27 thoughts on “Mills of Silence – Charles Wilkinson

  1. THE IMMATERIALISTS

    “, just flickers of grammatical accuracy; an image that shone for a second, suggesting the emergence of meaning, then dying away before a single lucid clause could be completed.

    A masterclass in the seriously ungraspable and a satire about just such a device! — describing itself, being itself, creating characters who write stories about other characters between occasions when meeting them for real, characters meeting characters meeting at places near dark bridges or in other deprived quarters that share the past as well as the tags of the present, small press magazines of yore and pretentious poetry recitals, immemorial England, literary research and elusive publishers, ancient university politics of leftist ideals, even a John Cage reference following a reference to anonymity, with Nemonymous once publishing a story entitled 4’ 33” that was the first blank story in the world. I once lived in that world and that world still lives in me, except nobody has bothered to put me in a story where I could continue to live for real and perhaps forever. This is the story that came nearest, I guess. But I dissolved in its meaninglessness just after it was too late, with the seat of diminishment already sunk into my body too far. With “brooks” and “steams”. Uphill and below. Swish and flourish.
    A seriously great work. The one I have been waiting for years to read and lose myself in.

    “Always remember that poetry isn’t about meaning; it’s the activity beyond the page.”

  2. I read and reviewed the next story in the context here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2020/02/09/shadows-tall-trees-8/#comment-18222, as follows…

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    A COASTAL QUEST by Charles Wilkinson

    “Does the whole town consist of nothing more than sub-standard accommodation for tourists?”

    A Wilkinson to die for. One that enhances his Pinterly illustration to a moving talking book in a series of such tableaux. A woman visits an island to find herself … having abandoned the unhappiness of her family life – a work with Creation Myth Theory implications of geology, marine theme named digs, deep wounds that are hardly worth worrying about because, well, because…
    Pinter, you ask? Well, maybe fine water-colour Aickman art, instead, at a push.

  3. I read and reviewed the next story in the context here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2019/10/04/nightscript-volume-v/#comment-17274, as follows…

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    The Surrey Alterations
    Charles Wilkinson

    “A quiz night enthusiast and conspiracy theorist, he mixed superfluous fact with paranoia and misinformation in equal parts.”

    …which is not the main protagonist called Vernon who has just lost his stereotypical wife Doreen to the do-gooding of death, but it is someone more like the likes of myself as based on the above quoted description, but, he is unlike me, too, by being one of Vernon’s equally stereotypical drinking cronies in the local pub. Cronies who made Vernon aware of the mobile audiology unit in a local Surrey lay-by, Surrey where I used to live or be laid-by till moving here, and it is a story that takes stereotypicality into sensitive stereo sound qualities of hearing aids (“; the insects talking amongst themselves underground; the kite string, half a mile off, was sawing the sky.”) whereby each of the five senses compensates for another, and here his visuality fades along with his diminuendo use of the Internet since Doreen died. A Swiftian fable for our times. With conceits and concepts like this book’s earlier gentle transitory kites, but here they are likeably clunkier…

  4. I read and reviewed the next story in the context here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2020/10/04/nightscript-6/#comment-20049, as follows…

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    Beyond the Lace by Charles Wilkinson

    “Even her walk altered from day to day, as if she were trying out various ways of inhabiting her body.”

    The rasp of outside life. The lace of net curtains. And I’ll leave you to judge this haunting trans-portrait, because, for me, “the complex clauses required to explain what it was the company did were stuck somewhere in the cerebral cortex”, even when “the rasp of tinny radios” et al — seeming to have died to barely a whisper from the nearby building site — has at least temporarily cleared the air, leaving the coordination of ‘company’ now as two, even if in more ways than one.
    Broadly, this is a tale of the stepfather of a schoolgirl, a man who was married to her now estranged and vanished mother, the real father having vanished earlier. See what you think.
    Beyond the lace, indeed — now also in more ways than one? Like being within that lace, too? Lace as enticing net to see through or net as cruel catchment amid the shifting static of self?

  5. I read and reviewed the next story in the context here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2020/02/20/uncertainties-iv/#comment-18383, as follows…

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    THESE WORDS, RISING FROM STONE by Charles Wilkinson

    “: I own your imagination.”

    An accomplishedly written story of a male writer subsumed by a hoity-toity female poet seemingly stalking him at a literary festival with the pan-pareidolia of a Jungian curse… but I, for one, personally prefer her adeptly resonating oblique poetry to his more linear narrative describing it.

  6. THE PRIVATE THINKER

    “There’s no point in playing with illusions. As everything is an illusion why put one misapprehension on top of another.”

    When I first saw the title of this story, I was under the misapprehension that it was a reference to my long use of the ancient word ‘brainwright’. But, instead, I found I was not misapprehended at all, as it turns out, with it being a tantalising traditional Aickman-cum-Reggified Oliver sort of story (but even better and more wayward than that comparison portends, in many Wilkinson ways), a story about the ‘nuance’ between life and death, a Null Immortalis involving the narrator as the surreptitiously employed brainwright of his distant relative (his once childhood companion, now a man), the distant relative being from the posh legal family that was instrumental but not conclusive upon the career of the narrator, this ‘distant relative’, who knew the narrator as a child, now employing the narrator as a brainwright for passage across the aforementioned ‘nuance’ by means of email ploys in an unpassworded laptop, having the narrator, not as a distant relative, but his NEAREST relative, and, when near death on the other side, the distant relative tempts the narrator, by these ploys, to the big house wherein the narrator, in co-childhood occasions, once spent time — and descriptive visions of that Null Immortalis is played out in front of us in a hauntingly co-vivid way, involving “ordinances immanent”, both words happily not typos, and, perhaps significantly for this book, a “purgatorial self […] winnowed and milled down.” Many memorable moments in this work, including an orange ball like a fallen sun. I would put this work down as another genuine classic Wilkinson. Not all Wilkinson stories are classic ones, though, in my book.

  7. I read and reviewed the next story in the context here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2020/05/01/theakers-quarterly-fiction-66/#comment-18987, as follows…

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    Evening at the Aubergine Café

    “…there’s now so little traffic that even a vehicle passing through is an event.”

    I have been reading through the gigantic slew of William Trevor stories over the last few months and reporting back upon them. There is more than a single Trevor trove where someone is sitting at a café table with a stranger because there is no room elsewhere. I feel I have sat at this story’s table, and it has allowed me to sit there and talk to it, it having just talked to me. Both once academics. It is probably the darkest, most attritional Wilkinson story ever written (so far). Clotted absurdism that outdoes Aickman and any East European texts of dream. I put my name in google and get nothing but potatoes. A vision of a university we both once knew now being pulled down. My writing hand gnarled with disease. Everything designed to appear normal, but really is an eggplant as a totem of John Barth. And a woman I once knew; I imagine her coming to be swived. Mental lockdown. Physical contagion.

    “There can be no flight to abstraction. He is marooned with nothing more than stubborn, everyday anxieties.”

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    As it happens, by chance, I very recently re-read and real-time reviewed the John Barth book mentioned, here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2021/02/17/the-sot-weed-factor-john-barth/

  8. TO SHARPEN, SPIN

    “…it now hangs, lank and matted, down to her shoulders. Deprived of sunlight, her skin is sickly, moving towards greater transparency.”

    I have often wondered whether this author would be equally great at writing SF. I need not have wondered. This is a darkly futuristic masterpiece, resonantly enhanced by the differential equation of a resonance with a Wan ‘moon’ story that I read, by preternatural chance, a few days ago HERE. Also enhanced, in this story apparently first published in October 2019, by a resonance with today’s semi-lockdowns, their anxious fears, dreams and barriers, pubs open somewhere else in the city, others shut nearer by. An ending of a story — a story that features a boy doing algebra living in a knife shop with his recurrently drunk father and wilting mother whom the father relates to the morphing moon and suspects of having lovers — an ending that can now be seen as the perfectly adumbrated co-vivid dream, a Wilkinson horror vision that is possibly his most disturbing yet, as mingled with erotomania!

  9. Sorry, I had forgotten when writing the previous entry, that the next story was a sort of SF one!
    In fact one cannot thus categorise Wilkinson!

    I read and reviewed the next story in the context here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2016/03/08/theaker-quarterly-fiction-54/#comment-6628, as follows…

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    SEPTS by Charles Wilkinson
    “You should be careful how you name people. The results aren’t always what you expect.”

    Charles Wilkinson has become one of my favourite short story writers whom I first encountered in TQF a few years ago. His prose style is immaculate, but also redolent where redolence is required, resonant and diffuse, too, with the derelict landscape here of houses and villas in middle-class England, now gone to seed in some Alternate or Near Future world striated with the endemic Past, with post-holocaust events and inimical forces prevalent at the edges. Haunting and involving as we transcend the obliquity or accretion of this work’s time and place, with the women of seeming middle-class memory meeting boys on the verge of Golding toward nameless savagery amid the Golding rottenness of the landscape, in Pinteresque exchanges of conversation with the women.

    “Theirs was the age of silent weeping, thought Anita; the subjugation of sound that ensured survival.”

    A special story that needs thinking about over more time than it takes to read and review it, imbued with the disarming strangenesses of Aickman or Ishiguro.

    “How many of you are there?”
    “Just seven,” said Sidney.

    Is it a coincidence there are seven competing areas, too, in the footnote?
    Be careful how you name places, too.

  10. THE MIGRATION OF MEMORIES

    “: at the end of days spent staring at computer screens, print came as a relief to the elderly eye.”

    At the end of days… indeed. As “the elderly moved towards the kind of death” without each other. The above colon pointing to a whole panoply of life beforehand, the life with one’s childhood sweetheart, now a vision of still eating showy ice cream concoctions in ice cream parlours if not homely parlours of old age. An engaging tale of “retro-elegance” amid the follies of life’s panoply, a sort of Null-Immortalis-as-a-computerised-soul SF as conveyed by elements of our real modern life: low-flying delivery drones, air taxis, Zoom meetings … and a life downloaded now uploaded as idyllic ghosts? A blend of Katherine Mansfield and, well, Charles Wilkinson, if not Philip K Dick. The “puck-pock polyphony of racket on ball” and algorithms of old fogies misting up like me at the thought of departing life other than as the residua of what I leave behind on-line. Unless my (Leopold’s) lifelong wife – brilliantly portrayed in this story – joins me (him) there within a cloud of love! And not just for pragmatic posthumous fiscal market manipulation….

    “Perhaps their happiness had soaked into the walls; made the space unavailable for haunting.”

  11. THE HORSESHOE HOMES

    “On the morning after he moved into sheltered accommodation, Wenrith awoke to find his garden furniture had been stolen.”

    …as had been approximately 50 pages of this fiction work been stolen, judging by the page numbering promised by this book’s contents page, which observation on my part makes me think that the contents list itself is indeed THE UNCERTAIN STAIRCASE in question…
    Meanwhile, this is most definitely one of Wikinson’s greatest works of eccentricity. It had me chuckling, and sometimes nodding meaningfully into my own pasture’s food bag strung around my neck like death’s halter. Or how I imagine it will be when, like this story’s widower, I enter my own sheltered home. This well-characterised home with its odd characters and its ‘Klara and the Sun’ outer environs, its controlled sun and Atrial Fibrillation turbines also probably filched by that novel’s Nobel Prize winning author, assuming I am not mistaken by the diversion of pain in my own as yet unshod feet, and, oh yes, the neighbour in the home with his mower ever mowing an ever bald lawn, made me think of my own first cut this very morning, by coincidence … but there the similarity ends. You see, I had loads and loads of grass waste to funnel into my garden hunker. Down the pub with Darkling, next, for a well deserved homemade pint, I imagine, this sunny day.

  12. Mills of Silence

    Pages 177 – 196

    “At first he could see nothing except for the glint of a wrought iron staircase.”

    I am, so far, as this work itself describes, “on equable terms with incomprehension”, and with shifting omnisciences, terror and terroir (see my reviews elsewhere of a book actually called TERROIR and one called AREA X), a Paris that seems to blend that of the King in Yellow with one more recognisable to us, plus miniature guillotines and an inexplicable eviction from a hotel to another hotel for an English character (who possibly pretends not to speak French), called Timothy, beset as he is by a crazy French woman or is it his wife or a personified or anthropomorphised version of a painful wound that he has suffered from, wound and man helping or hindering each other within a revolutionary fight reminiscent of when he was a student here in 1968…now “more of a leftover man than a man of the left.” (Cf the erstwhile student politics mentioned in The Immaterialists.)
    Rest assured, should I become more au fait with this novella’s plot, I shall not enlighten you fully, for fear of spoilers. Nor will I confirm, either way, the state of my enlightenment after I have finished this eccentrically couched text, because, in either case, the state of your likely enlightenment by the end of it may disappoint some of you and relieve others — turn and turn about.

    “…an eternity of iron twilight.”

    • Pages 196 – 215

      “At some level, he was unable to accept his all too evident ageing, the lapses of memory, his crepitating joints, the way he paused for breath half way up a staircase he would once have climbed with celerity.”

      …yet “one of the only times he’d felt the breeze of partial freedom” was still remembered by a picture on the wall of Timothy’s retirement home back in Wales… perhaps he is more Welsh now than English? And here the AF turbine — to ease the breath half way up the staircase, is a contraption that he heard in the room below his in the wry strange hotel to which he had been sent, just as if were hearing the Aickman disarming-strangeness of its manufacture — becomes a guillotine, one that turns out to be more than just a miniature guillotine of terror as opposed to the “terroir” (later, here, “terrior”) of red wine, as even dwarves and midgets from the previous story and of THIS story need more than just models or toys to have the lunettes open wide enough to welcome the traction of their necks. I now know what this King-in-Yellow is blended with here; it is my favourite novel The Unconsoled (I later expect someone carrying an ironing-board around with them wherever they go!) bearing in mind the cinema meeting place and the amazingly strange hotel meeting and the equally strange lecture by the ‘crazy’ woman up the stairs in another building, and the strange crazy seeming woman herself seems connected with Timothy’s old friend Jacques from childhood. Please compare the two childhood friends and their mutuality in The Private Thinker, and that story’s brainwright there provided to help you with reading this wondrous novella… in which still on-going work there are other named male characters fighting for omniscience or narrative points of view. Meanwhile, AF turbines once as rasping but heartfelt breath-mills for our current age of lung lurgy, but eventually Mills of Silence? Meanwhile, again, the scenes involving whom I shall call the Walking Wounded are unforgettable — worth the price of this book alone, I suggest. As is the sense of “semi-sanity” that it imbues within the reader.

      • I have experienced a mainly constructive sleepless night thinking about this novella (currently halfway through). Its unique Wilkinson kind of interface of the literary Absurd and Weird, here following the Uncertain Staircase of the previous stories to its own Staircase as a version of the Hallway Exploration of the HOUSE of Leaves, the sense of truant semisanity becoming the onset of what I fear will become (in me at least) senility morphing the memories of a previous life lived …all combined with all our co-vivid (co- as in combined as well as Covid) dreams that have been spurred by recent events, no doubt, since this novella was first written.

    • Pages 215 – 234

      “The white crisp sheets still had the marks of the iron on them. Surely this was a good thing? A sign of normality.”

      No such hope, I suggest! Even the seeming attempts at reconciling or summarising some of the plot turnings do not fool me. The plot machinations of ‘The Beetle’ by Aickman’s grandfather are similar in conspiracy and intrigue, if quite different, too. Dark houses outside the city where strange things are being spied on happening, viz. heart machines or lung ventilators in the guise of miniature guillotines….? And I just noticed the significance of Timothy’s second hotel being called Desmoulins. And, by osmosis, I sense a kernel of logic here that could only exist by being first filtered by such manufactured madness of motive and narration and contraption or contrivance. On page 222, where this novella was originally planned by the contents list to start, the ‘crazy’ woman’s own such logic based on her work regarding the “philosophy of cruelty”, “the geography of terror” and “terroir” leads to what is an eternal truth: “There are pastures that yield a plentiful crop of sadists; yet deserts can be rich in hospitality.” The loss of a memory and a wife 76 years old, the sudden arrival in my hand of “a black telescopic umbrella, raggedly furled like a dead thing”, my inability to use ATM machines if not AF ones, grinding statistical analysis, the continued presence of the frightful Walking Wounded as an alter ego, “the veins and valves that leaked; the clots that moved too close towards the old ramshackle heart”, silvery grey uniformed men abounding, my ears needing syringing (as they do!), being “a pinprick of consciousness in the bounds of time and space”…

      “I am no closer to an understanding of any of this. I will not sleep tonight.”

    • Pages 234 – 254

      So much happens here, between the lines, between the ironed linens as well within them or upon them with our head, the catharsis and purging, the utterly poignant scenes with the now stricken Wound, the eventual Staircase-Exploration and its physical internal connections between the café-bar and the Hôtel Desmoulins… all witnessed and half-understood with the other half of semi-sanity, any regrets remembered, resolved or thrust into us by the Private Thinker who betrayed us, or evolved us? Lips sown together (sic), the disease of despair, the terrorism of today’s world unresolved by any philosophy let alone that of cruelty. Yet mention later of “tender cruelties” throws some doubt on this. The beauty of being ‘in denial’. Some beautifully couched scenes of staircase nightmare and attempted plot reconciliation “in a shared lexicon”, some characters coming out of their woodsheds. Clinging onto the banisters of this work, in grim breathlessness, readers as well as those who write it (and I use ‘those’ advisedly). The title of this book explicated as a man-machine. A shuffling pack of atrocities in the woman’s hands, so much to cope with here as a reader, one needs to try to take breaths between the words’ spinning, milling blades, into flour or even into the absurdest scene of all involving cheddar! And the creatures that multiplied under my bed in childhood…

      “And, oh yes, they were changing the sky more regularly than the sheets.”

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      I am left genuinely shell-shocked and unconsoled by this book, by its uncertain staircase towards meaningful meaninglessness. Paradoxically in inspired as well as disturbed ways. It will go down in literary history, but which of the many possible reasons that it could be thus remembered for is the one that is important to you? Blindness is temporary, but insanity is not, it says somewhere here. But please do not believe everything you read in fiction.
      So ends a review that issues its own tender cruelties, I guess, to repay those that this book has wielded upon me.
      I’ll leave you with this question from the book: “Did one of the women who worked behind the bar change his sheets.” My grandmother, a bar maid at the time, once did this and other chores for me, I assume, when my mother was indisposed for a period during my pre-memory childhood. Nobody looked under the cot for me, though.

  13. Pingback: Stairway with Night Lighting | The Des Lewis Gestalt Real-Time Reviews

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