A fearless faith in fiction — Employing a Kantian or Jungian sensibility and an ‘intentional fallacy’ consciousness — Various passions of the reading moment — Walter de la Mare, ELizabeth BOWen, Robert Aickman and many others old and new — Please click my name below for this site’s navigation and my backstory as intermittent photographer, writer, editor, publisher & reviewer.
CHAMBERS OF THE HEART
I don’t wish to exaggerate, nor am I doing so – but one always knows when one is in the presence of a perfect short story writer, and this story makes me wonder, not for the first time, why this author is not more famous and fêted in literary circles. Perhaps he is, for all I know. From The Lion’s Den to The Psychomanteum, this author often wows me.
Wittily wicked prose, sophisticated, elegant and beautifully observed — and the characters come fully alive, viz. the still attractive woman worried that her admirers who keep her in pied-à-terres will soon cease to do so after she turns 40, the Art business conman ‘shit’ in the basement below the gallery where she works, today’s so-called customer who has a good line in espresso coffees and painting antechambers with words and, last but not least, “the little dog that laughed to see such fun.” Bosch and his disarming hellmouth, or the Berlin Wall, notwithstanding.
I mean every word.
Cross-referenced above with CHANGE here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2021/05/26/through-the-storm-rosalie-parker/#comment-22202
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The dog doesn’t laugh in the next St. Duffy Stuff!
THE OTHER FOUR O’CLOCK
“Who says ghosts are just another monster?”
A chilling and often foggy story in a beta-Dunwich scenario of Suffolk, or rather, so utterly chilling in more ways than one, it’s more alpha or sub than beta. A well-characterised married couple; the husband Matt with a dubious bladder originally wanted to go to the Algarve, before places like that got dangerous, too, but was persuaded to come here by his OCD wife Sami… and he starts to hear, at four a.m., an inexplicable bell tolling the hour fractionally slower after the official one in the church nearby… and the results, despite their two iPhones and their mini-torches, of the couple’s separation amid dodgy tides, is well, yes, chilling. Finding oneself in the dark. And I loved it. But also it fitted in with my torturing of time thesis on Elizabeth Bowen, half a minute, never reaches the whole minute, and many, variously placed, recent ‘gluey Zenoism’ findings re the Aickman Fontana series of eight ghost-story volumes, as simply exemplified HERE.
“Everything just seemed to be taking longer, he told himself, that was all. In the fog.”
[My ancient proselet about Dunwich: The Mentioning: https://expenscusil.wordpress.com/735-2/ ]
THE LAST HOUSE ON MULLIBLE STREET
I saw enough in this work to judge that in some eyes it may well have the potential to be a genuine supernatural classic, involving horror film tropes, about the Second World War in the East End of London, and those times’ interactions of various races and creeds in the blitz blackouts, as remembered in later life by the then working-class boys, all of the resultant gestalt of a story crammed with naive narrations of what happened, but I could not transcend my own antipathy towards this conjured-up sort of dialect, and a plot mostly delivered or staged by dialogue in this dialect.
THE VILLA MOROZOV
“It had never occurred to the old man to ask himself why he read. He had grown up turning pages… […] Was it not nirvana, this strange new life: that state without suffering and desire, all sense of self subsumed?”
From the earlier foggy or tidal Zenoism above in Suffolk to its equivalent version over vast versts of icy and frosty sigils and incessant snow, and flesh turned to enstatued stone, and where the Houses of the Russians stay mainly unoccupied, some people abducted while another, in the Villa, reads aloud Pushkin and Turgenev, and a Snow Queen with icicle fingers upon her trigger, someone’s cousin whom we were first duped to sympathise with, but now who summons wolves as well as somehow stiffening the sinews of some child whom the abducted left behind. As the old man truly loved reading this, too, even if near subsumed “by the steadfast and untiring ice.”
THE CLAY PARTY
I have led them into this hell”
A bravely unstinting description of a hyper-attritional journey of oxen-towed wagons with hopeful human pilgrims aboard, towards California from the east in 1846, as told initially by a real-time review as diary written by one of the men, a man initially with a wife, small daughter and mother-in-law, a journey led by a pig-headed man whose route eventually gets them snowed down to a lethal-leaning halt amid mutiny and other dire shenanigans… and I fear I need now to strike out the wife’s own appended writing after the diarist is consumed by the hindsight of the words he had already written. With her not so much revealing their unspeakable means of sheer ruthless survival, but more the revealing of certain indescribable ones! — unless you read this story to its end before I strike it out and realise that the circumstances of the wolf packs in the previous story above now shed a new meaning upon those of human clay become ‘they’ here by righteous shape-shift – or vice versa?
NO PASSAGE LANDWARD
“…there was something about her that seemed of a piece with the house, something slow and heavy.”
…while Phoebe, in tune with this book so far, is the main protagonist who sees this woman in the house but later is “caught ankle-deep in some unseen mass…” — more akin to a leper than a leaper, I guess, a lurcher not a launcher, a wreck not a salvage — caught in the domain belonging, long belonging to an out-of-the-way and over-officious car park attendant!
Phoebe, complete with an iPhone that eventually lost its signal, had got herself deliberately lost, then reaching a Welsh headland overlooking the sweeping beam of a lighthouse, and this is a plainly chilling horror, with an odd nod or wink, a story complete with a constant intermittent ‘fog bell’ and a visit to an atmospheric house of mezzotints, a house harbouring a shapeless shape or blur as a seemingly helpful tenant initially recognisable as human.
The salvaged ghosts of the past now shipwrecked upon Phoebe’s present, or each parked upon the other? Finding herself in the darkness…
“…she wanted to be darkness invisible in the darkness…”
EVEN CLEAN HANDS CAN DO DAMAGE
“But it’s dark…you get lost in the dark.”
Not a story of ‘hands, face, space’ – but one of immaculate intentions made to seem grubby by the force of hindsight and revealed truth. But does the story’s tantalising ending have ‘clean hands’ of its own whereas the future happiness of switched faces makes the best of love as translated from past to future across the space between? One can only wait and infer. The two girls must have loved each other, I feel, having tied each other’s bunches and shared everything together and igniting jealousy in the mother of one of them — so who knows what the future held after the two girls also shared a deliberate jump over the edge of time … and one of them is thus envisioned, via this story’s medium, to come back?
A well-written story that, until its ending, felt to me to be over-sentimentalised and paranormally wishy-washy (literally as well as figuratively!) — about a woman with visions and dreams trying to reunite dead ones with those whose sense of guilt about their death needed purging in this way. Yet the outcome here of uncertainties and identities fully redeemed it in one stroke of hindsight, ostensibly with dark implications, and made it potentially something I shall remember as a great ghost story.
Since discovered above story won a Shirley Jackson award in 2015.
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A DAY AT THE HOTEL RADIUM
I was going to go through this story in detail picking out, one by one, its constant series of high points, Zenoism now become its perfect apotheosis, but I thought I would write the bare minimum about it as a nod towards blankness and in an attempted tribute to its ‘happiness writes white.’
So, in short, as I sit writing these otherwise obtruding words, I genuinely feel this blend of The Magic Mountain and Death in Venice and much else that is no doubt Duffy, is my favourite ever story, and I am reading it at the optimum moment of my life for reading such a story… for happy reasons, but also for darker reasons. Thanks so much. It is honestly capable of being called a masterpiece of Literature with a capital L. I know that will sound crass, but I really believe it. So pleased that I managed to read it and respond to it before it was too late. Finding myself in the light.
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BEARS: A FAIRY-TALE OF 1958
“Nothing left but the ol’ ca-ca now. The ol’ poopy-doop.”
I, too, refuse to jump through hoops by trying to interpret any SPOORious didacticism from this deliciously SCATological story based on the Three Bears fairy story. Bears that move into a posh township of human beings and ‘Negro’ servants.
It simply is. A wonderfully written fable of Rousseau’s noble savages, both Jean Jacques and Henri, philosophy as primitivism. That is the most I will venture to throw into the ring.
PS: From Internet: Like John Locke, Rousseau believed in the tabula rasa concept. Rousseau asserted, “Man is born free, but is everywhere in chains.”
(That’s John Locke the philosopher, if not the ‘Lost’ character of the same name.)
Lost, if not found in the dark.
I reviewed the next story here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2016/09/03/uncertainties-vols-1-2/#comment-8216, as follows…
THE ICE BENEATH US
“He’s determined to haul it on out like the biggest goddamnedest fish that was ever pulled out of an ice-hole on Bent Iron,…”
This is a good, well-characterised, genius-localised, old-fashioned, Tem-synergous Tale of Terror…
About two ‘old farts’ not exactly in love with each other’s company, but necessarily steeped in seasoned friendship, as they return to their fishing cabin, with all manner of hooks and lures, after, the last time when they were, experiencing a bloodily, stenchily cataclysmic meeting (now recounted in italics) with an intrusive native Indian and that native’s conjurings of a capital letter for the word ‘crow’ and somehow summoning, too, I guess, the “no-see-ums” of 9/11…?
THE PURPLE-TINTED WINDOW
“…when the dreamer gets to the end of all her dreaming.”
An intensely felt experience of words, narrated and poetic, about a Filipino girl who simply knew that her father would die that day in an accident at work even before he left home to go there. With all the possible fatefully or fatally built-in implications of that event and her continuing ability to foresee the future along with shapes of thin entities as bystanders and with thin bones herself. As she eventually becomes a mercenary bride of a brutish Scottish man, a “crawling panic” and ‘purple bruises’… towards an ending that was inevitable and unvarnished, but it was breathtakingly beautiful as literature, a beauty that is her gift to us via the author whom she co-opted to do so, because, if we think it was beautiful, we sort of assuage her feelings of guilt at not acting upon her skills of prophetic certainty to prevent so-called bad outcomes. A complex mixture of motives for the reader in possibly one of the most gratuitously, undidactically dark stories I have ever read. Gratuitous, too, in the sense that there was no reason the window to be purple-tinted. It just was. And we just are. Like the bears.
THE GOD OF STORAGE OPTIONS
“It was the surprise of it as much as anything. The actual light source was something totally and absolutely familiar to any British child born between 1950 and 1980 in the soon-to-pass 20th century.”
Although I was born in 1948, the stored story-power source of this storage story seared me with utter poignancy and recognition. Perfectly pitched, the whole haunting scenario of this warehouse of storage units, the narrator younger than the other (the narrator taunted by the lust induced by a push-up bra), the other man older but within those parameters of birth, and the pedalling narrator’s vision of the classic Christmas Day living-room and the once assumed happy couple who shared it, and the twist ending, all was entirely devastating. Entirely believable and memorable. Another beautifully written classic work that I have missed all these years (many or few years, it is always hard to tell, because empiricism and literature are timeless) — a work now vaulting the Y2K hurdle into my mind today. Advent hanger et al.
I shall now share this power source with that in the Hotel Radium. And also read the foreword and most of the notes at the end of the book for the first time.
Just now cross-referenced Waiting For The End Of The World with The God Of Storage Options here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2021/05/26/waiting-for-the-end-of-the-world-r-b-russell/#comment-22302
Cross-referenced God of Storage Options with The Night Comes On story here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2021/06/30/the-night-comes-steve-duffy/#comment-22348
Now reviewing The Moment of Panic collection —