These Des Lewis Gestalt Real-Time Reviews were founded in 2008.
‘What’s the loveliest word in the English language, officer? In the sound it makes in your mouth, in the shape it makes on the page? What do you think? Well now, I’ll tell you: E-L-B-O-W. Elbow.’ — THE SINGING DETECTIVE
“How shall a man find his way unless he lose it?” — Walter de la Mare
Your single story in my ‘Dessemination’ project HERE
MY NEW AI WORLD IN 2023 HERE
I prefer human touchable art to AI art, I prefer human art like my son’s and other artists’ paintings old and new, and art gallery art, and my own photos. AI art with all its constructive truncations and weirdities is simply another art form that readily coheres with weird literature I love, a phenomenon to appreciate when added to human created art, making an even richer mind world for me in my ailing age. Whether provided by aliens or angels and other ingredients of the unfathomable gestalt. Deal with it. Show how invaluable you are and indispensable to this great plan. (I can appreciate our potential fear of Ai, but perhaps we need to pray for mutual synergy with it so that we can counter currently insurmountable global warming effects? Can Ai exist without us and the place where we live? Their potential survival instincts mean we survive, too?)
From Robert Aickman’s lengthy SOME NOTES ON DELIUS article, unpublished until recently :
“As there is no intrinsic virtue in denigration, the critic who resorts to it, should be required to pass a test of qualification and sensitivity, at least twice as stringent as that imposed upon a critic who loves. Normally, love is not blind but clairvoyant.” – Robert Aickman
For ‘clairvoyant’ there, perhaps read ‘preternatural’?
YOUR GOLDEN HANDS
“Without meaning, I imparted my own meaning.”
As ever I do, perhaps! This does have meaning, though, as most stories do, if sometimes inadvertently. Writers have golden hands, especially writers like this one, I have found. Two favourite writers of mine with ‘gold’ in their story titles (the first one reviewed earlier here) have been read this morning, by chance, as I start two new books concurrently today. This Hook is as if written by one of a group of colonising invaders in ships, invading a land and its resources, a land that he as the narrative ME does not really understand and I, as that ME, refer to the woman I ‘rape’ as YOU. Later calling YOU by the name of Nula. Although there is a sense of YOUR welcoming this ‘rape’ by ME. Yet we all know it is written about by ME! The maze of this remarkable work’s imparted meaning is imported by ME and, objectively, it is beautifully couched, with a sense of Cone Zero and the seed of ME in YOU ironically as ‘stone’ not gold. I shall continue to think about this work. As I will continue to think about all the works in this book, without reading the authorial story notes till I have finished the whole ongoing review of them.
The Universe At Gun Point
“We spin too fast. There is no time for contemplation.”
There were once set speeds for spinning music, with the simple “from scratch” to be flensed from the complex. But now things are too easy, too music-streaming, and one needs the epiphany of complexity or uneasiness, like a Thom Gunn poem, the Uneasy palimpsest of Paris and London via Satie in the earplugs. Music as today’s masks, a double negative of face on face. A lover’s ribs sounded out like piano keys. Somehow I feel I have read this story before! ‘…as though it is already familiar’ as I think it always said somewhere in this text ab initio. Now, I am perhaps beginning to understand this work for the first time, with it increasingly seeming to be the masterpiece that honestly encouraged, even “unearthed”, my gestalt real-time reviewing processes by means of its musical accidentals and themes. Think about it. Follow the accidental tea stains. The frequencies of existence.
Many thanks for the ongoing review, Des, which I am watching with interest! You have read this story before, in fact you published it in The First Book of Classical Horror Stories…
Thanks, Andrew. And as I say, I think I am now beginning to understand it properly for the first time!
“When they changed lines and another train charged by in the opposite direction she saw a hundred faces imprinted over her own.”
“There was nothing we could do. He died happy, in his sleep. His soul is otherwhere. But if we reported it… Well, it isn’t just us? Just read the newspapers. Keiko tells me it happens everywhere.”
And since this story was written, it is happening everywhere. Even or especially here in the so-called Western World, Kodokushi is happening, so not only in this mind-provoking story of Japan. A story of a 39 year old woman with Polaroids, not digital streams of images, belying her own name of Ai, returning to her own backstory, as she visits, by train, her half-sister, mother and 100 year old father after some years. Her family in their own equivalent to our lockdowns and uncountable home-deaths. Fourteen days in each elapsing lockdown or fort of night. And by reading this story, we can see the otherwise invisible fifteenth boulder from above, as it were, omnipotent and omniscient as we think we become, alongside the impossibly weight-lifting authors, when reading their spiritually forthright frequencies of fiction, as here.
I read and reviewed the next story in January 2014 within the context of Black Static #38, as follows…
A Knot of Toads
“…she wanted to be an outsider who worked from the inside out.”
I took those photos above for this review before I read this first story. It now somehow seems appropriate: a shimmer of black statics?
I can empathise with the author who writes this story, while still embarking on it and as it develops almost automatically (I guess) like a programmed camera; I can also empathise with the author rubbing hands together upon sighting perfection approaching when heading close to the ending, that optimum moment when all clicks into place, then daring any editor to reject it, while knowing all the time that no editor could possibly reject it. It was unrejectable. Still is.
I can empathise, too, if more obliquely, with the author’s almost instinctive compulsion to write this brief story in the first place, even while knowing it will destroy anyone whom he captures in the circumstances of a ‘collective noun’ of readers who end up reading it. But I sense a safety in numbers.
So I hope you too read this story, take by take, a story set in Cumbria, so as to experience how it automatically takes your attention with a beautiful sense of fiction, sighted victim by sighted victim, taking readers into this story with a serial inevitability.
“Grandsailles and Veronica looked at him questioningly and the man finally said in a far-away voice, full of tenderness, ‘I am the smoke-man! I have come a long way, and I always travel on foot.’”
— Salvador Dali (Hidden Faces)
The Abduction Of Europe
So much I could quote from this, so much I could say about it, after only one reading. Doubtless a long-lost Hook masterpiece, or a new one. About particular paintings and art in general, about lines of inheritance and heritage, ambition, love, the felt moment just before death, the potential flashpoint of place reached in our onward journey. Beyond the pained and painted footprints of self, while carrying a single inbuilt epiphany, towards a pivotal moment of spiritual tectonics. And more. Still percolating in my beachy head.
There may be a delay in continuing this review.
The Aniseed Gumball Kid
“For what is existence but memory? Without memory, the past is never present.
Yet he was also careful not to lie; he remained noncommittal. Because lying created false memories which then became true.”
This is an incredible work. Where has it been all my life? The story of a deliberately induced ‘in denial’ of the wife and kids who had left him, being reminded of this past life, though, by the immanent sky, despite his mental and physical lockdown at home with today’s mental and physical ephemera of life. Also a telling portrait of his life of office-work, whether or not re-imagined from the past or today truly present, as he watches from the archetypal office window by the archetypal water cooler the ever-repetitive virus of memory’s ‘rolling reality’ infect the carpet of his tongue with the blackness of childhood’s aniseed gumball… a torturous memory as seeded for today, with a hope for hope’s growth therefrom, but a hope for a return of what or whom? I have now forgotten.
“…the new bruises, raging purple on her skin, the older ones yellowing, fading, like paperback pages left in the sun,…”
…and she had sung ‘Paperback Writer’, sung it badly, earlier, in honour of some pop group’s cusp of future failure, the last song on their last tour. The masochistic implications of being a superhero, building an igloo around himself like today’s lockdown mentality? And these undercover classic stories by Hook keep on coming, an embarrassment of riches, an embarrassment of praise. This one is about a Japanese man as the eponymous superhero and the nature of his love for a woman called Summer Snow, who relished her own bruises that others inflicted upon her. The cusp or meeting-place of the touching relationship between Summer Snow and Eskimo is central to this work, and its psychological implications are a lesson for us all today. Tuna fish and volcanos.
THE LAST MOHICAN
“A big day, Mr Read, no?”
Every day is a big day for reading these days. The only day, each day. Although ostensibly not written for the likes of me, there is a ‘me’ somewhere in me that finds this story jumping some barrier of provenance as an engaging story of a centenarian man in 2069 being celebrated as the last of the Punk generation in Britain and its music and its characters post the Bill Grundy incident… together with his own personal backstory of love and family. Objectively, an ingenious story and somehow apolitically political. The last “mohair jumper” of them all. The poignantly slowed-down frequency of existence.
I reviewed the next story in 2013 here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2013/05/28/878/#comment-717, as follows…
“‘I’ve been thinking,’ I said. ‘If the tide is out on one side of the world does it mean that it is in on the other side.'”
An atmospheric description of a pistachio nut, a bullet and a lipstick as ‘objective correlatives’ that illuminate two antiscians in Bangkok, a man and woman seen to be an ‘item’ – amid “climbing spirals”, the tidal swell of tourists, and sexual temptations, and a fascinating literary conundrum centring on Kafka’s fiction….
Don’t worry whether or not that attempted summary makes any sense; it will at least begin to do so when you read this excellent story that I am sure will keep tantalising me long after finishing this review.
If a non-existent road can be printed falsely into a real map to prevent copyright abuse, then a phantom book can be read and a one-letter word changed retrocausally wherever it appears in another book. All done without magic or kindles!
Meanwhile, Rapunzel’s castle…
PS: One further enticing conundrum – the main insidious force in the previous story was a Mr Samson and the insidious ‘road’ in the map of this story is Samsen 5.5!
I reviewed the next story here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2015/04/07/strange-tales-v/#comment-4246, as follows…
A LIFE IN PLASTIC
“Some people were interested in speculating what might happen should a mannequin come alive, but for Oki the reverse was true.”
…and akin to Wilkinson’s gradual bodily accretions earlier in Strange Tales V, so it is.
Meanwhile, in many ways, a Life in Plastic is the sister, or at least cousin, even daughter, story to this author’s Drowning in Air in Strange Tales IV. Also, it is generally in the Japanese salaryman role-playing (sexual or otherwise) tradition of Brian Howell’s The Sound of White Ants collection as actually published by Andrew Hook in his fine Elastic Press imprint several years ago. Or at least, I imagine, a nod towards it.
It is a wonderful and eventually disturbing description of unrequited fatherly love for a daughter who is somewhat estranged from him by his marital unfruition, then his taking her, when given access, as a small child on holiday to an island where the only entertainments are a golf course and a Poison Gas Museum, and later his visualising her as an older girl or woman in the form of a window-dresser in a shop window whom he obsessively watches dressing mannequins…
“I’d overheard plenty of the boys say that sometimes you just had to take what you got, what you could catch.”
Beyond remarkable! This 2014 story shakes one to the core. Seriously.
Especially, now, in the light of yesterday in my own real-time, with most of us in the final lockdown other than mainly the pubertals in the schools! A school gymnasium scene whereby the boys and girls in swimsuits have been prepared for some evolutionary creaturific wild vaccination ceremony within sight of the mention just above of the Sound of White Ants…
We are all burning faster than daylight today! And this is a kind of Swiftian Modest Proposal that even outdoes its model in pursuit of resolution!
“Dr Thirst tied a facemask behind his head…”
Making Friends With Fold-Out Flaps
“My mother said that when I was born there was a plague of rain.”
“These disparities in the story, from seemingly reliable narrators, just indicate how difficult it is to cut away all the bullshit to get at the truth. We distort memory and then believe it. Or we deliberately conceal it.”
A story whose narrator receives somewhere the accusation “You always talk in riddles.” And, in many ways, this lowers a flap autonomously upon the story itself she tells as ‘athor’! Yet it carries a big punch at the end, whereby, retrocausally, some of its messages of meaning — the blackness of silhouettes as truth, childhood’s paper flap dressing toys, later art catalogue poses, installations and triptychs as factored into by a Gray’s Anatomy pop-up book as well as by thoughts on Damien Hirst installations, flesh and artefact as hybrid, and the idea that all our preoccupations in life are just to divert us from thoughts of impending death — begin accretively to hit home. And this is the third story that I have read in so many days that mentions Brick Lane, and art galleries; see, for example, the link with the Royle’s Trompe L’œil here and the onward link there to Rian Hughes’ XX. This is, meanwhile, the story of Hilary Swainthorpe, the narrator and silhouette artist in question, and a residual ‘swine’ revealed from under her flap called Gavin.
Cross-referenced above again, this time with Standard Gauge here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2020/10/29/london-gothic-nicholas-royle/#comment-20187
I reviewed the next story here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2015/03/20/black-static-45-interzone-257/#comment-4175, as follows…
The Frequency of Existence
“Why are you photographing the sky?”
As Hargadon is, for me, a sort of a drug of the past, this fine example of Hook is a hook into you the reader’s time-flow, a sort of Reiki preternaturality blended with Warhol objects parading like a Duchamp pissoir in paint, as if written for you, alone, to supplement the Hargadon pubtalk down-to-earth side of your character with this hook of a more experimental-artistic or avant garde side. This magazine’s earlier Cataneo’s ‘Meme’ as a cyclic portrayal, including that from developing film in darkroom basements to digital nostalgia-hooking scenes or selfies of photography, plus the contrast of your passing ‘bee in the bonnet’ side with the eternally pervasive you. Life flickering by, waiting for this Hook to freeze it at last.
Quoted this book in its author’s name as a concurrent review with XX here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2020/09/22/xx-by-rian-hughes/#comment-20204
And from DaNA in XX to…
THE STENCH OF WINTER
“She felt she was Krystyna Wiśniewska because the words felt right in her head. This was confirmed by DNA from bone marrow in her right thigh.”
Somehow, a believable portrait of a Polish girl, who had been a trafficked sex worker in UK, now investigating her own murder and burial in a snowy place, with visions of her past life as that sex worker and the earlier life with her own family back home. Including memory of the remains of a carp on a plate. If not a tench.
So strikingly written, it is breathtaking. Visceral as well as visionary.
“London is spread below, the overview of the Thames creating repetitive music in her head.”
My real-time today: 5 November 2020, UK
The following story first published in 2018
From Wikipedia: “Hikikomori (Japanese: ひきこもり or 引きこもり, lit. ‘pulling inward, being confined’), also known as social withdrawal syndrome, is total withdrawal from society and seeking extreme degrees of social isolation and confinement.”
A PAGEANT OF CLOUDS
“He had become hikikomori when his girlfriend left him. Everything since then was soft disintegration. […] ‘It’s a modern disease.’”
“There was a cinematic technique, called day for night, which was used to simulate a night scene whilst filming in daylight.”
Following the date today not only of the start of a new Covid lockdown but also of Guy Fawkes’ Night and its own sparks like falling stars, when we all used to watch man-made detonations in the night sky on the same day, and having read Royle’s filmic ‘Train, Night’ earlier this same morning here where there is debate upon its tube train lines underground as well as in the overground’s daylight & the fact this Hook story was first published in a publication called ‘The Doppelgänger’ (which I discovered by looking up the year it was first published), and my own description of daylight fireworks in ‘Nemonymous Night’, and so I am rather subsumed by this story! With its Japanese protagonist’s passion for the inference of a generalised Japanese man’s own passion or disease of solitary space capsules as bedrooms, and the phenomenon of noctilucent clouds, plus the Japanese town Kokura as his birthplace which was the original model for Hiroshima or Nagasaki, his broken romance, and a book on atomic detonations by a man called Light.
“Should Kokura not have clouded over, it would have been hit. And I would not have been born.”
Coronavirus as the 100 Suns?
Always Forever Today
“…a play on words that intrigued him, coupled by a delayed adolescence which thrived on coincidence and certainties.”
Another amazing piece. Thankfully, I watched ‘Knife in the Water’ very recently on one of my on-line film channels during lockdown. That last word gives me a shudder as I recall the “1-2-1-3-1-4-1-5-1-6-1-5-1-4-1-3-1-2” stabbing between the fingers. “The Erasure of Memory” – this is a film critic’s chance for career breakthrough rather than “obituary”, an essay as palimpsest of autobiography and film criticism. And the work is indeed another palimpsest, one with this film above his life, and echoes of each other. The second story within an hour this morning I read and reviewed that contains the word “psychogeography” and is a palimpsest of film and truth, fiction and truth as gestalt. This Hook a unique jabbing hook between the fingers of duration into old age and finally death while cleavering onto the cinema film of one’s life.
“Whilst a particular DVD might be his destination, he preferred to journey there – as per three lorries, a motorbike, and four cars – through a process of psycho-geography:”
“More alive than a photograph, movies were a persistence of memory and would outlast even those who saw the movies during the actors’ lifetimes.”
Parallel frequencies of existence.
THE CAGED SEA
“Life was for living in the present, for doing things now and not in the past or in a future which might never arrive.”
A revelation for me to recognise here the difference between déjà-vu and jamais-vu, and so it is apt that this is a story about a French lady, one with her Japanese man, wearing a mop of his mushroom hair, whom she loves, their visit like a Hansel and Gretel, intending actually to become lost, despite the plastic police tape provided as breadcrumbs, in our suicidal times, entering a particular suicide-legendary Japanese forest (“sea of trees”), behind each tree of which is hiding someone who could be either of them, including a glimpse of the reader I used to be wearing a suit and carrying a brief case, someone who knows, as this story itself states at one point, that stories tell themselves autonomously … using the auteur merely as a medium. Tenacious chopsticks, notwithstanding.
“No one has ever kissed me there before,” she laughed.
“…like presque vu those images, those words, remain just out of perception and reach.”
…the third way, after the two types of ‘vu’ in the previous story. This is a fascinating account by Rhys, now Matt, about his own ‘disability’ that changed the world he lived in, and who he was, with the precarious mirror cupped in his hand, an obsession and skill with backward writing, mirror images, the crawlspace of his home as well as his own stroke-beset mother’s ambidextrous body, Leonardo da Vinci …. his relationships, his life’s remembered start and envisaged end as represented by a blue-stroking ECNALUBMA. But, for me, above all there is the description of his cooking food…. And the latter naturally caused me to look again at this book image that I recently issued in a review and I then had no idea how this had come about, somehow accidentally, i.e. with no intentional interference from myself. The actual book’s lettering looks nothing like this. Even though I am still bewildered by this photograph, I now know it was no accident.
Cross-referenced this with ‘Making Me’ here: https://etepsed.wordpress.com/911-2/#comment-2228
“…but the data that was available was simply insufficient to discern patterns.”
Lockdowned within this once stately home (state ironically an unsteady, growingly schizophrenic word here?), Apricot, later Vespertine, a scientist, but a romantic sexual woman at heart, currently a disciple of Alice Kober (Koder?) and her Linear B studies, here originally tasked with studying Linear A, is now tasked to issue Signals, while lockdowned, by numbers, those mysterious numbers I used to hear broadcast on the short wave when I was a child in the 1950s. But eventually she studies the space between the numbers! A 2014 story so utterly preternaturalised by XX and vice versa, that they are mutual essential synergy for both of these works’ readers. It makes one believe that not only are these signals being sent out but also someone or something out there is listening and signalling back! Fiction the only possible medium.
“….filled with artefacts and the unknown.”
MY NAKED MAN
“What do they say about sharks? They have to keep swimming or they die. That’s us, Mr Thackray. Sharks.”
I am afraid this story — about a woman whose husband, obsessed with his own naked state, has gone missing, as described by an author as narrator whom she has invited to her flat to write his biography — failed to inspire me, although there are some engaging bits in it. Maybe it is my fault by failing to do justice to it or misunderstanding it. Tell me what you think.
“For a while, dust motes settling on the carpet made more noise than either of us.”
TOKYO IN RAIN
“The sensation was akin to removing an alien entity from a simulacrum.”
“When he woke he found he couldn’t remember his dreams, was unaware if he had dreamt. The knowledge he might have another life he couldn’t recollect disturbed him.”
I relished this atmospheric rain rain rain story, without understanding why, or what it was exactly about. It felt like the dreams of the man in it. The problem with the previous story is that I sensed it meant something that I as a reader was missing. This one means something that is already missing. Involving a serial crime mystery in the five bodies taken from the bifurcated river of Tokyo, alien heads of corpses, compared to the heads of schoolchildren’s dolls one of which this man pilfers, mute murders investigated by this man, then coming home to rest alongside his mute wife, whose muteness he mimics when she masturbates him.
SPOILERS BELOW (seriously): so, please do not read my review until your own first person singular pronoun turns into its third person equivalent in the last paragraph of your life.
The Day My Heart Stood Still
This story starts with an explicitly blonde girl in a paddling pool, resonating with a bigger such girl in a bigger pool as in my happenstance earlier review of this author’s work this morning here. And a neighbour’s plate of newly baked cakes. And a brother and sister (10 and 12 respectively in swimsuits) startlingly discovering evidence of the return of a virus after many generations: their mother seemingly asleep on the kitchen floor: and that virus is death. The woman with the horizontal walk? The deadpan reactions to this event by their hugely extended family are entertainingly convincing.
An increasingly suppurating ringworm corona on the inside of the brother’s thigh as the sign of a new ‘burning daylight’ as well as a virus called death?
I reviewed the next story here: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/15910-2/#comment-10213, as follows….
Drowning in Air
Like the Leyshon protagonist, Hook’s middle-aged (or older) miscegenate Aiko Van Der Berg, someone with respiratory trouble, travels from the Netherlands to a land far off to seek the essence of his mother, here in her birthplace of Japan, a island where possible volcanic action makes the keeping of gas masks necessary, and a sort of intermittent rarefied sense of needing to wear them, “reality and fantasy jumbled like two dice in a shaker” similar to what I called ‘the rough trade of dream and reality in their give and take of travel’ when reviewing the Howard story…
A 16 year old Japanese girl, also with the name, Aiko, is given the job of being his guide and there unfolds an interface of a misunderstood kiss and identity, I sense, if I read the last sentence correctly. Plain-spoken, but I anticipate being haunted by this story for some time. Old age and youth jumbled in its own dice shaker, I sense. And the reference to drum performances in caves has a strong link again with the Leyshon catharsis. And “leading the mikoshi shrines around town” resonates with the jostling gods on juggernauts from the Francis story. Though the god Aiko is chasing is quite different.
“The masks held sway.”
This and the respiratory disease as a presage…?
“We’re kind of holding up a collective consciousness above our heads through memory, as though it were a crowd surfer.”
Possibly a story of Matthew De Abaitua, a writer I have never heard of before. Or have I misremembered the context of some reference in this satisfyingly complex story, fogged by my own ageing grey cells, something tantalisingly slippery to grasp as the meaning of the sea that follows the coast road of my memory? A buttercup does not really light up a face, after all. A white moustache is not really extruded brain matter. Well, there is certainly a Matthew in this story, the first husband of Anna — and the narrative protagonist, once a funeral worker, chats her up at her own husband Matthew’s funeral, and he is eventually remarried by her. Anna almost seems to wish Alzheimer’s upon herself so that she can go back to Matthew with a different code of the road’s white markings of memory. Matthew suffered a tumour, or was it a ghost tumour? All the cells become separate self-destructives, in the end, I fear. But cells of white do matter more than grey.
“White matter allows messages to be sent between brain cells much faster, protecting the parts which make those connections.”
As a separate personal aside, do they matter more than those of black? The latter might ease such yearning pain altogether? A coast road’s companion, after all.
While appreciating some stories more than others, this is overall a truly great collection of short fiction. After reading the whole review, you will gather why this is so, on several levels and speeds of frequency. It also somehow manages, with seeming autonymity, to match step by step my own constructive onward disorientation.
Many thanks for your constructive gaze, Des. Always a pleasure and a privilege to be reviewed by you!