66 thoughts on “Go Back At Once – Robert Aickman

  1. Chapters 1 & 2

    “Of course her behaviour had been perfectly reasonable, because only silly geese flaunt themselves or make any kind of overt challenge.”

    Of course, Aickman himself was never a silly goose!
    Meanwhile, I am wholly captivated by this sixth form school girl couple amid the different ways of older-fashioned times in England, Cressida not Dick but Hazeborough, née its homophone Happisburgh, and Vivien other-name-as-yet-undivulged, and I sense a sense of the Sapphic between Cressida and Vivien similar to that between the two girls in ‘The Trains’. But I may be wrong. I often am.

  2. Chapter 3

    “It was marvellous that people managed to grow up, thunderstroke after thunderstroke, without more nervous breakdowns.”

    Cressida has been invited by Vivien to stay with her Aunt Agnes (Lady Luce) and, between eyeing each other’s ‘figures’ and talking about men or Man, and future marriage, they also talk WITH men at a social gathering, where a ‘Negro’ shakes cocktails. Most of the men seem to be divorced, and we experience only women talking to themselves or to men, not men to men, as in much earlier Jane Austen society. But who is Virgilio Vittore? Someone who Vivien thinks is ‘the greatest man in the world’, it seems. Vivien smokes cigarettes, by the way.

    “Then there’s something more exciting behind the mask? Is there really, Vivien?”

  3. Chapter 4

    “Their salacious words were no longer tired and almost meaningless: they had become choice stimuli to frenzied action, like the liturgical shrieks of Islamic fanatics.”

    A scene for what I can only compare to the type of co-vivid dreams most of us have in our current times. Soldiers in competitive snarling, with wounds, and it seems tied to Cressida’s backstory — that I have withheld going back to remember till now — concerning her elder brother’s death in the war. This dream followed a personal visit from Aunt Agnes in her bedroom in the middle of the night, telling her she could remain a guest in the house as long as she needed, a meeting about which I merely otherwise remember the word ‘languor’. Go back slowly if you want to remember more, I guess. As an aside, I am now reminded that Vivien slept in a nightdress of only one colour, “a strong one: red, of course.”

  4. 75CC6B12-EAB3-4B5D-8334-EC74795D8154

    Vivien Leigh

    Cressida belongs to the Portia Group of satellites, which includes Bianca, Desdemona, Juliet, Portia, Rosalind, Cupid, Belinda and Perdita.

    Chapters 5 & 6

    Cressida – a name derived from a tart, she says – gets a job at a florist shop with a woman called Perdita who makes them both paste sandwiches for lunch every day, and Vivien works as a psychoanalyst’s receptionist where she has enough time on her hands to start writing a novel about two girls at court. She is inspired from the very first sentence that she writes, unlike Sir Walter Scott’s boring preambles. As an aside, this Aickman novel is so far reminding me of one or two by Elizabeth Bowen, and I cannot give it a bigger compliment.

  5. Chapters 7, 8 & 9

    “‘I’m sorry, but I simply don’t understand,’ cried Cressida. Nor did she want to. Miss Elvin might be mad, but there was a horrible conviction in her words. Miss Elvin was Carabosse, shapeless, protean, inimical.”

    I can safely say this is an Aickman meeting of a “collective” of people that cannot possibly be missed by any serious reader of his work. A collective of folk to which Cressida is invited by Perdita in her house near Parson’s Green, an area where men stand about outside public houses eyeing Cressida as she found her way to the right house. The people are beyond even Harold Pinter’s scope to create and I was bemused if not worried by their interactions and by Cressida’s resultant paranoia. And a man who seems to be some sort of pivot named Brian who deals with the wet logs for the fire. This meeting in 
Perdita’s houses is classic absurdist material that, if the rest of the novel should fall by the wayside, must be preserved as discrete whole. The Horse Race the characters play with model horses is wonderfully insidious. Cressida is accused of cheating! Meanwhile, some of the other sayings bite home — like Cressida’s own insistence that girls can be lonely, too, only to be met by the rejoinder that boys have spiritual loneliness. And Cressida later turns to the rain outside for company. Mention of someone’s family motto: “Ne Cedis”. And, perhaps a trivial question — what is a “rabbit coat”? I ask. And several other conundrums and disarming strangenesses. And increasing worries for the serious reader, even more so than for Cressida.

    “As in many of life’s more important situations, the person most concerned never fully grasped or understood either what really happened or what lay behind it.”

  6. Chapters 10, 11 and 12

    “Nothing that matters is ever made clear.”

    Following the ‘horse race’ trauma or träumerei, Cressida is persuaded by Vivien to see a shrink named Dr Blattner who is another divorcee and a blatant addict but to what? There ensue concerns that the ‘horse race’ event had generated and these seem premonitorily similar to my own gestalt review concerns, i.e. to explain the “exact relationship between chance and fate, between the conscious and unconscious, between intention and achievement,” …. followed by sparse delicacies at a teashop.

    “We must all let the mask fall on occasion.”

  7. A Law of Music? —

    “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.”
    From Aickman’s ‘Notes on Delius’

    CHAPTERS 13 – 16

    The chapters in general are quite short. Here, another co-vivid dream for Cressida locked down in a cell with many diseased or disabled men around a long table casting lots for her … a sort of Aickmannerist ‘Residents Only’ committee? And then there is for me the literary joy of a classic gestalt-review type synchronicity in her dream-confusion between Hugo (Blattner) and Hugh her late beloved brother. A dream that also seems confused with a waking dream or real waking by the sirens of fire engines at a fire that affects pet animals and birds down the road from Lady Luce’s house. And the girls later somehow ritually chat about Virgilio Vittore, a seemingly handsome superhero “wog”* and his domain called Trino that he governs by the laws of music — a topic that, I hear on the grapevine, will grow and grow and grow…

    “Cressida just had time to reflect that mainly in silences is history made and life lived.”

    *a word that one of the characters uses.

  8. FD7B5FB2-A9CF-4CF6-BE1A-6D3290268E90

    Vivien soon to be a Vivandière?

    Chapters 17 – 20

    “The crystal, the palm of the hand, the animal entrails, the flight of the rooks, the disposition of the litter in the street or park: all are but clarifiers…”

    … or clairvoyance, telepathy, the synchronicity of a letter with showy face-towel-like pages received by Aunt Agnes/Lady Luce a few days later from the other Vi-named person in the book, only just talked about, Virgilio Vittorio … and in her boudoir, where they kick off their outer clothing to feel more comfortable, Agnes, now shown to be a larger-than-life Virgilio’s erstwhile lamb by nature as well as by her name, tells the two girls of her backstory in Paris with him during the war, and now she is invited to work beside him in Trino. You already know by instinct or osmosis that it was foreordained that she would agree to decide to be accompanied by the girls, so that is no plot spoiler for me to apologise about. This book becomes more and more delightful as classic Aickman, with undercurrents of “horrors” here mentioned under the breath as it were. Extremes, extremes, extremes…sensed. Suffering searching out and sanctifying. Rants as part of transcendence or transfiguration. And something that happened more than once, but yet happens once only. Even singular happenings can transcend post-war shortages? Nursing the sick in trousers, not in flouncy dresses? It takes clairvoyance to scry such things.

    “But Vittore’s almost always unbelievable. Whatever else he is, he is unbelievable.”

  9. BEWARE SPOILERS FROM THIS POINT ONWARD, mine as well as possibly Aickman’s own!

    CHAPTERS 21, 22 & 23

    “‘Nothing is impossible where we’re going, little girl,’…”

    Not only do we now learn Vivien’s surname (Poins, a cross between pains and points?) but also the nature of the post-war terrain that she and Cressida with Aunt Agnes cross so as to reach Trino (is it a coincidence this word has the meaning of a trill in music as well as being the name of a real place in Italy?) — a domain controlled by V.V. about which comparisons to Arthur Rackham illustrations plus concepts of costumes in a pantomime shop and a painted sign (QUESTA TERRA E REGOLATA DAI DIRETTI DI MUSICA) and poems stuck up all over the place give some idea of Trino as viewed now here in contrast to the crestfallen parts of European empires busted apart elsewhere — and someone mentioning a new man on the scene called Mussolini… A journey by precarious car driven by an Albanian called Eno, and the glimpse of a man with huge pistols the likes of which one of the girls had only previously seen in children’s books.

  10. B7B4C59E-A377-4410-8228-B4013C9B425BChapters 24 – 27

    “The prime purpose of the Commandery is submission to beauty. The second purpose is sacrifice for art. The third purpose is adoration of the sublime fire.”

    That is said by Desirée, one of the three English girls that Cressida and Vivien meet as fellow vivandières at the Commandery, a girl who seems to put Vivien into a trance…. and what is thus said seems important, not only to this novel, but also to the literature I instinctively choose for submission to real-time reviewing in general.
    We follow the girls settling into the atmosphere of a girls’ school dormitory, if a very basic one. Some girls who came on this ‘voluntary services overseas’ were said to have already returned home (gone back at once?), one of these departed girls dubiously being called Peter. But the current girls seem happy enough. We are then shown various other initial aspects, including the precarious oil cisterns. They are shown around by he who had accompanied them in the car with the Albanian driver, and this man(?) is compared to ‘The Blue Boy’ painting, he being here the Cavaliere Terridge (compare and contrast the schoolboy Torridge in the William Trevor story.) His Christian name turns out to be Hugh!

  11. Chapter 28
    The Garment Store

    “It fitted like a dream.”

    I will leave you to read this discrete chapter about Cressida and Vivien, in company with Desirée, on your own, without my pre-emoting it or even pre-empting it with details of their rummaging in a dim dungeon for clothes to wear. It is classic Aickman just as the story of Cressida at Perdita’s house earlier was also discrete classic Aickman, both of these sections of the book organically demonstrating elements that have appealed to Aickman ‘strange stories’ enthusiasts over the years.

  12. Compare and contrast my review of KILLING COMMENDATORE last Christmas HERE.

    CHAPTERS 29, 30 & 31

    “‘Do we ever see the Commendatore,’ asked Vivien. ‘That is, Cressida and me.’
    ‘You mean intimately?’
    ‘Or at all.’
    ‘You may not see him intimately for weeks. Perhaps never.’”

    “‘Do we wake or dream?’ enquired Cressida.”

    After discussing the clothes they chose in the memorable garment store and the people who must have once worn them and how they now perfectly fit, as residua, Cressida, and early flowers in a scrolled crock that may have been croci, the two girls meet various men in the waiter-served cantina, men who you will need to assess for yourself, they being mainly nameless because their names have no meaning without the Commandery’s ‘realm’ (or gestalt) of which structure they are merely part. Meanwhile, I found that the most important part of these initiations and introductions for our times today was this passage spoken by one of the men…

    • With the above use of ‘realm’ about VV’s Trino, I am tempted to compare possible general thematic links between Adela Quested in E.M. Forster’s ‘Passage to India’ and Cressida in ‘Go Back At Once’.
      For example in the Forster book:
      “Floating in the darkness was a king, who sat under a canopy, in shining royal robes. . . .
      ‘I can’t tell you what that is, I’m sure,’ he whispered. ‘His Highness is dead. I think we should go back at once.’”
      My italics.

  13. Chapters 32 – 35

    “‘I think there are only two kinds of people in the world,’ said Vivien telepathically. ‘Those whose lives are regulated according to the laws of music, and all the rest.’”

    How true! This book is full of such wisdom, while dealing in telepathy as well as Delial clairvoyance. The place is then abruptly beset by an ‘alarm’ that, within the general ambiance, reminds me, if I may be so bold, of my own Klaxon City, but here the alarm is formed by swarms of apparent bats rather than sirens! Meanwhile, there are are some engaging scenes here between characters, plus thoughts of higher awareness, and the sudden reappearance of Aunt Agnes in an elaborate dress as compared to the girls’ simple trousers, thoughts of oboe practice as well as gun practice by the inhabitants, and meeting the ‘rectangular’ Brian Wicker. And, later, the girls go off to bye byes with a warming posset.

    “‘Vittore is but the Ionian harp on which the world’s breath plays.’ […]
    Aeolian harp, Aunt Agnes,’ said Vivien.”

  14. Chapter 36
    Night or Day?

    “Then distant seagulls began to rave; or Cressida became aware of their raving,”

    Unless I had forgotten or misdreamt it, this is the first clue that they are stationed near the sea. Meanwhile, this is another seminal section of the book, one that all Aickman lovers should make it their serious business to experience before they die, and not necessarily because of its religious references to the respective thick and thin hassocks in the Church of Rome and those in England. Nor simply for Cressida’s entrance into a church at the dead of night, when day’s working had already started, and one could sleepwalk without anyone thinking you might be asleep. And when a boy plagued another boy. 2F5F3741-62A8-4D77-ABD6-3BF53A0C04F2There was earlier of course another co-vivid dream in this chapter for Cressida, one about her late brother Hugh at some strange school, a dream that somehow blends into this more realistic visit to the visionary church, and even stranger conversations with some of the other girls and scrutiny of their night clothes or of the relative sparseness of such clothes. And the Henry VIII or Tudor beam, under which light a cook compounded or cooked gulls? But what struck me the most was the hidden quote in the text without due quote marks to mark it out — i.e. such stuff as dreams are made on. And after earlier meeting a boyish dancer character called Trifoglio, I then immediately thought of Trinculo, the King’s Jester, in The Tempest, from whose name I just needed to cull an uncouth ‘cul’ to get ‘Trino.’

  15. “I will be quite frank with you at once. This house is haunted; and if on consideration you find your nerves unequal to an encounter with ghosts, you had better go back at once, for there is no telling how soon the apparitions will begin.”
    ― L.P. Jacks, All Men are Ghosts (1913)

    And in the following chapters, Cressida, soon after breakfast, seems to wonder if Virgilio Vittore, the Commendatore, exists at all, and she now meets a woman called Vittoria on the inside, where she is due to work, of the theatre with, what I can only call, an aura of “repetition”, Vittoria being a shouty, bosomy woman of colour whose nature only the likes of Aickman could possibly have summoned up!

    CHAPTERS 37 – 39

    “‘We’re a bit late for breakfast,’ she said.”

    I read these chapters with my own breakfast this morning, as it happens.
    We then follow Cressida to the Theatre of Repetition, where the Commendatore’s plays are performed, plays he dictates rather that writes down himself, and someone thus calls him ‘a superb dictator’. Cressida had too late a breakfast to be able to catch her first sight of him up the Tower which he regularly visits around Midday! We also share Cressida’s rite of growing up from girl to woman, a sort of gradual epiphany that will hopefully transcend her feeling quite dead. But still a silly goose, no doubt.

    “Appearances count far more than realities, when the two are set in the scales.”

  16. Chapter# 40 & 41
    ‘The Lover’ & ‘The Sick Bed’

    “Cressida had never in her life lain naked in bed, though some of the other girls had gone in for it.”

    A disarming strangeness-beyond-strangeness, even for Aickman, and whether (or not) you have patience with this section of the book may depend on your having been auto-directed by BBC iPlayer to an old documentary about Aubrey Beardsley as had just happened to me, by chance, before reading these two chapters. After the flying visit by the harlequinine Trifoglio through the window of the bedroom (the bedroom to which Cressida had been taken by the maid Maddalena on Vittoria’s instructions), I was left decidedly disturbed by what I had read, but glad Cressida managed at least to turn a potential boudoir into a sick room, but I have just left her there for the nonce while I have another interlude in reading this book, so who knows? As an aside, I note that one of the books she picks up at random in this room was Dombey & Son, not Little Dorrit.

    “; and, of course, Time, while scything the grain upon which we live, simultaneously scythes the meadow flowers.”

  17. As an aside, I have just tracked down a public reference in 2008 by Ramsey Campbell to this novel, as quoted from ST Joshi, here: http://www.knibbworld.com/campbelldiscuss/messages/1/251.html?1289636222
    I will make my mind up about this book as gestalt when I have finished it, but already I feel it is teeming with provocatively quotable Aickman literary quotes, as well as some sizeable sections of the text that are unmissable for enthusiasts of his ‘strange stories’.

  18. “Let’s go back,” I shouted. “Let’s go back at once. We were fools to come. There is nothing here but madness and suffering and perhaps death.”
    — Frank Belknap Long, The Space-Eaters

  19. Chapters 42 & 43

    “‘John Ruskin used to be carried in a basket to the top of a mountain every evening,’ said Cressida. ‘He was mad by then, of course.’”

    …and by then, we are all mad, so never go back that far! Anyway, Cressida is still in the ‘sick room’ or ‘boudoir’ as dusk approaches, her avoidance of seeing torture performed in the theatre below floors eased by her slumber here, and there now arrives a seemingly caring Vittoria, of quite a number more years in her age than Cressida possesses, arriving when the room is “full of sunset fire.” Compare the earlier ‘sublime fire’ above. Caring or not, Vittoria charms Cressida with her solicitude and mention of the girl’s ‘undemanding breasts’, and despite some salacious undercurrents, this is genuinely poignant and touching material, with a ‘perfect tear’ shed by Vittoria’s eye, as the two of them discuss costumes for tonight’s ‘banquet’. They are at ease with themselves, unlike the atmosphere of Cressida’s earlier ugly incident with Trifoglio. There is also talk of Vittoria’s children, Veronica, Vitella, Vespasiana and Vittorina. Apparently, meanwhile, Cressida is to be dressed as a dusky slave-girl. I don’t want to give the wrong impression here. This is powerful literature that can be easily eschewed by dint of false inferences, and these scenes promise artfully to complement and supplement the ‘weird novel’ aura of this whole work. A quite beautiful interlude, despite the earlier impressions. But I keep my powder dry in case I can never go back at all, let alone ‘at once’! Rooms beyond virtually endless rooms still to negotiate,

  20. Chapter 44
    The Wildfowlers

    “‘I know death hath ten thousand several doors for men to make their exits,’ she said under her breath.”

    It says somewhere in this chapter that it is a man’s world, this world of life, that is, so it seems it is also, if under one’s breath, a man’s world of death, too! And that is not a typo above for Wildflowers, as you will see when what happens at this banquet happens, quailings or not! C09AD2D4-E311-429B-8A87-6685A0371682 A banquet where many attend in their costumed roles, if not necessarily the Commendatore himself. Perhaps he is absent because he has Murakami’s Commendatore’s fear of being killed! (Murakami, as a word, sounds like a death by a thousand cuts, I say.) Whatever the case, this is a striking ‘party’ chapter to act as foil to the earlier Aickman-distilled Perdita’s house party. Perhaps appropriately, Montenegro is merged with the word ‘merged’ at the start of this further seminal chapter. We follow a path of ‘stuffed monsters’ with lively generative organs, as victims of the last war? (“Still it all made a splendid splash of colour.”) Holy martyrs represented in the staircase’s artwork. As a personal aside, there is mention of a German Isolde just as at the same precise moment, by chance, Wagner’s ‘Tristan and Isolde’ liebestod was being played on BBC Radio 3 Breakfast programme as I read this chapter earlier this morning, even if it was still a bit late for breakfast! Larks’ tongues are like brawn? The men, meanwhile, had not taken as much trouble with their role-playing costumes as the women had. Then a ‘mock’ hunting shoot around the banquet table, shooting with pop guns not at the earlier bats as sirens, but at colourful birds that sadly became real enough when eventually in their death throes! So perhaps they were real all along?

    “‘We all have to die. We all have to kill.’
    Presumably that was true. Most people acted as if it were.”

    Cf this quote from The Forbin Project in #XX here that I read just before reading and reviewing this Aickman chapter this morning: “….how unremittingly unpleasant people were capable of being to each other — even when they were convinced they were actually doing good.”

    • “Dear God,” I said. “I must go back at once.”
      ― Robin McKinley, ‘Beauty: A Retelling of the Story of Beauty and the Beast
      My bold.

      “I will show you the grave, and then go back at once to the house.”
      — Wilkie Collins, ‘The Woman In White’
      Note ‘The Italian Ambivalence of Wilkie Collins in The Woman in White’ here: https://www.elcamino.edu/faculty/sdonnell/collins.htm

      “I rather fancy that they will decide to go back at once.”
      — G.A. Henty, ‘Rujub, The Juggler’
      (note the plot of this Henty and also compare it to Adela Quested mentioned earlier above?)

  21. Chapters 45 & 46

    “, and there was a single dancer, in the whitest of tutus, going through her solitary motions in a state of trance.”

    Only a few would deny the unique quality of this widening of weird fiction into something we have now learnt to appreciate from having dreamt certain half-forgotten things during our current times. And I had somehow forgotten that the banquet was to be followed by a ballet. Cressida and Vivien, in their mutual half-panicky but reluctant retreat from the perceived bizarreness of the banquet, had here, I assume, stumbled on one of the ballet dancers rehearsing, a woman in white, one who can only dance in this special way when she believes herself to be alone. This is possibly one of the most preciously pitched moments in all literature, whether you consider it to be in half-darkness or in half-light. Let us assume this dancing continued forever, even if we are not there to witness it. And when we have left, we have half-forgotten it. A philosophical conundrum about the reality of what is left unseen … as the two girls, both still in their costumes, wander into the less salubrious parts of Trino, where they see, inter alios, a husband hurl his wife from a window. With the added thoughts of the danger of a nasty malady by sitting on any kind of cold stone. Much else seen and said and referenced. Including the women they saw en passant…

    “The women were taking off more and more. Sometimes there is no limit to the demands of the mode.
    Only a bigot could deny the loveliness of much that was on view,…”

  22. 9FABB2D4-B9C2-47C4-A34B-0A14B3E2B8BA

    Self-portrait by Philips Wouwerman

    Chapters 47 & 48

    “‘———,’ said the Professor; and this time in perfectly clear English. Cressida had not previously heard the expression except, as we know, in a dream.”

    Thus ‘as we know’, and, so, no wonder I have already used the first person plural above when talking about this book as a special version of dreaming. Having said that, I believe we have now reached a tipping-point between weird and absurdist fiction with these two chapters, and each of us should speak out about our own particular respective tastes between weirdness and absurdism in literature — or straddling them? Between, say, “paintings by Wouwermans” (sic) or some prepared pianos by Cage, the latter prepared — under Trino’s Laws of Music — with teeth and toenails! Having deserted their subordinate jobs, Vivien and Cressida meet a possibly mad Jewish professor who teaches music to his pupils, pupils who are what I might call ‘wouwermans’ or androgynous girls whom he calls boys, I guess, and amid the severe worsening of the weather forcing Vivien and Cressida to shelter in his place. Some very strange comestibles partaken as well as sitting behind curtains made from faded tacked-together dresses, and later there are clothes they don to face the weather again, but not before the professor paints their portraits while they are sitting in a double modelling throne. Portraits to the backdrop of Amalfi and a resting ocelot. This professor seems to me to be what was earlier called a theatrical ‘repetition’ — a repetition of Trino’s Commendatore who the two girls now begin to believe does not exist at all ?

    “At all points, the Professor was a splurged image of the unique concentrate: a fifth carbon copy, as Cressida might have put it if she had been learning to type.”

  23. Chapters 49 & 50

    “‘It’s not boring here, Wendy,’ Cressida remonstrated. ‘It’s sometimes comic and sometimes horrid. Not boring for a minute.’”

    As we follow the girls out of the tempest (note, the word ‘tempest’ as used before about the weather, and a Trifoglio on a berserk yacht or launch as a sort of foul Ariel (but who or what and where is Caliban?) as the girls re-enter the dormitory amid sodden lightning, there is a disarming and interesting mention of Marie Tempest) and the Anthem sung on the yacht reminds me strongly of my own tiny much-repeated youthful verse about Baudelaire once quoted here. I always wondered why I was so obsessed with it, and now I possibly know why! There is much going on here that needs factoring into the rest, including more talking of the curse of seeing the ‘novice’ three times and sleepwalking. This is no easy book but it certainly is not boring. And beneath it all, it is somewhat prophetically, politically and pantomimically profound and is possibly Aickman’s masterpiece.

  24. Chapter 51

    “But in politics words are merely the glints one picks up from the surface of things.”

    “…endless further apartments, some with rusted padlocks on the doors, some with doors that had been stove in for defence purposes (as people put it).”

    Meanwhile, outside the dormitory area, the huge, wonderfully cinematic steam-yacht is tantamount in what I would have long called a ‘dry dock’, with its English workers politically demonstrating amid its marine architecture, or are they merely working on preserving a safe moveable haven for the Commendatore to escape Trino? Not that we have even met him yet! The readers and the girls alike.

    Safe haven? Ironic that the yacht’s name is ‘Pericoloso’. Nothing to do with Shakespeare’s Pericles, I guess. So, a dangerous as well as sometimes ‘horrid’ book, too? Go back at once, girls..,

    “‘The older we grow, the less things last.’
    ‘It seems a pity we can’t live backwards.’”

  25. Chapter 52

    “How long ago did it stop being all right?”

    A new day, with sunshine waking Cressida’s eventual peaceful sleep. And this section represents the most exquisite ‘esquisses’ of a chapter so far, I feel, with Cressida coming into her own, as it were. A lot of special moments I could quote, but you need to read it for yourself as we explore the yacht including the noting of its Creation Cabin and hearing about the nature of the Commendatore Vittore, his poignancy as well as possibly his imminent diminuendo, and I even wonder if he is here seen now by Aickman, never before a ‘sick room’ Sickman, to be himself?

  26. Chapters 53 & 54

    “Cressida realised that many were striplings who had been assigned to Neptune instead of, like Hugh, to Mars.”

    An astrology of synchronicities or something even more profound? Anyway, the ‘striplings’ are English sailors on board a ‘battleship’ HMS DREADFUL that has arrived, but they are all sick with a nasty disease so they have gone to the infirmary where Aunt Agnes is helping out. The girls, despite men’s taunts about their prayers and hairbrushes, seem to be mustering toward some apolitical stand, whether or not they understand the references to Lloyd George! Play on the word ‘wash’ continues, the periculoso wash of the sea and a giant crab, and The Wash in Cressida’s backstory. And the candles in the church — the same church she earlier visited and which she now visits for a moment of calm (rather than learning ‘Christabel’ by heart or mending all the holes in the strawberry nets!) — candles she now finds have become a “swollen raft of wax, dotted with chewing-gum globules”, and that the “enmarbled dead were at rest no more”, which begs the question whether the aforementioned ‘nasty disease’ creates zombies? A heads up for confused readers on page 299, a whole paragraph summarising what has happened so far to Cressida in Trino and her need at least to find Vittore.

    “It had been a lightning course in finding oneself. She had so much for which to thank Vittore, if only she could do it.”

  27. Chapters 55 & 56

    “After the fish comes the waterman. Take the darkness as a lover, and cross swiftly.”


    Osbert Sitwell

    A photograph that implies a thousand words, likeness of Aickman or not, and a quote proving that there is more truth in obliquity than in truth itself. Cressida’s sight of Vittore I will keep close to my chest, and the sometimes pornographic-sounding notice on the erstwhile Garment Store door. This is powerful stuff as we see more evil in Trifoglio and even more effulgence in the Cressida when compared to the hordes of “nasty looking men”, than we ever did before as the girls and Aunt Agnes get ready for evacuation on the steam-yacht.

    “For if something impossible, experienced in a dream, more or less repeats itself, impossibility and all, when we are awake, then something akin to explanation hovers in the air;…”

  28. Chapters 57 & 58

    “Standing in the crumbling old archway, Vivien resembled one of the saints who carry their skins over their arms.”

    …a telling reference to ‘The Cicerones’. As a striking closing scene of their stay in Trino. Amid the mayhem of revolution, and man made lightning. They board the Periculoso, despite its name, along with its Captain Nessuno (Nemo?) who once “went with Vittore in a miniature submarine right under the polar ice-cap.” And taking on board with them a character called Crass, a crass foil to Cressida? Vittore is still unseen and sick in his sick cabin. But Crass’s heart is in the right place as he urges their evacuation from the yacht, it now being even more Periculoso than Periculoso! But not before there was some idle chatter about transgender operations, chatter featuring one of the yacht’s stewards and an erstwhile teacher back home of Vivien and Cressida called the Elephant.

  29. 16C66490-C6F4-4869-BDDF-6E78EFDC880F

    Chapter 59

    “Even then, however, she might conceivably contrive to mount the keel and squat there like Hope…”

    …with her harp that Cressida had always thought had not enough strings! A most moving scene, cinematically exciting, too, amid this comic and spiritual masterpiece, as Cressida manages, by partial dint of ‘undertow’, to woman-handle her one woman eggshell raft towards safety, having doffed her clothes to reveal a Naiad’s nudity, with the eggshell’s eventual rescue of another, her half-dream of a half-vision that touched each of her breasts, I deem, with aching lips.
    ‘You are Sappho!’ these authorially-gifted lips say, from amid their ‘realm’ the sea, words that neatly harp back to the very start of my review.

  30. Chapter 60 (Go Back At Once) + Conclusion

    “There is always a half-death.”

    A (HMS) DREADFUL apocryphal coda which we would do well to believe is its own stipulated “half-death” to be jettisoned overboard! The book ended beautifully with chapter 59, hence the subtitle of this already diminuendo section with its chapter 60 heading, viz. GO BACK AT ONCE!

    A genuine masterpiece of a book full of genius literary references and sayings, Aickman-type strange-story attractions, new co-vivid dreaming, stirring absurdist comedy and a transfiguration of souls. But please do not let me do all this book’s ‘heavy lifting’. As I have said several times since 2008 when I started gestalt real-time reviewing, we need as many readers as possible to do likewise so as to help triangulate any book’s coordinates into the only gestalt possible, in case I am wrong about certain elements in it.


  31. Pingback: My Best of 2020 | The Des Lewis Gestalt Real-Time Reviews

  32. Pingback: Come Back To Me | The Des Lewis Gestalt Real-Time Reviews

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