentine fiction. Loved it. (There is a skein of narrative tentacles that will need un-weaving upon later re-reading I guess. Not retro-causal so much as Jungian via accidents-of-mind-and-body). All this and Meyrink himself walking through the words implicitly becoming a Proustian self that he perhaps never knew as himself when alive.“The rhymes and rhythms of forgotten people. You can hear their heart beats through the walls.” (22 Dec 09 – four hours later)>> — (24 Nov 10 – 2 hours later)

    ===============================

    There is another, more substantial, quote inside the book before the novella starts, a quote from Ernst Jünger. I am tempted to quote it in full here as I feel it sheds more light upon my tusslings with text above, my indelicate exigency of exegesis, but it would possibly be a spoiler to do so.

    Pages 24 – 27

    “The rose hips were red or violet – burgundy-dark and noxious.”

    The narration does not shy away from the indelicate manure of Retreat living, as connected with the work of another of its one-time denizens – coupled, ironically (?), with an oblique vision of Plato’s cave. (24 Nov 10 – another 2 hours later)

    ==============================

    Pages 27 – 37

    “Aside from our role as witnesses to this forthcoming ordeal, I am glad I have come here.”

    I, too, am glad, although the seer is never thanked, it seems.

    The focus of the Retreat’s happenings within the novella is clear from the beginning as 1952, and perhaps the time perspectives in Europe are clearer to you by virtue or guilt of that instinctive knowledge, including the harmonics of the universe, and other matters with which you may not otherwise be in tune  such as knightly masonics, alchemy, and the mixture of motives within the Retreat’s Host and occupants, and narrator. Retreat as a constant Redoubt.  But there is much more to fathom, I sense.  This novella is so rich, I feel sated with possibilities and echoes of heritages within me. Sated, but also elated.

    ========================

    Pages 37 – 47

    “There is no need to be afraid. There are no ghosts. The unhappy souls remembered here left this world as if they never existed. Their lives amounted to nothing and when they died, nothing remained. Only their names and deeds are recorded.”

    I could not resist quoting those words of the Host to the Retreat’s denizens. It touched me deeply.  And the camponology of time now rings louder.  (‘Host’ is my word in this context, by the way, not the book’s  and its nearness to ‘ghost’ is merely coincidental). (24 Nov 10 – another 90 minutes later)

    ==============================

    Pages 48 – 54

    “They were imagining their own deaths and walking in landscapes they had never seen.”

    Various viewpoints, including a woman’s journal running like a thread in the book so far, and the Host’s listening, for example, to a denizen’s story, add to a permeating feel of Toynbeean history surrounding the crux of European war during the years leading up to ‘now’ in 1952.  Almost a knightly or scholastic approach to a ‘spirit’ of that war’s guilt.  [Disregarding this European war element for a moment, I find that there is a feel in this work like – or a non-conscious synergy with – some of the fiction work of Matt Cardin.  Knightly in Insole’s work, but Monkish in Cardin’s?] (24 Nov 10 – another hour later)

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    Pages 55 – 66

    “My own city, the home of Chopin, is recalled in the contents of milk cans and metal boxes.”

    I visited Warsaw in the last few weeks – on the road to Minsk and beyond – and heard from an 84 year old about the Ghetto etc. I am steeped – like it or not – in history’s push, even if I didn’t live at the time. This novella is about that – the ‘alternate world’ of history that is ‘you’.  Also the book’s ‘guests’ of the Retreat is a better word than my ‘denizens’. A redoubt as to whether I am a ‘seer’ at all!  And if not, I can be thanked for just being a fallible reader! Indeed, this book will need re-reading, as well as redoubting. (24 Nov 10 – another 90 minutes later)

    ===============================

    Pages 66 -71

    “They knew nothing about the secret purpose of the Retreat and assumed it was a closed monastic order which sold its honey, fruit and vegetables in the local market.”

    [‘Monastic’ is so much more the ‘mot juste’ than ‘monkish’!]

    Reference to the ‘fiction’ of Lord Haw-Haw – followed by cinematic vision of a girl with a doll (Cf: Schindler’s List?) – this time riddled with malignancy.

    I think I am already convinced, by the way, that the publisher was not exaggerating when saying what I quoted him saying above about this author’s work. I also fail to do it justice, I’m afraid, as I’m sure I’m missing things on this my first reading. (24 Nov 10 – another hour later)

    ===============================

    Pages 72 – 77

    An amazing vision of huge poppies that the Host shows his Guests, beyond the size of those at Flanders Fields. [Appropriate that I had Poppy thoughts myself a week or so ago?] There are wonderful symbols hovering around this book – poppies, bees, lynx, apples…. This book will need to ferment for several years amid the underswell of eclectic nature, I guess? (24 Nov 10 – another 4 hours later)

    Writing a real-time review is a special reading-journey on the internet – a journey that takes place within a single reading mind, beset by all the foibles of the moment.  The question is: does this affect the journey itself, i.e knowing one is publicly describing that journey as it happens? (24 Nov 10 – bedtime)

    =================================

    Perhaps I should record here that it is clear from the start of this book that the Retreat is situated in Wliflingen, West Germany. (25 Nov 10)

    ==================================

    Pages 77 – 89

    “Only the master of the refuge must fill the silver bowl with the blooms, ripening buds and seed pods, cut on the eve of solstice.”

    Retreat as ‘refuge’?  How many more words for redoubt?  In this section I have more pencilled passages than any previous section.  This seems the veritable crux of … our guilt trip? Or heroic venture? Or literary trail-blazing into the very soul’s sump of our civilisation?   In my first official comments (without looking back first), I think I mentioned the word Masonic. That was an inspired guess at that time.  I have now entered upon further crusades with this book and its ‘Sentinel’. You will do so, too, because, if you are reading this review at all to this point (in real time or otherwise), you must be susceptible to reading this book in the first place.  But if this is a ‘seeing’ of our communal soul for what it is, I shall be ready not to be thanked.  (Cf: the works of Frances Oliver (eg ‘All Souls’) and John Howard  (eg the story ‘Silver Voice’ itself)). (25 Nov 10 – nine hours later)

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    Pages 89 – 92

    “It was impossible to quarrel in the Halls of Fire for even bitter enemies, seeing each other, would be separated by lifetimes of memory.”

    The eternal lynx…

    I myself wrote of the eternal lynx of the onyx field in a sixties poem and later in a 1974 novel (‘The Visitor’). (25 Nov 10 – thirty minutes later)

    ================================

    Pages 92 – 96

    “Rats will nest and breed in a corpse even while they feed on its internal organs.”

    It’s as if we readers are being tested by the ‘mirror’ of this book itself. We shall either succeed or fail in our interpretations of it.  If we fail, the publisher will be on our tails.  I really feel like that.

    Also, it’s as if we have lived with this book forever, even though we’ve only evidentially been reading it for the first time in the last day or so. (25 Nov 10 – another 30 minutes later).

    ============================

    Pages 96 – 104

    “He was sixty-two.”

    But not for much longer. The book closes in on me in a very personal way.

    An apocalypse, an apocrypha, a symbiosis of symbols craftily laid earlier by this book now either to explode like text-mines in new newsworthy wars or to blend into a new Host, a new Masonic Eucharist, a camponology of words – a redemption, though? We guests can only hope. There is so much sin to expiate. (25 Nov 10 – another 30 minutes later)

    ========================

    Pages 104 – 108

    “…the power of the remaining poppies seemed somnolent and subdued.”

    The gift to me is the residue of an imputedly great author who leaves me his book after he is swallowed up finally by his words. Not necessarily the naked book itself with false title, but the memory of his book that is stronger than anything I can hold in my hands. I end a review that only harvests itself as a gift exchanged.

    “It is Beethoven’s manuscript for some bagatelles and light dances. Look, there is his signature.” (25 Nov 10 – after a final 30 minutes elapsed)

    END

  3. THE CARNIVAL OF THE DROWNED

    .
    “‘Now you belong to the town,’ his aunt had said.’You are part of its fabric; its myths and its stories.’”

    When he was tiny, with his aunt, he saw the Eastern European genius loci and below its lake to the dreams or realities of a sunken town’s streets that are now, in his older age, a place placed in palimpsest with the subsequent Great War that since transpired. He has become a martinet with a cane, a man, on trains, who scries soldiers’ letters from home and their other personal documents, on trains amid such soldiers from the war, scries their underlying patterns and secrets, as if the secretive process of gestalt real-time reviewing would become the scrying of life itself not of literature, patterns and secrets that the authorities of the time needed to know. Even in the postmarks.
    I think that every time I read a new story by this author, new to me, that is, it is exponential in its enhancement of his prose style, its rapture and rhapsody, its message. This work is no exception; it is staggering in its beauty and tantalisingly sensed depth: in the mosaics of history, the fallible man who experiences them. Place placed on place.
    I may have imagined this exponential growth in the literary skills of Insole, but if so, such growth must be true. Life is literature.
    All sincerely felt by a fallible martinet reviewer.

  4. I reviewed the final work in 2011, as follows in its then context (so please ignore the precise page numbers)…

    ========================================

    ALCYONE

    .
    Pages 7 – 13

    “Do those figures depict the ghosts of our departed names?”

    Three brief date-headed sections introducing a wistful turn-of-the-1980s-into-1990s (?) heritage-ritual of en-Durer of literariness and painterliness of a London haunted by a Prague heritage (?) and a word-converging of two destined strangers (?) via chance or or magic or syncronicity or mere authorial intention (?): hereby named unsteadily (?) Alice and Michael.

    [dessicated –>desiccated. Tut Tut.] (15 Dec 11)

    Pages 14 – 16

    “And what follies do we bring from the west, wondered Alice, as they boarded their hotel taxi.”

    A masterful evocation of Prague in 1990 as steeped in its own past, riparian or troop-train-riverine or otherwise, and nature / nurture – while, I guess, the honeymoon (?) couple enter their own dislocated-further-east ‘Death in Venice” (?) but don’t look now – it’s a couple not a solitary man and preludium is in control. I have no idea where this lexic river of fiction is going – let’s not pretend otherwise – but just let’s be proudly pretentious about such exquisite prose: Prague as a ‘genius loci’. It deserves being critically over-blown: it deserves its own coddling into existence as the physical pages turn. Good books need real pages. Stiff paper. Handleable emotions. Only indifferent books can make do with mere electronics, tempting a culture that in turn tempts piracy or plagiarism or deliberate torrenting towards vanishing waterfalls of forgetting ever having read what was ‘written’. (16 Dec 11)

    Pages 16 – 26

    “What are those buildings that rise like yellow fungi out of the gutters?”

    I will not correct my own reading mistakes. Mistakes are the Reader’s art, the Reader’s privilege, and should stay ‘put’ to mark the reading-journey, especially a paying Reader like me – especially, too, with “a fiction of lies” which this fiction mentions and may or may not itself be, assuming any fiction has the ability not to lie or the effrontery to do so without upsetting any suspended disbeliefs or monetary regrets.  So let’s now describe the unmistakeable: i.e. this landscape-format book itself. Just over 90 pages of stiff quality paper, black endpapers, a heroically sturdy black fine-stitchy-board-cover with no writing upon it other than, in large print, on its front: WE ARE BETTER NOW WE ARE BETTER NOW: plus a black and white frontispiece of an art-deco-like (?) photograph (?) of a young sun(?)-bathing couple seated on a large geometrically shaped stone, their backs to us, staring out to sea; a startlingly stiff dust-jacket with a studious young profile outline-drawn on the front and the title / author’s name on the dust-jacket’s ‘spine’; and on the last page: “‘Alcyone’ was first published by Passport Levant in 2011 in an edition of 107 copies of which this is No. 25.” The ’25’ is handwritten in red ink. And the text of this section of pages has Prague and its buildings merging behind masks (like the words’ own masks themselves somewhat), references to a Tarot pack, mysteries blurring as the couple, Alice and Michael, show independence of each other in whatever each seeks in this novella, if not in the City itself. Acquaintanceships, names and learning-processes set up as the Reader squints between the lines. And a reference to starlings that for me contains a coincidence with the other book I’m simultaneously real-time reviewing here (the bird in its first story (a starling, too!) is astonishingly meaningful in resonance between the two books).  Thus, the Reader here is primed by preludium, if still feeling his or her own way. His or her own way, within the book, too. (16 Dec 11 – three hours later)

    Pages 27 – 33

    “Where his sword once flourished, peeped the head of a toothless fox, whose brush tickled the remains of his right ear.”

    After much internal plot-searching (akin to heart-searching but not quite the same), Alice and Michael (hardly sweethearts!) only touch base at the end of this section – imbued with something that Prague hides and reveals simultaneously, i.e. as if strobing in and out of different existences: here with the flaying and flensing and mixing of animal and human, stone and flesh. Meanwhile, I have already drawn attention to the accretively synchronised real-time review here: and I just now read of a pomegranate being flensed etc. in the other book’s story ‘City in Flames’ and now a number of minutes later in ‘Alcyone’: “…the exposed flesh of pomegranates and the innards of beast and fowl…” And also girls unknotting Ligottian dolls cruelly and throwing them in the river in some form of scientific-religious summoning away of death so as “to carry summer into the city“.  Real Prague or an even realler visionary version of Prague as preludium sits on these pages by a form of literary osmosis, I suggest, and will be underpinned even further by matching it with whatever other book you are concurrently reading or have just read or about to read. That’s its magic. (16 Dec 11 – another hour later)

    Or both books’ symbiosis of magic? (16 Dec 11) – another 30 minutes later)

    Pages 33 – 44

    These recent months of chaos and confusion have led to the rise of upstarts and parvenus – men who seek to profit from the relaxation of laws and controls.”

    As above, so below. As then, so now. And so it will be forever or never. The inability of Reader to grapple simultaneously with plot and vision, stone and flesh, ancestor and descendant, man and woman (‘sweethearts’ at potential cross-purposes, even if any books-between have cross-references), the inability to thread an iconostasis across and over Prague’s statues, as filtered by tarot, bridge and house.  A river of dolls. Sometimes not understanding is understanding to the hilt.  And today is reflected in the stone-faced still of a prime minister caught on-pause thinking of his own aloneness without having prepared his face first.  Just a thought evoked by this densely textured, meaning-drained, meaning-full prose-sculpture. (16 dec 11 – another 3 hours later)

    Pages 45 – 50

    “Soon, you will recall him only in the sound of the rat’s feet scuttling in wainscots and under floorboards.”

    A new day of reading – and, as if by further magic – the book’s Reader’s ‘dream’ is crystallising – and the Alice-Michael relationship and its concatenative hauntings by mineral, vegetable, animal and spiritual (four elements often blending), and by dreams (a fifth element?), heritages and speculative futures, all gradually becoming, for me, as handleable as the book is.  Goodness knows, if this were an Ebook, I can’t imagine how any reader would manage, even given strictly the same text to ‘read’. This is intensely a prose piece that is impossible to convey by review – so why am I doing so? Well, I feel compelled to do so – by forces both benign and malign (forces that may have nothing to do with the author or publisher, neither of whom I have met – and, in this connection, I confirm that I did visit Prague myself relatively briefly a few years ago as part of a holiday coach party from the UK). “And he remembered his father, humming the notes of a tune, barely recalled, like trying to summon the events of a distant dream.” (17 Dec 11)

    Pages 50 – 58

    “Here too, the ragged stones overlapped in a vertigo of entangled granite and shrub.”

    Further plot- or quest-crystallisation by means, now, of Kingfisher and Alcyone herself (as well as Prague’s river, and the secrets within or below houses, upon bridges, among statues, images upon the surfaces of Tarot cards) continues, en-dures (en-Durer I wrote earlier somewhere above – this should have been en-Dürer)–> by my own use of desiccation, of extrapolation, of Venn diagrams, of scrying for meaning in animal and human and stone and vegetable as convergence-mapped by Dürer paintings (I infer) as well as the imputed motives of Alice and Michael and of those they meet in Prague (is it an accident that ‘Prague’ in English has a ‘vague’ (wave) partially embedded?)… (17 Dec 11 – two hours later)

    Pages 58 – 71

    “She dreamed of four girls, stood smiling on the banks of the Vltava. A tiny puppet bobbed on the water.”


    Funeral Brethren, macabre chocolates, The Shadows’ Man of Mystery from my youth, scarecrow-clown, a man masquerading throughout the ages, I yearn for the calm suckling statuary above, placed there as antidote.  This book is getting to me.  Or am I getting to it?

    “He feared the worst, expecting to see the remains of his wife.” (Cf: by a premonition or fearful memory deriving from the book in parallel real-time review). (17 Dec 11 – another hour later)

    Pages 71 – 80

    “23 April 1990.”

    [St George’s Day, the day they once made me a pageant herald. Not 1990 though, but 1959.] This book – relatively compact and cosy in this vast heavy-duty tome of landscaped beauty – needs several readings to gain the honourable and valiant Reader’s money’s worth. And I can confirm you will not only need many re-readings of it, you will desire them, too. So please take this review as just one reader-creature’s initial scratching at its surface in preparation for finding its most vulnerable spot for its critical forensic lance. It is probably the most satisfyingly ‘difficult’ book I have ever read. It may be an ever-lasting Uccello depiction of a literary dragon in the shape of paper and board. Or a fox. Or kingfisher. Or something else that will cringe at my overkill. But of course, upon a mere second reading, I may find I have deceived myself as to any promise at all. Meanwhile, here, in this section of pages: The Dreamer — “The Room of Solitudes” —  Ancient sea creatures as one living organism — “Behind him, she could feel the shadows…”“a butcher paunching a rabbit.” — “the Prague Spring” — “Little tics and twitches” like jumping nerves in the text itself — “Shards of stone and metal in a rainbow arc” — the piecemeal revelation of each Tarot Card like the turning of each literally stiff page-card of this book… I’ve heard of books that are praised as page-turners, but this is something else! (17 Dec 11 – another 45 minutes later)

    Pages 80 – 92

    “There are perilous stones of illusions and secrets where a man may see reflected the terror of his own soul. But, also they may conceal great beauty,…”

    Perhaps not so ‘difficult’ after all. The book draws to its close exquisitely with a retrocausal satisfaction that you have always understood it to the hilt.  But whether this was any protagonist’s version of ‘Death in Venice’, and, if so, who the Dirk Bogarde, who the Reader, you will need to read the book to discover. Don’t look now. Or should I have said earlier: Don’t look back. Don’t look directly into its sun – it may worse than blind you. Or it may fill you with something wonderful.  The Reader takes that risk.

    For the remainder of your life you will vainly try to recapture the past you discarded.” Not quite like Proust. But like wondering why there was an extra empty seat in that holiday coach on its return journey. (17 Dec 11 – another 45 minutes later)

      ABOVE NOW CONCLUDED (finally some of my own living ‘statue spore’ below)

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