COMMA PRESS 2008
My previous reviews of this publisher: HERE
Work by A.S. Byatt, Ramsey Campbell, Frank Cottrell Boyce, Ian Duhig, Matthew Holness, Etgar Keret, Hanif Kureishi, Alison MacLeod, Sara Maitland, Adam Marek, Christopher Priest, Jane Rogers, Nicholas Royle, Gerard Woodward.
When I read this book, my thoughts will appear in the comment stream below…
From the Internet:
‘When you see this angel number 339, say a quick thanks to your guardian angels. Even if you cannot see, hear, or touch them, know that their love surrounds you all the time!’
‘You need to be old to know all the tricks.’
“Was being a writer all it took to have girls hanging on your arms?”
An engaging humorously and/or creepily poignant and/or absurdist portrait of an ageing man recently bereaved, now fulfilling a hotel booking that had been booked before his wife had departed.
It happened to be during a ‘Fantasy’ convention at the same hotel
Involving synchronised peeing and/or onanism between neighbouring hotel rooms to the rhythm of a hotel TV channel.
Clowns panting together. Another clown like him or a different sort of counterpart?
A premonitory co-vivid dream in a story first published in 2008!
A unique Ramseyance co-summoning the premonitory spirits of a poignant Steve/Melanie Temmery of loss and/or the retroactive creepy Roylesque dummies as counterparts, and/or vice versa in each case.
“Even the notion of dozing made him feel threatened by a dream – an ill-defined image of somebody wakening in a dark place and struggling to communicate by whatever clumsy methods they still had.”
My previous reviews of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/ramsey-campbell/ and https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2010/08/17/ghosts-and-grisly-things-by-ramsey-campbell/
Sounds between books — or neighbouring rooms?
And from next door’s hand- and body-puppets of yore here, just now read, before reading this one — sounds off, to the more sluggishly feral puppets of yule in the following work, this side of the derelict mud-clotted track … and its still residual part of itself that died…
“An extension to the central building almost blocked my view of the playground, where the brick wall, over which I’d escaped, had been painted over with a large smiling face.”
The eponymous Possum being its memory-strewn version of a shitty Sooty, I guess, where schooldays come back with the identity of Christie’s mass of mess while, today, there are the old school’s nativity deployments of Christmas with Christie. The days before when we were angels on trees. With Christie’s customary bonfires and the need to exorcise not exercise the Possum puppet that was an extension of his victim’s, i.e. ‘my’, body’s natural rhythms working the puppet. And who hypnotised the kids with which waggly puppet I ask? Now you try to frighten kids by planting Possum into their path? Or have I read too much over a lifetime of reading to stop reading too much into it? Into which character I am? Whatever the case, it sure is a powerful work with things that came to life in it within the dirtily strewn sea-strands of its twitching words. Zipping up, unzipping my bag — and also, it says, zipping up, unzipping my coat.
I’ll go get it.
“I shrieked loudly at the top of my voice and this time the dirty creature stalking me ran a mile.”
Cross-referenced with ‘The Dogs’ here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2020/12/28/phobic-modern-horror-stories/#comment-20688
Like the balloons with heads and the ventriloquist’s dummies and onanistic counterparts in adjoining hotel rooms and the glove puppets, all of these and more in this and its counterpart book…
“His mother had been young and at the end of a long and very hard labour, made more exhausting by the size of the baby’s head.”
My mother, although not killing her, had thus borne my own big-headed head in my childbirth, and now I have the two brains I’ve always thought myself to have, as verifiably admitted in public over the years…
A story of a boy, who escaped the dogs, even the upstart maid who wanted him to expose himself when younger. And the girl behind who did want any such thing! Whose face is whose? Which face with the forked-tongued gap between intention and its opposite? Neither ‘either-or’ nor both.
A chilling story of backbite and of the mutant appendages of self emerging from beneath childhood’s hood. Pre-figured by these books’ manipulated shapes upon earlier screening.
“There was playing, which was not relevant; there was hearing, which was not trustworthy; there was seeing which was not possible.”
Above story significantly cross-referenced with I IN THE EYE here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2020/12/16/bitter-distillations-an-anthology-of-poisonous-tales/#comment-20700
“I first got the idea for The Underhouse when, as a child, I would stand on my head in a corner of the living room,…”
An eventual self-vanishing trick to outwit gravity that remarkably and uncannily is the counterpart of the ‘Safe as Houses’ story about a twin sister and a secret vanishing room in this book’s ‘twin’ book here! Honestly staggering.
This story as a stand-alone fiction is also about a cottager who takes his sleepily drunk pick-ups down to his painstakingly and smartly redesigned cellar (i.e. redecorated, refloored and receilinged to look like the dining-room above but with everything upside down!) so as to make them wake up in the morning feeling frighteningly disoriented. What a hoot!
My previous review of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2020/12/10/the-new-abject-tales-of-modern-unease/#comment-20512
Uncanny is the opposite of unease?
Unsmart versus unsimple!
I read and reviewed the next story here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2018/06/08/the-dummy-other-uncanny-stories-nicholas-royle/#comment-12863 as follows….
THE DUMMY by Nicholas Royle
“I ordered an Orval because it appeared to be the only beer they had. I detest Orval, so I drank it quickly and ordered another. And then another.”
Another story in the GraeME Other school of literature. This time a road emergency worker in Hi Viz, part dummy, part real. In Belgium as an alternate world to that of England across the water. He even visits there a cheap memorial museum like Fort Paull skirting Hull. Also an alternate world with beers I have never heard of. A marriage cheated on, at two removes of temptation and regret. And then re-embodiment as a greenfinch or ring-necked parakeet. It is throwaway and deadpan. But it’s more than this, too. Or even less than. A story that is its own dummy.
“It was a long text.”
My previous reviews of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/14748-2/
“I’ve always thought my poems told stories.”
The Sorting Out
“The bulge in the curtains, the sound of breathing, the source of every dread.”
Just like the cover of Phobic and its and the New Uncanny’s faces-in-glove puppets, or a Magritte painting…to be divested to reveal the ultimate nakedness?
This is a suspenseful, compelling story of the young widow Melvina who may be still mourning her other half Piet, as Dunn did elegiacally upon the death of his wife, and now Melvina returning home to find her sanctuary’s front door forced open, but is the intruder still there? What has been taken? Or moved? Or sorted? Has it got anything do do with her shithead ex called Hike whose personal things and art-painting stuff is still there? Subtly, but clearly, after much toing and froing of lonely suspense that keeps the reader’s attention, she ends up in bed explicitly naked. And, as in Donne’s famous poem, one wonders how ordered HER divestment was, as ordered and sorted as in his poem itself? And who was watching?
An undoubted masterpiece.
Some of my previous reviews of Christopher Priest:
Miraculously cross-referenced the above with ‘The Aspen Wretch’ here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2020/12/30/vastarien-vol-3-issue-1/#comment-20707
“How did it know how much to tighten, considering the different shapes and sizes of everyone’s feet?”
Six hour stopover at Singapore airport between Adelaide and Paris, Karen will soon have left her baby son on the other side of the world to where she will be, left in the care of another post grad student. Karen was on a career move, a paper to be delivered in Paris. Thankfully, she was rescued by this horror story of a foot massage machine with boots to fit, and memories of the equally violent love making by her ex, the baby’s father… the world itself as a constructing means of transport now moving nearer to where she started her journey, I somehow thought. Much to her paradoxical relief. Ironically, even worth the bruises. A bread making machine in itself, our elastic planet, and its malleable human crew, I guess.
A. S. Byatt
‘They’re a bit alarming. So much staring. So still.’
Dolls and other anthropomorphised toys that once populated my 1950s childhood, especially when come to life on TV. Since then A.S. Byatt has long been a favourite writer of mine. And this story is a treat of a gem for me, one that, judging by the date of this publication, is prefiguring ‘The Repair Shop’ of which I am now a fan as well as backstorying ‘Flog It’ of which I was once a fan. A story about two women, a teacher with her collection of dolls; some dolls she believed to be alive, others not. And a lodger with her real cross-patch dog. Whether by design or not, their touching relationship leads to a naive betrayal by one of them and a simple doll’s revenge via the other. Old verities are the best.
“Together, Luke and I watched Meemoo curled up in the corner of its screen. Sometimes, Meemoo would get up, limp to the opposite corner, and produce a pile of something.”
This fantastical story seems so fitting to fit these two neighbouring books I am concurrently reading, as the two books (both as realbooks and e-screen entities with words as they seem to be me for me) are turning out to become childhood aids, toys infecting each other like human beings, here as if sharing a virus, spreading it like a covideo, toy pets originally as aids for children to train to learn to care for a real pet, but here the training pet as a toy seems to be a cross between a computer-screen entity and an actual doll or dummy that you can insert a pencil into, but why was Luke burying a football in the sandpit at the end? Reminds me of what I just half an hour ago read in the Magrs story next door. Sort of creepy.
My previous reviews of Marek: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/adam-marek/
On Inauguration Day, the end of the famous nursery rhyme that the next story starts…
‘There I met an old man
Who wouldn’t say his prayers,
So I took him by his left leg
And threw him down the stairs.’
“I always assumed that, when a person lived their full span, death brought some kind of natural closure; that it was like… like a frame around a picture. You might not see it during the illness and through the chaos of hospitals and sickbeds, but I always thought the frame would be there, after.”
This story has its moments, but essentially an uninvolving one, telling us of an English family with a swaddled toddler and a small boy, at a leisure motel in Massachusetts for a family funeral. The ominous Earl and Mrs Earl in charge of the motel, the swimming pool’s rules, events deadened by menace, and accidents of mechanical breakdown and of a foot’s misstep. An entrapment. The fact of uninvolving us seems partly at least an obliquely artful element in its disarming effect upon us moment by moment …. an absence, rather than substance…if paradoxically …
“No streetlight edged through the curtains. No haze of moonlight softened the darkness. It seemed palpable; a substance, not an absence, and slick as tar. Her chest, her lungs, were full of it.”
My previous reviews of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/alison-macleod/
“‘A story is not an “it”. If it’s any good, it’s more alive than an “it”. Every part of a great story “contains” every other part. Every small part anticipates the whole. Nothing can be passive or static. Nothing is just a part. Not really. Because the whole, if it’s powerful enough that is, cannot be divided. That’s what a great creation is. It has its own marvellous unity.’”
– from Alison MacLeod’s story ‘The Heart of Denis Noble’
A Noble Earl.
Katherine Mansfield’s poem based on the rhythm of the same nursery rhyme quoted above:
My detailed reviews of KM’s complete stories: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2020/03/12/the-collected-stories-katherine-mansfield/
“I like the way Joyce writes ‘lookingglass’ as one word; it seems to goggle back at you, reflecting itself and on itself.”
I share chronic iritis with Joyce. I have had it sporadically since I was 23, and I am now 73.
Isn’t 23 in ILLUMINATUS!
And 73 is the 21st prime number. Its mirror, 37, is the 12th and its mirror, 21, is the product of multiplying 7 and 3, and in binary 73 is a palindrome, 1001001, which backwards is 1001001.
Well, enough of MY connections. This ‘story’ is a massive compulsive virus at variance with word disassociation. It is the first extended stream of consciousness that I have ever understood and fully appreciated. Spreading through the narrator’s lifetime, detached from his mother, pushed by his pyramid oculist if occultist or Masonic Dad, and the narrator became a spy controlled by someone called Tyr, dry-stone walling, too, and reading Melmoth with a fisheye, and he studied with the Bradford Five. Told you, I am master of my reviewing brief.
This was indeed a highly infectious read of clause-connecting claws. A genius stream. Almost as good as Tristram Shandy that I have real-time reviewed on this site, as I have also Finnegans Wake. Even Oliver Onions, one of my favourite more obscure writers, was picked from the work’s net of spread allusions. A forerunner of the Liar’s Dictionary. So many allusions that have eluded this review, just the tip of the iceberg of them being adumbrated here, but I think I actually got all of them into the sump of my mind, AND I got the gestalt of the plot, too, despite not being a good plot-getter normally. By the way, sorry about the plot spoiler I made earlier above!
“Why does Plague get such a bad press? Aren’t they just a life form like any other?”
Long Ago, Yesterday
“My son has written a beautiful essay on the use of time.”
And I think this is it. Couched as a story, the story of a fifty year old man meeting his dead Dad at about the same age, and his mother, too. Available to be read when you have a moment to spare. Gives backstory a new meaning. Resonates obliquely with the themes of a story entitled ‘Horror Story’ that I read about half an hour ago in the counterpart book. We all pull each other’s strings, dressing-gown cord and pyjamas, alike … or any other loose appendages that create or cross the generations of self and time.
My other reviews of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/hanif-kureishi/
Frank Cottrell Boyce
“If you make the eyes big, that looks good because they look like babies. Babies have big eyes. But if you make them too big, that’s horrible. Because that’s like insects pretending to be babies. When they look weird, that’s called the Uncanny Valley. It’s all in the manual. And d’you know what? If you don’t want them to, they won’t get any older.”
Dumpy or virtual objects that these books swaddle, and that swaddle these books…
In mutual synergy with the counterpart story “Horror Story” in this book’s counterpart book, this chillingly puppetised William Trevor type story is an accretive blending of a computer game (if looking after, by Continuous Manipulation, the Sim family with their Aspiration Meter can be called a game at all if not a way of life) and so-called real life in a sort of seaside resort near Carlisle.
“All through the meal, Ruthie said nothing out loud. But I could see that the unsatisfactory people round the table were less real to her than the family upstairs. She was talking to them in her head.”
We, as readers, talk to them in our head, too, as we all did as children with imaginary friends or grey-coloured TV characters, but later we lost that art, till we picked up these counterpart books in 2021. I loved the female narrator and her boy friend and the interface of her new boy friend from Ghana, and the first boy friend’s parents divorcing and remarrying, and all the other civilised mœurs here “rubbing together”. With things somehow repetitively, oneirically sudden or abrupt, even if some dreams haunt you forever uniformly by dint of a crossover game called Zeno’s Paradox, I guess.
“The sudden spin on the heel; the sentence bitten off in the middle; the involuntary quickness of it all made it seem less than human. It troubled me then. And it troubled me afresh when I saw it again ten years later.”
Please forgive the lengthy quotes, but I could not resist.
‘Long ago, Yesterday’, yesterday’s review preceding this one, is also in onward mutual synergy…
My other review of this counterpart author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2020/12/28/phobic-modern-horror-stories/#comment-20681
Hell as the underhouse…
Anette and I Are Fucking in Hell
“, and the whole sex thing turns into an almost involuntary act, like breathing, like breathing moldy air that makes your lungs convulse as if you’re about to puke.”
Too late, I wished I had stopped reading this before it had started.