ROBINSON Publishing 1988
My previous reviews regarding this book’s editor: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/robert-aickman/
My previous reviews of older or classic books: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/reviews-of-older-books/
When I read this book, my thoughts will appear in the comment stream below..
A review triggered here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2021/05/28/the-3rd-fontana-book-of-great-ghost-stories-edited-by-robert-aickman/#comment-21930
Cf, also, Elena with Oleron!
Pages 1 to 7
One of Elena’s brothers, the one called Boris, following this weekend’s wedding in my own real-time, is training to be a priest at a seminary.
She has visitors who bring her a pineapple that, after a guessing game, they don’t throw for her to catch as it is like a porcupine to handle.
They refer to Elena with the endearment of Chérie. Earlier, she had been cherry-stalking for the cook whose only name is Cook.
Elena’s room has several attics above it.
Pages 8 – 10
Much fighting over the pineapple, to protect Elena – or release her from protection.
Like Elena, I am intrigued meanwhile what gift is in the silvery package the visitors have brought? It may overshadow the pineapple, I guess. Life is full of seeming importances that create trivialities that end up in deserving to become more important than themselves. It is my job, I feel, to change the balance before it is too late.
Pages 10 – 19
“Bábaba always said that if Elena did not wish to appear for her morning guinea fowl egg, then she needn’t.”
This has an exquisite feel of Katherine Mansfield with a tinge of Marcel Proust (memories precociously remembered in the future and cast in the present moment of her life), as young Elena, precocious enough to anticipate marriage soon, is more fascinated with the scarlet ribbon that wrapped the silvery package than what it contained, but the strange story in French it did contain of the ballet dancers grew on her, I guess, as she debates the author’s intentions and whether a grown man called Amadeus could judge her artistic abilities not only from her hands and wrists but also (salaciously or potentially or wishfully?) from her ankles and feet!
Pages 20 & 21
“Aflame, despite the weather, with conviction, Elena sped down for her guinea fowl egg, after all;”
The leading edge of winter, as the guinea fowl have already stopped laying, according to Bábaba. Meanwhile, I wonder why the two visitors (including the man called Amadeus) who gave Elena the silvery package have now left suddenly.
Pages 21 – 27
“Elena stole upstairs, not to her bedroom, but higher still.”
Where she thinks of her brothers Boris and Gregori, because they had left many boxes of tools up here, tools they used to argue over! She needs her own tools and paints and material as well as Silke’s imagined or actual help with curation of the curtain for the model opera house stage as inspired by the book that I can now divulge as being the one within the silvery package gift: the book on ballet dancers. Too many characters mentioned here in Elena’s part of Russia but confusion can be a reader’s pleasure as much as his or her frustration. You see, I know roughly what or who Silke is. But do you?
Blue hangings mentioned in the book, by the way, and thus now also mentioned in this book, as well as part of the Magic Flute opera by Mozart, that has a ballet in it called Queen of the Night. Is Elena planning to stage it within her “model”?
Pages 27 – 31
Reading this book slowly with each eked savour of it has made it more of a trance (like the trances mentioned in these pages) than I remember it to be. And it is now a delight to read of Elena’s search for the exactly right material within the history of the.house and its peoples, in a locked room — with the key left in the lock, a bit like this book! — to help with the ballerina and the model opera house, and a red dress for Rossini’s ballerina, too.
Pages 31 – 39
“Maturity was astalk.”
More mysteries and monitions, and I somehow already knew, in hindsight, that Irash was due to arrive as another visitor bearing a gift, fazing Bábaba in the process, and meeting Elena in a room of potatoes, while toting with him a heavy wooden box that he then carried upstairs as if it were a feather — more dolls of ballet dancers, it seems, possibly to be scaled upward to Elena’s size if she could make such a journey (vertically in herself or horizontally by distance?), without meeting those who dig up beetroot. Thankfully, Holy Russia had no guillotines. Whatever the potential confusions, I myself now seem to have fully captivated myself by means of as well as INTO this otherwise, arguably uncaptivating book!
“Elena supposed that the model she had built, with only Silke’s aid, must offer guidance of some kind, if only the guidance could be interpreted.”
Pages 40 – 47
“Standing instructions were that there was never to be any shock to poor Mamma’s nerves; not even if fire broke out, as it sometimes did.”
Elena is summoned to Mama, who seems to be encouraging her to commit herself to a life of religion, to serve God. Elena counters by saying that she wants to marry and be a mother one day — or to be a ballerina!
They also discuss and use the Greek language, and that Chance ‘contrives better for us than we do for ourselves’, i.e. Chance when combined with Prayer. (The latter rings true to me when gestalt real-time reviewing literature such as this book, my Faith in Chance, that is!)
“Elena longed to take off her dress, to take off more than her dress; or, if that were impossible, to jump through the window, to run until she dropped insensible,…”
Later, Elena is summoned by her father….
Pages 47 – 53
Her father flirts with words about her looks, calls her nearly a woman, more beautiful than her mother, his wife, ever was — then he entices her to get him out of a financial hole…
“You are asked only to sport with Rurik. He asks only to sport with you.”
A similar service that I do trans-figuratively for this book?
Pages 54 – 56
“Partir, c’est mourir un peu.
Every time it was true, though Elena had decided there should be only three times.”
Inevitable seemingly to obey her father, she makes three farewells, only three, to Tatiana, Silke and Mikhail. The Zeno’s Paradox of her Null Immortalis foreshortened or delayed?
Pages 56 – 62
“The woman’s legs were like broomsticks, thrusting and fatless.”
The legs of the gray woman carrying gray bones whom Elena meets on the way to Smorevsk to become a ballerina, meeting her after having met a bear (like Boris?), and later she meets a coach or carriage followed by a whole pack of wolflike dogs; she fears that, inside it, it’s the Rurik to whom her father had promised her as a playmate, but really I suspect it’s someone else of the male persuasion far better than that, someone purportedly taking her to the Opera (a model Opera or not?)…the carriage, he says, is floored for her with a cloth of gold.
“You are lost in dreams!”
Pages 62 – 65
“‘I am a strange person,’ said Lexi.
‘I thought you were,’ said Elena, a little doubtfully.
‘I am at once everything, and nothing.’”
Lexi is the man in the carriage that is pulled by ‘ghost dogs’ with the souls of unemancipated serfs, a man who is the Patron of the Smorevsk Opera, the upper half of his face masculine, the lower half feminine, and he seems to me jealous of Elena’s apparent future plans to marry Mikhail when she manages to become old enough to do so.
When studied piecemeal and in unimaginably slow detail, this book becomes more and more intriguing, as if a speedier reading would have been a far less reliable ‘model’ of its essence. For example, Aickman’s preoccupation with the gluiness of Zeno’s Paradox about never-ending progression over a distance — that I am currently establishing HERE — is now re-rehearsed by this book:
“The marron was stuck at the top of her throat, at once gluey and scratchy.”
Pages 65 – 70
“The cortège, equine, human, spectral, stumbled endlessly on through the eternal fog.”
….just like Aickman’s “gluey Zenoism” from the Fontana Ghosts series of books that I have arguably established as the main gestalt, if a gestalt can be pluralised and then have a pecking order! But each work of art, such as an opera or a book of literature, needs, as it says in these pages, a “creative genius” to underpin it, and I am taking that role with this Model book I’m thus modelling, I trust. ‘Trust’ is also explicitly mentioned here as a guide to an instinct of understanding something artistic or literary you THINK you don’t otherwise understand at all. For example, is the male-female-faced Lexi so named because he smokes in front of Elena, as if she is a man among men all of whom are smoking? Lexi as the literary lexical equivalent of easy male / female disguises in Opera or Pantomime as well as in, say, some Shakespeare plays…
Cross-referenced the above “stumbled endlessly on through the eternal fog.” — HERE
Cross-referenced here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2021/06/18/gluey-zenoism/
Pages 70 – 75
“Above the gates were the usual ghastly heads on spikes, which no one ever quite knew when to remove. Around the gates, and depending from the walls, sometimes hardly less dexterously (sic) than Ismene, were people of all colors (sic), all costumes, all languages, all purposes. No effort was being made to protect them from one another, or even from themselves.”
Lexi brings Elena to the city gates toward the opera house and her destiny.
Her destiny was to be in this book? My destiny to read it, the way I am reading it – and reading it piecemeal day by day like this makes me feel able to change things I have not yet read.
Cross-referenced with ORDER here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2021/05/08/the-glaziers-choice-charles-wilkinson/#comment-22155
Pages 75 – 82
“‘Do you like my dress?’ inquired Elena, twirling a bit… […]
‘It has been always in the mind of time,’ said Irash. Elena knew she had designed the dress herself, but she saw that both things could be true at the same moment.”
With the learning from the book on ballet dancers that she once read, we are captivated to follow Elena into her red dress with the resewing by Grandma Gort and an overthin asthmatic girl called Asmara, and we can hear the audience behind the blue curtain readying themselves for the ballet that often took place in the middle of an opera in those days, and Elena awaits a ‘black boy’, it seems, to take her on stage. Unless I misread it all. Irash’s kiss on her cheek makes me think that the author needs her to be more sexually aware than she should be? But he has given her ‘reserves’ to resist this?
Pages 82 – 86
“It was as if her brain were being penetrated by a dozen swords, entering from all directions at once. It was at least as much a torment as a revelation.”
…indeed as is this whole section, a single section of text that perhaps you should read in this book, even if you read nothing else of it. Particularly if you are interested in the Aickman canon as gestalt. Also as a depiction of today’s covivid dreams.
“Once again: it was and it was not.”
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Page 87 – 101
“If she had managed to read one book, she had probably read all of them.”
A “tornado of applause”, a tornado of unstoppable reading on my part, and Elena needs the support of the book she once read as the actual model earlier in THIS book to survive, to survive the chaos now, the different characters, and Elena being rescued but rescued by whom and from what! Like her, I now need rescuing, too! Do not read this book.
GO BACK AT ONCE, I say.
But mentally amok, I stay to be bombarded with words in hope of rescue. I am young at heart. It is “childish to think people older than they are.” — Eagles and parrots. Footmen “less like either men or women, and more like either monkeys or apes.” From ananas earlier in this book to bananas today. Ventriloquist dolls wiser than the ventriloquists….
“…reclining on a heap of rugs, like a university student…”
Pages 102 – 105
“At the very far other end of the room, a cupboard suddenly opened. Elena screamed. That anything more could happen was unbearable. It reminded Elena once more of her dreams. In dreams happenings never stop. One never rests or sleeps in a dream, or even embarks on quiet reflection, or upon an hour with the poets.”
No icons to cross oneself in front of. Post-dancing, exhausted, having drunk “goblets of glutinous wine.” Elena’s thoughts of footmen and militaries. This book eventually becomes engagingly more like ‘Go Back At Once’ as Elena is enticed by another girl to put her beautiful red dress back on and venture outside in the darkness for what I infer to be girly adventures…
Pages 105 – 112
The two girls, I infer, dress as men, and I sense they are now Sapphic in their affections. It is a shame if people are deterred from reading ‘Go Back At Once’ by reading this arguably achronological* Model of it first!
GBAO is a classic (reviewed here), this, its Model, possibly not, despite its many magically memorable events…
* ‘Only by reading a book piecemeal can you change the bits not yet read?’ – including those books it influenced or was influenced by!
Earlier in THE MODEL: “If she had managed to read one book, she had probably read all of them.”
Pages 113 – 118
“…leading to the provisional conclusions that many people lived hidden away for many, many more years than was generally supposed…”
Meanwhile, the two girls dressed as hussars are taken by Lexi to Elena’s home.
Pages 119 – 129
“Half the pain in the world is caused on purpose, the other half by mistake.”
Half this book is thus more readable than the other half, half each reading moment passing by the other half, as Zeno may have once maintained?
In the room where Elena used to stalk cherries, her father thinks the two ‘men’ are her two brothers, Boris and Gregori, till Elena puts him right! Father tells of the denuded existence at home,…and the two girls later share a room of course, and Elena shows the other one the Model of the opera house itself, now made more real than ever, with this scene being beautifully evoked…
Cf Trains = Trans
Pages 129 – 138
“Come back to me”
SPOILER: The other girl vanishes over night!
Then the repeated refrain of Come Back To Me in a poem is obviously in answer to Go Back At Once! The latter’s title now explained. Or vice versa? I will not divulge here the book’s potentially idyllic ending, but whether Elena makes a happy career of becoming a Character Dancer, if not a full-fledged Ballerina, at the opera house, I will leave you to judge.
“I shall love you till I die.”
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