The Friendly Examiner – Louis Marvick


My previous review of Episode One of THE FRIENDLY EXAMINER:

My other reviews of Louis Marvick: and

My previous reviews of ZAGAVA:

When I read this book, my thoughts will appear in the comment stream below…

15 thoughts on “The Friendly Examiner – Louis Marvick


    1. nullimmortalis EditJust read the first 2 or 3 pages, and am delighted by its structured, civilised take on the Enlightenment, mentioning Voltaire, Talleyrand and Diderot, also assuming the book’s ‘modern reader’ is female, and I thought, before I read further, I would revisit my two real-time reviews of Denis Diderot (linked below) – one of my websites being headed RAMEAU’S NEPHEW, my favourite ever book!
    2. nullimmortalis EditThe next few pages continue my reading delight, up to the start of M. Diderot,’s instructiions to the protagonist young man, who has just been regaled with the “real intelligence” of a barmaid regarding the Golden Tooth (“built by Folly on a bubble of Error”).
      I must take breath so as to eke out and savour this Marvickulous text.
    3. nullimmortalis EditRead up to “the meal of a gigantic blood-sucking spider” on page 25I feel as if I have been taken back interstitially — within the time-genius-loci of the type of words and syntax — towards when the young man like this Sperling as protagonist is instructed by Diderot to cleanse the world of false thoughts and superstitions for the sake of Diderot’s mighty Encyclopaedia of Enlightenment. Here, we are treated within tales within tales within such written Diderot instructions of a human body found in the waters of a sort of health spa, and the hole eaten into it by a sort of spider, or so I think. Is this proposed cause of death to be squashed or upheld, I wonder? And why are there more and more females as victims or as movers and shakers or as members of the reading audience in this method of narration? Or am I mistaken, and alone in asking this? Am I, indeed, alone as the sole male reader of this book?
      “‘Monsieur! Monsieur!’ A strong but feminine hand is jostling him.”
      …is where I shall restart this book next time. — If there is a next time.
    4. nullimmortalis Edit8BD98C16-479C-44D3-A762-A6D3A8E6DBD6Read up to: “He is only twenty-three, but he feels sixty-two.”I am 71 and feel 23? Ah, the relativity of age and memory. I am now fully entranced by the style and substance of this narrative, absolutely sure to become one of my all time favourite literary forays. Sperling, the protagonist, after pondering the comparative status of the serving-wench who wakes him with such delicate fingers, has a frisson of misgiving about the mission that Diderot has set him regarding the neutralising of the blood-sucking spider, a spider that would otherwise bedevil sane ratiocination. This frisson brings back childhood memories to him of being locked in the cellar by his parents as a punishment for breaking an ornament…. Also loved how footnotes put some of the text in doubt! (But is the writer of these footnotes to the text a friendly examiner of it?) This is wonderful stuff.
    5. nullimmortalis EditRead up to: “In estimating relative size, one may compare mountains to molehills, but not spiders to dogs.”Depends on the size of the mole, I say!
      A coach journey for Sperling to the spa town that has the supposed spider — among passengers who are mediocrities plus the most unprepossessing woman he has ever seen: a woman who is accompanying or accompanied on her lap by the Queen of Burgundy, she claims. This unprepossessing woman seems naturally to become central to the story so far, with imperfect things about her described perfectly. Also I noted, en passant, the similarity of the name Sperling with ‘spiderling’. I am a friendly examiner, myself, I hope, and I don’t think that connection was intended by the writer when using the word ‘spiderling’ nor is it likely to be significant..
    6. nullimmortalis EditNow read up to:
      “The situation at Heilbrunn, then, is much as M. Diderot imagined it. The simple villagers, overawed for hundreds of years by canting priests, and daunted by their mumbo-jumbo, of which the recent Reform has not erased the memory, see angels and devils behind every natural event.”Sperling thus has arrived at the site of his Diderot mission, after the carriage journey, debating the relative terrors of a dog and a spider with a woman! A woman who seems to best him intellectually. But Sperling is supposed himself to have the mastery over superstition by means of his rationalism, yet he sees a vague haunting shape when later on horseback in the forest, just before arriving at Heilbrunn, and this male reader at least (this book’s would-be friendly examiner) just had a sympathetic frisson of unease alongside Sperling … and he now listens to (and I read about) the Heilbrunn villagers’ tales of the strange phenomenon that have beset them…
    7. nullimmortalis EditRead up to: “He cannot remember when he last enjoyed so engaging a conversation with a woman, or with anyone;”The earlier philosopher woman is here in town also, with her version of bees in her bonnet, transposed to other hatchlings in her hair more suitable to this account, bees in the bonnet being something of which I have often accused my own daughter and wife over many years now gone! Meanwhile, Sperling’s verbal duel and clash of personalities with the local priest is something that should henceforth be iconised as one of those significant meetings of minds in all literature. Seriously.
      I have now given up eking out this utterly compelling text. And somehow, things are getting me so involved, I shall find it difficult to clamber out again… “…a moment of marked silence that breaks the expected rhythm of conversation and conveys that the questioner has laid himself open to unfriendly review.” My bold.
    8. nullimmortalis Edit“‘Your Honour won’t be requirin’ the sheep, after all?’ asks Hauke.”
      Oh, after witnessing the likely deserved outcome of the pious priest’s party’s religious encounter with the denizen of Höhle or Hölle, Sperling, pedalling some sort of early seaside pedalo, ditches the sheep bait, for something or someone far more intelligent to accompany him, and thus meets kind with kind, literally and figuratively. And footnoted Reason meets head-on the ending’s thrilling Adventurous Fiction via its so-called Monster, to the expected satisfying of the Diderot mission. It seems apt that I mentioned Rameau’s Nephew as my favourite book, and judging by the lady’s uncle in The Friendly Examiner, Ep. 1, this has become another such favourite, one I shall call privately Rameau’s Niece! I am myself perhaps that very uncle in old age, once the ram pedalling the ‘eau’ with its ewe. A fitting ending with sunset kisses, almost. The only male reader of it? If so, not for long, as we all see the light together.This is an entertaining book that, if written ages ago, would now be great literature taught in schools and universities. [Gestalt Real-Time Reviewing is not wayward nor even preternatural, neither friendly nor unfriendly, this book having just taught me that this is so because such an activity is a form of Reason, in synergy with the unreasonable and/or reasonable fictions it addresses.]end
  2. Episode 2

    Pages 67 to 80

    “How is ‘the Deity’ or ‘the Supreme Being’ an improvement on ‘God’? Do these phrases really serve the cause of enlightenment, or do we use them merely because they make us feel virtuous? One might as well speak of ‘persons of colour’ instead of ‘Negroes’.”

    The ‘cause of enlightenment’ or of the Enlightenment? We meet Hippo Sperling again and his wife Fabienne (I recall she had golden hair by the end of episode 1?) now enrolled by d’Alembert (someone I remember from university was linked to Diderot’s Encylopédie rational-minds-matter campaign): to find Diderot who seems to have been kidnapped into some British inspired Cult of Tombs conspiracy where the future’s Gothic Fiction is no longer ‘A Dead Monument To Once Ancient Hope’ syndrome but a genuine ‘flirtation with death’…. Or words to that effect. Ruinenlust et al.
    Seriously, talking of words, this Marvick skill in prose and dialogue is truly marvellous in these pages, utterly incomparable, a fine literature of a bygone age but even better as if Marvick is standing on ancient shoulders with his own shoulders already higher than theirs! Seriously. With words and turns of phrase that are miraculously [add whatever series of adjectives here that you think appropriate once you have read these pages for yourself.]

  3. Pages 80 – 87

    “We will come for you” (sic, no full stop)

    I only have time to read a relatively short section today, bedevilled by chaos in my own papers and other domestic duties that Diderot might have avoided, but I have been literally and literarily staggered by these few pages. This book is really special, no question, and deserves far more attention than it has received so far. These passages of Sperling’s almost covivid Dream, his search of the missing Diderot’s apartment and the guided ‘chaos’ in his papers, and the letter that is delivered from Diderot to Sperling where the ordering of words like the adjectives I mentioned earlier is more important it seems than imparting exactly where he is captured to allow Sperling to rescue him! The horror tropes or gothic elements that Diderot is fighting against seem to be subsuming him in his very expressiveness — but this is happening ironically in a ‘good’ way for a reader like me who, for whatever Aesthetic reason, ‘enjoys’ such dark literature. This is prime weird fiction of the highest order but it is equally cast as the Enemy!
    It makes me feel guilty relishing these sublime textures!

  4. Pages 87 to 97

    “How else can we feel the pain of others than by imagining that we endure it ourselves? Is it reasonable to condemn us for being confined to separate bodies?”

    The gestalt is the answer!, I contend. I have regathered in real-time my forces since yesterday, and my guilt in ‘enjoying’ or tapping the grotesque arts is somewhat diminished – by seeing the power of this prose as Sperling makes his Tartarean journey towards whatever ‘dark’ place of Diderot’s lockdown. With fond thoughts of his wife Fabienne and the Pondering upon the nature of Pity. The impish individual whom I follow there, too. I have probably been waiting for this journey in priceless prose of a book all my life, and here it is. And not only that, partway through this journey within the body and mind of Sperling, I am taken to a gathering of philosophers in this so-called Age of Reason, including David Hume. And Jean-Jacque Rousseau makes some very strong points in favour of the wisdom to be found in the panoplies of the grotesque — those books of Monk and Monster that even some of these philosophers might admit ‘enjoying’! Both in the Tartarean journey and the discussion that follows, the expression of this book is utterly indescribable and can only be read by yourself to gauge what the hell I am talking about here in its support. Its wave of power and truth, And in support of my proclivities that are as equally torn in two. In two bodies or in two minds, who knows.
    No redactions here to appease superstition! OR reason!, I say.

  5. “A well-informed mind is the best security against the contagion of folly and vice. The vacant mind is ever on the watch for relief, and ready to plunge into error, to escape from the languor of idleness. Store it with ideas, teach it the pleasure of thinking; and the temptations of the world without, will be counteracted by the gratifications derived from the world within.”
    ― Ann Radcliffe, The Mysteries of Udolpho

    imagePages 97 – 101

    We now follow Rousseau himself, in two minds about his own views on the Gothic and ‘graveyard’ schools, and by their seemingly running repetitive themes. He looks for the missing Diderot in the Louvre, where he lumps together “housewives, bakers, butchers, louts and goons” in the crowds blocking the views of painting. He was satisfied with simple apples by Chardin, which reminds me of the above image that I used famously some years ago to block out the equally famous Gothic book beneath them…
    “Yet he was enough a man of his time to feel a spurt of fear at the implication that, in the general collapse, his own life would be forfeit with everyone else’s.”
    We are enough ‘men’ and women of our own time to know that, too!
    Which brings me back to Ruinenlust and, here, Paris brought down to the level of one of the Louvre paintings, ‘Cloistered in Ravelled Bones and Ruined Walls’… and later he meets, by chance or not, a worried but truly beautiful woman as wife of the now apparently missing Sperling …meeting her after Rousseau had received his own version of ‘We will come for you’…!

    As I walked over the loose fragments of stone, which lay scattered and surveyed the sublimity and grandeur of the ruins, I recurred, by a natural association of ideas, to the times when these walls stood proudly in their original splendor, when the halls were the scenes of hospitality and festive magnificence, and when they resounded with the voices of those whom death had long since swept from earth. “Thus,” said I, “shall the present generation – he who now sink in misery – and he who now swim in pleasure, alike pass away and be forgotten.”
    ― Ann Radcliffe, A Sicilian Romance

  6. Pages 101 – 107

    “Nothing saps the morale of a nation so surely as the indulgence of a taste for morbid literature.”

    And ruins above, tombs below, and returning to dust…and this ‘novel Gothic novel’ in the shape of a surreptitiously ironic Episode 2 is getting even better and better, its conspiracies overheard by Sperling in the conspirers’ underground dens, its Dürer miniatures, lockets and lockdowns, and elsewhere Rousseau with Sperling’s increasingly even more beautiful wife in our eyes, whatever the dust she is due to return to one day…they are conspiring themselves to find those missing…

    The ending of my review of Thomas Hardy’s DAMES cycle yesterday Here is in amazing resonance today

  7. Possible spoilers throughout

    4EB89EFF-636F-49DB-8DDF-5EAF7DB21DF2 Pages 107 – 111

    “What do we do next?”

    Sperling finds he is co-prisoner with the one he had set out to rescue, our Diderot, my dear Diderot, here explaining to Sperling his double bluff Trojan Horse to beguile those enemies of the State who are beguiling us with morbidity through literature! My double bluff, too, as I now realise having just coincidentally and opportunely read and felt myself unduly immersed, for the first time, here, by what I have been seen often to claim a classic dark ghost story, the one that contains Oleron’s fight of self-assertion against being enveloped by a loosely similar insidious importuning!
    An epiphany for me, whatever happen to be the exterior intentions helping me to experience it. This text that also importunes me with its skills of high elegant expression.

  8. Pages 111 – 122

    “‘The power is generated from below,’ Diderot said, ‘and filters upward towards light and air, dissipating as it rises, and colouring the work of writers on successive levels…”

    Seminal stuff, as this has touched upon my theory of the literary Gestalt. But my feelings of what might once have been a desired epiphany have now become ones of horror at my own possible guilt in this process, by facilitating that filter of blackness into our minds, short of even thinking myself at the “bottommost” source or Azathothian core that actually started the process with my own ‘encyclopaedia of abominations’! But, equally I have been laughing inwardly at the huge batches of different but similar morbid books of the ‘graveyard’ school being manhandled around in endless crates, and my wife’s own beady eye upon my own letterbox and what streams through there for my own processing onward to you. As I am doing with this very book that I channel onward to you with mixed feelings as I yet wonder at its true intentions beyond any literary theory of certainty or fallacy. Lockets or not. And the scales of right and wrong.
    Meanwhile, I am swept along by the concept of the miniature of entrancing Fabienne in the locket within Diderot’s possession, and Sperling’s own feeling about this. Who is whose Trojan Horse now, I wonder. And I will not divulge — for fear of spoilers worse than anything I have already spoilt — the ending of this second episode that may or may not be a cliffhanger instead of an ending at all. Suffice to say that I am fully captivated, if not captured, by this book, and dare I give you any explicit warning about it that will not bring down things onto my head or pitch you into the pit yourself from above upon that very head! Needless to say, should you, whatever my warnings, reach this far into the book, I am sure we all should be bemused by the identity of he who has already emerged from that pit. Unless I am completely confused rather than merely bemused…

  9. Episode 3

    Pages 129 – 136

    “Only reasonable creatures can choose a virtuous course of action, for that course seldom recommends itself to our passions alone.” (My italics)

    From one black rampart in episode 2 to a silk one on a hot air balloon here, I feel as if I have been immoderately plucked from the so-called cliffhanger of the previous plot into a basket-hanging rebirth of a plot involving the still most voluptuous Fabienne (now as narrator!) and her husband Hippo Sperling dangling above savages, with demon tattoos, ogling her voluptuousness, as the couple wrestle with the world’s new balloonics on their mission of Reason to deal with some form of eugenics in the savages — the couple now suddenly called back to France by Diderot’s carrier pigeon named Irene to embark on another mission I gather to be about the people’s obsession with ‘magnetic fluid’. [My interpretations above may be faulty, by the way!] Whatever the case, despite the change of narrative viewpoint, I have thankfully been plunged back into the most excitingly elegant prose style I could ever possibly imagine reading, and furthermore this style is co-vividly dangling me, too, within the reality and truth of fiction, above this same vista of jungle and savages. Most exciting, no mistake. And foolhardy of me! [Rousseau, by the way, after his wavering in the previous episode about his own beliefs, still seems to be getting the hearsay of a bad press.]

  10. Page 136 – 145

    Fabienne’s POV continues as she and her husband Hippolyte Sperling meet Diderot to discuss, inter alia, the thoughts of Hippocrates, via à vis her own coming confinement (did we already know about this?), and there is much mansplaining for her ‘benefit’ regarding the madness of the womb! Then later — in connection with their next mission on behalf of Reason versus Magical Irrationality: involving the magnetic fluid of Mesmer the Mountebank, who is now in Paris — they discuss the ‘sinister’ side of madness of mankind in general: “Madness” as defined and warned against in Diderot’s Encyclopaedia, and needs to be read by you with close attention. Yet, I feel much of what is here discussed has tainted my own processes in the Gestalt Real-Time Reviewing of books and whatever preternatural or clairvoyant force of ‘fluid’ flows between the books that I discover thus flowing in mutual synergy of cross-reference &c. etc.!
    Meanwhile, their previous missions involving the spider of transfigured superstition and the Gothic Book pedlars are compared usefully with this latest potential Mesmer Mission, the eventual facts of which may, one day, I feel, help Poe in writing Valdemar?
    I am greatly intrigued later by hearsay reports of Hippo’s first visit to Mesmer and Hippo’s subsequent evasiveness when describing to Fabienne that charlatan’s assistant and then anxious Fabienne’s determination to accompany her husband on his second visit disguised as her husband’s own assistant… another cliffhanger for this wonderful book…

  11. Pages 145 – 151

    “I wanted to relieve his mind, but could not tell him what I did not understand.”

    Someone said to ‘understand’ is to ‘conquer’, but we are behind eyes here that do not understand what is happening to her, mesmerised by Mesmer’s Assistant, Aïcha. And both Fabienne and Hippo her husband alike, as they are shown a means to see into a droplet from her, the now unreliable narrator’s, womb (earlier called a woman’s ‘mad’ womb, I seem to recall) and what or whom they see in it will make you gasp. And I fear for both of them, as we follow the narrator as she teeters on the brink of being allowed by Hippo to be taken off in a carriage for treatment by Memser and his Memsaab. If my own ‘understanding’ be correct.

  12. Pages 152 – 173

    I won’t detain you long dealing with this longer stretch of pages, as I do not want to let slip anything that spoils their effect both in the hidden implications of the present and past plots of this book nor to divert you from the (dare I say?) even more and more elegant prose style, as if each succeeding set of pages stands on the shoulders of the previous one.
    …these pages showing some of the growingly less amicable correspondence between Hippo Sperling and his near erstwhile ‘chief’ Denis Diderot, on the fact that the former seems mesmerised by his wife’s healing at the hands of Aïcha, and I myself relate that woman (now a potential major figure in literature as a result of this book) to Haggard’s Ayesha. Also these pages deal with continuing aspects of the Trojan Horse, and of empirical study (that my book reviews have always claimed to utilise), and of who is mesmerising whom, a mutual symbiosis of delusion, or whatever, with reference to what or who was seen earlier in the fluid from Fabienne’s womb, and with the earlier hot air ballon episode over Africa, as tied up by a most intriguing set of pages concerning a character called Hranolky.
    I think it is safe to report that this book remains one that arguably creates its own Trojan Horse within the reading mind, but now I think that each reader, with his or her own triangulation of the facts, is in turn a different Trojan Horse within the book!
    A unique phenomenon here deployed for the first time that, depending on your base temperament, either sends you quite mad or increases your empirical perspicacity, and I do not intend anything I have just said as a distraction from my own amniotic construction within the actual textured fluid of this book’s words.
    Perhaps this book has mesmerised me with ‘Azathothian’ ‘eugenics’ or perhaps with something even worse, or I have mesmerised this book with those two words already in my review above or again perhaps with something even worse? Whatever the case, I deem it is a book to end all books. And I shall now read the rest of this book, without public comment here, indeed read for the first time the long Editor’s Note and other Author Notes scattered throughout, as I suspect that would contravene my strict rules only to consider empirically the pure fiction in a book and not the extraneity creep that surrounds it.
    Wimsatt’s Intentional Fallacy be praised!


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