20 thoughts on “The Doll’s Alphabet – Camilla Grudova


    “It brought great relief to unstitch, like undoing one’s brassiere before bedtime or relieving one’s bladder after a long trip.”

    I can empathise more easily with one of those…
    A staggeringly fey revelation by dint of uncloistered hoops and threads, the sewing machine divested – a Kafkaesque metamorphosis of woman as well as a rhapsodically disarming call to arms, alone and along with DeMeester, Chronister…
    I picture my beloved grandmother’s treadle Singer I watched her sing along with for many years. Much like an insect, now?

  2. I reviewed the next story in 2018, as follows in its then context…



    “, gold nuggets, Roman coins, teeth.”

    Grýla as Camilla Grudova? See shocking ending of this story.
    A story that earlier free-wheels sinuously with ineluctable lists of life’s oddments and Latin references, metamorphoses and tropes, an extravaganza of ‘objective correlatives’, as we meet a couple, a man and woman intent on spinning business projects from their Latn studies, fresh from University, a couple who marry, conceive twins, split up …. plus all manner of this book’s Kayembe syndromes engulfed by Goya or Ovid as Void. Read it and see. Red Riding Hood reference, too. Impregnated with otters and dolls and something from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker. I somehow feel raped having read this story in full spate.

    Not that I can now condone the last sentence. Unless it was intended that I felt like that!


    “A construction company was called in to remove the gothic crust…”

    A mass Banksy movement of gothic ‘graffiti’… a nifty vignette with “vines”.

  4. I reviewed the next story in 2017, as follows in its then context…



    “I didn’t want them to imagine my hands were worse than they actually were.”

    In contrast to the woman’s hands in the previous story, this is one where woman (small w) is in the hands of Man (big M.) Tellingly wayward upper-case letters throughout this whole text, and a few double inverted commas. Not that this syndrome of ultra-seedy living-conditions of a story depends on typographical tricks. It is a deadpan, dystopian vision of what I took at first to be a caricature or a vaguely alternate-world of my own experience of the early 1950s when rations from the Second World War still prevailed. And in many ways that is what it is. I recognised many aspects. But it is Beckett-like or absurdist, too, as we hear of flea markets, Exam systems, Cheaps as women who have not started their menstruatiing and babies no bigger than hands that by-pass crude contraception. Tins of meat, golden syrup, and mindless jobs. I felt sullied and eraserheaded, but fiction can give you experiences you will get nowhere else, utter revulsion as well as the wild thrills of the fairground that other stories might give you, experiences not even within the conception of your own mind till someone puts them there or till someone reminds you that these are your own experiences before the outtakes and heavy devotions of your approaching death. Full circle.



    Today in real-time I spotted: “, I painted the word ‘nightingale’ wrong on three sewing machines,…”


    “She read on the stairs, using a stained glass lamp on a long brown crowd.”

    I think this acclaimed literary book is just as good as all the other fantasy I read, and sometimes better. Sometimes, it is worse. But such false comparatives are transcended by Jungian Gestalt. We are all in this together, now. Not only in physical entropy or illness but also in an eternal imagination as an individual and as a whole. As if weird/fantasy/SF/horror genres and mainstream literature are crowdfunding each other, like the reading ingredients in a cup of tea, and just like this mermaid trapped in the deadpan scenario of the glinting curio shop, a scenario involving romance resistance and romance match-making and odd bodily dimensions and activities that often mean more than the recentish films called The Bookshop and This Beautiful Fantastic, and sometimes less than. A new melded composite of Alice, grown up and purposeful beyond convention. Glasses glint, but our fishy-glistening eyes glint even more without these shells on, I guess.


    “A gigantic black insect. It was a sewing machine, an old malicious one, black and gold, attached to its own desk with a treadle underneath, wrought metal like the grates over fire stoves and sewers. I was dumbfounded.”

    I am dumbfounded, too, not necessarily by ‘insect’ and ‘sewers’ in connection with such a sewing machine, but I had no idea this passage was coming up when I wrote above about my beloved grandmother Alice Maude’s machine. I remember her treadling away with a smouldering cigarette fixed in her mouth. But Alice Maude’s mouth was not wormy, I believe, and the cigarette ash grew longer and longer till if fell off onto what she was sewing on the machine. Eleven year old Agata (a clever girl at school) smokes cigarettes, too, in this story, as the narrator, another eleven year old girl, watches Agata create, with the sewing-machine treadle, moving images of Pierrots and Angels and more, all happening with the narrator’s synergy. It is as if this story itself is kept alive by the helpful synergy of the reader’s treadling with the text, too. Sometimes idealistic and fascinating, but often disturbing and seedy, where men and women can both be bald and with a moustache. And time gradually passes and any resemblance with other outsiders who were bullied once at school expands into its own fat of fate and renewed habits. Growing up as perhaps a unique synergy with the astonishing style of some Nabokov short stories. I can give it no greater compliment. And there is much else in this work to wonder at or cringe from. Including a runny nose and a foot crying, as I have today.

    “The moving images came from us, or were connected to us.”


    “We also had to stop for Nicholas to cough more often than I liked, but Nicholas wouldn’t let me go alone.”

    A telling story of things that are not quite how they are labelled, like a train station without trains. Nicholas and the presumably female narrator make do with earnings from his paintings. A sort of world with absurdism shellacked and mostly monochromed into what I remember we had in the nineteen fifties when Ionesco’s Rhinoceros was first produced. Take thy medicine and empty cages of a fantasy-neutral zoo as in Nemonymous Night, I say. Drawing from black and white art instead of life. The pink and green flowers, notwithstanding, if not the man in a grey top hat that bought and sold such art. Grey paper pads in an empty zoo.


    “The rhinoceroses, rhinoceritis and rhinoceration are current matters and you single out a disease that was born in this century. Humanity is besieged by certain diseases, physiologically and organically, but the spirit too is periodically besieged by certain diseases. You discovered a disease of the 20th century, which could be called after my famous play, rhinoceritis. For a while, one can say that a man is rhinocerised by stupidity or baseness. But there are people—honest and intelligent—who in their turn may suffer the unexpected onset of this disease, even the dear and close ones may suffer…It happened to my friends.” – Eugène Ionesco

    Romanian Ionesco as the alter ego in his famous play RHINOCEROS of its main character who is represented symbolically in the face of Nazism, absurdism as truth, a fiction truth we all face today from the orange menace that set such new wheels in train.

    All the books of Romanian-published weird literature that I have reviewed over the last 11 years: HERE.

    In the Grudova, there is rhino horn that seems to prefigure the narrator in the bath giving birth to a lump as living baby that hardens into such horn…
    It’s pink, too.


    “‘The maid, I shall have to talk to the maid, eating sardines and not cleaning her hands again.’”

    A free-wheeling presentation — by means of a richly, pungently, eclectically worded audit-trail as if written by a hyped-up Andre Breton — of the candle-sconce’s life, after being born from the coupling of a mermaid figurehead on a ship and an octopus. It is impossible to choose which items to tell you about so I shall leave it to you to discover for yourself the various leitmotifs. Just one question from me relating to the carp in the final footnote as finale: is it a tench?

    Soluble fish : picture words in a limitless sea


    “For wiping, there were strips of newspaper, cut evenly as with scissors instead of ripped,…”

    …as my family did, too, in the 1950s, that I remember well. Meanwhile, we have here a return of the sewing machine, and of the aura of Magritte, and my favourite novel and its ironing board: Ishiguro’s The Unconsoled. In fact Edward and Bernadette, in fact most of the characters in this story, even the whole book, seem to be in state of unconsoleability. The best way to have sex or to live in a State of Totalitarian Surrealism, where people, are bivouacked or billeted upon other people in emergencies such as we have today, and we can visit the dead as we once visited the sick, after I think Edward forgets to wash his hands before eating blancmange with his fingers, the seeming crux of this story. Not to speak of the cartoon sardines. Crushed flies like the earlier Gothic crust and other such coverings upon the pages of this book.


    “All over Europe, people opened cans, expecting to find fish, but instead finding the following: a single hanky, a container of liquorice-flavoured lozenges,…”

    …and there follows one of the most incredible lists you will ever read in literature, as if Proust has become a hoarder rather than a word-textured fin de siècle. The rest of this book has similar lists, but none quite like this one… All part of a hilarious account of a so-called Baron Dąmski (Charlus?) investing in the canning of luggage, to avoid loss in transit. The sort of cans that people have panic-bought in recent real-time beyond this story. But instead of food, these purpose-tinned cans contain his belongings as luggage. The work ends even more hilariously with his self-isolating in a fur coat.

  11. Pingback: Hungarian Sprats | THE DES LEWIS GESTALT REAL-TIME REVIEWS — A golden sphere in fey balance between clarity and confusion

  12. 70A2604E-25A5-4ED0-B9D4-F8116067C78B

    Søren Kierkegaard and me in 2008


    “, the masks and fur coats becoming warm,”

    The story of a Grudovan costume shop, from when a drab self-unpretty girl and her sister first visited it and were chased out after breaking a mask, until the girl now woman eventually returns and works there and marries the shopkeeper. Much to absorb here of what has now become another array for this book of darkly itemised novelties and characters. Once novelties always novelties, I say. Never to be taken for granted as old and seasoned. The shopkeeper has his own sewing machine and ironing board, I sense. A dress like a stuck lettuce. Much else. And a gradual encroachment of sex-purposed sculptures in an art installation of a shop, rather than a shop proper. No wonder our heroine acted as she did.

  13. B3CC6519-CD51-4137-A655-A89AA8222139 NOTES FROM A SPIDER

    “The spinning of webs in the zoo is barely perceptible to the viewer, but the spiders communicate with each other by playing their webs like string instruments, a harmonious music you can hear when all is silent.”

    I am glad I started this review as an innocent abroad when harkening back to my grandmother’s Singer as an insectoid sewing machine. This now comes home fully to roost in this meticulously biological autobiography of a spider with, in addition to the eight legs, a man’s body and a man’s propensities and accoutrements of sex, in the precise nature of the genius loci of the city where he lives, involving another of this book’s fantasy-neutral zoos. Self harm as a means to an end. And end it does. A fine tour de force as a coda to a fine book. As I said earlier, this book is, for me, as good as or even better or sometimes worse than the best works in the dark hyper-imaginative genres AND as good as or even better or sometimes worse than the best works in literary or mainstream fiction.


    • The above album cover is such a perfect picture for the Florence as Sewing Machine in CAMILLA GRUDOVA’S story ‘Notes From A Spider’, I wondered if it was in the author’s mind when writing it. But then I looked at the lungs!…and it seems an ominously perfect picture for today, too!

      • “And my running feet could fly
        Each breath screaming
        “We are all too young to die”
        Between two lungs it was released
        The breath that passed from you to me
        That flew between us as we slept
        That slipped from your mouth into mine
        It crept between two lungs
        It was released
        The breath that passed from you to me
        That flew between us as we slept
        That slipped from your mouth into mine”

        — Florence + The Machine

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