A fearless faith in fiction — Employing, since 2008, 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.
There may still be significant delays in commencing and then completing this review in the wake of my Elizabeth Bowen and Robert Aickman projects…
Jonathan and Sophie, adolescent runaways, co-opting a deserted house with few utilities, and something fills a Shrine or Ship of Dream or Imagination with hopeful protection against those from whom they had run away, excusing their youthful bending of laws and avoiding notice of their existence by grown-ups. This gentle work adeptly conjures up child-like minds by using the power of their own disarming naive pointlessness and shaky aim, often hitting moving targets better than grown-ups… perhaps cancelling out existence itself? The craft of pallet making, just as an add on.
My previous review of this story, just rediscovered…
Possible plot spoiler here? I generally try to avoid plot spoilers in my reviews. Meanwhile, most of my feedback indicates that readers read my reviews alongside me, after each story or after finishing the book, i.e. as a genuine accompanying REview not as a PREview which most other ‘reviews’ tend to be.
HOMECRAFT by Rosalie Parker
“Jonathan shone the torch under Sylvie’s chin.
‘You look like a zombie!’
‘How would you know what zombies look Iike?”
‘They look like you.'”
This is an engaging, seemingly gentle, slowly accretive story of two children (brother and sister, I assume) who have run away from their Aunt and Uncle, and now making do in a derelict, downtrodden house – with little money, but with the nous to survive, and careful not to be seen together in case that gives them away. The characterisation — of the boy as an imaginative soul pretending he’s a ship’s captain, as well as a practical carpenter, always fearful that his sister will not return from her forays on the outside, and the girl’s building part of the house as a shrine, the soul of the house, as it were, answering their wishes — is perfectly conveyed. As is the worrying ‘overlap’ between the pawnbroker or jeweller she visits and the uncle she has fled…
The throwaway ‘dying fall’ ending is also perfect.
First impression, a naively workmanlike story of a con man in the ambiance of dry stone walls and country communities, fleecing, if not plucking, gullible women, and getting come uppance in an ending by a pack of crows crowding him out of the area … after arguably seen by him in a vision of their feeding on his own future fathered dead foetus…? Not naive at all? But randomly sick; they were ever plucking him?.
And there can be no strong enough dam against age and retribution …?
Just cross-referenced this with a Jack Lothian story here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2021/12/11/the-best-horror-of-the-year-13-ellen-datlow/#comment-24046
“Are not our fantasies sometimes of more use to us than reality?”
Prison-visiting by epistolary means, with Alice writing letters to Michael (diagnosed schizophrenic) in prison. Being book lovers is what they have in common. And our fearless faith in fiction means that they become more real in their letters than in real life itself, and, after all, words themselves are made up of letters, I guess. And the characters that are built up for us by this exchange of letters and their comments on various famous novels, they soon become people who almost invade our own privacy of a reading space, and we begin to sympathise with Alice’s guard cat, her security floodlight and the difficulties she has with her estranged husband, if not with her garden vacuum! As to damaged Michael, though, we wonder if he is not the one we are meant to sympathise with most? Prison should have been a safe enough place for him, but is it now? Our pride of reading place and complex prejudices against those outside that place are here obliquely tested. A fiction that lingers with me more like Schoenberg than Mozart. The potential damage to the synergy of rhythms in correspondence and connection.
“Beth waved at them, the sleeves of her blouse rolled, like theirs, above the elbow, in honour of the heat of the day.”
This is possibly the most peculiar story I have ever read, naively and sometimes abruptly short in places, about Beth being in a sort of friendship bordering on a future love with a married man, and fired from her farming job (in the days when steam harvesters were coming in) by a twisted attitude of an overbearing boss, and she tramps to London to stay with her Aunt, tramping with godly verses and hymns in her head, meeting a tinker with a delicious pork pie for her and later a flirting curate. And then a job in a household with a side responsibility for children, and a dream of a hare and of the earlier tinker, and whither her path now? A story that did not even reach the disarming qualities that I have often found with this author’s work — but the above quote that I harvested from it is probably the most disarmingly powerful quote I have ever harvested for my reviews, and those in the know about my literary preoccupations will realise exactly why this is the case!
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“It was a musical ghost that you could hear playing the piano in the room in which I’d received my childhood piano lessons from the inscrutable Miss Pace.”
Miss Pace, misspace ….A missed place or space that transmits to another place, and this atmospheric, but perhaps naively conceived, ghost story involves two young women (one an indeterminate narrator, so my assumption as to their combined gender is based on the two fluffy dressing gowns provided by a B and B landlady after their baths) and they are on a tour of Whitley Bay, ‘glorying in friendship’ and sunshine, but later teetering, for them, on a Sapphic edge, while the poltergeist now stalks them to their tour from the place where the narrator lived and where ‘her’ woman friend had shown aversion to ghostly visitations, hence the tour…. And the outcome of their relationship you will have to read for yourself, but this story came ghostily to me as if with timely predestination just after my recent reviewing (here) of a non-fiction book called MUSIC AND THE PARANORMAL!
Walking is pacing?
A portrait of Hesta in a music group touring Europe, including her druggy backstory which I got from most of this story being an info dump of information leading to a story but otherwise, to my mind, not becoming a story at all. Well written, otherwise. And somehow defiantly captivating in a deadpan inadvertent-avant garde sense.
“He still does not know that I am Russian. Perhaps I could risk telling him some of the truth….”
… but can I risk telling you, for spoiler and other reasons, anything about the details of this journal kept by a man who has sought asylum in the UK, ending up in Jesmond, and the whats and whys of the sort of damage he managed and then at least partially healed? It is utterly shocking… in the disarming, defacing fashion that only this author could possibly manage.
SELKIE—A SCOTTISH IDYLL
“It came to him that he might create a hybrid; a mix of myth and fiction,…”
A significantly nameless Englishman, staying in a ‘hardy’ croft in a far northern Scottish bay, working on his new book, one upon the locale’s myths and legends, and planning to add his long unpractised poetry to it, as we learn in in this hybrid work itself, one involving a dream of a future, or even past, ‘oiled skin’ that sexually evokes what this eponymous story originally portended — an Englishman’s hybrid backstory, too, as we are due to find out from this abrupt yet somehow lingering frontstory.
“Tell me, Englishman, are you comfortable in your own skin?”
Not any more.
From Jesmond to Paisley, and also to Le Mans, Monaco, Berkhamstead, Godalming, Mayfair, Chinnor, Great Missenden, Finchley, Ealing, Liverpool, Thame, Wallingford, Wandsworth, with Bowenesque memories of the London Blitz…
A LIFE IN CARS
“Speed, my own darling, is a beautiful drug.”
An amazingly quirky yet stylistically straightened-out Molly Bloom-like monologue spoken by the lady who once ran a firm of slick, sexy, even tarty cars called ‘Lady Drivers’, a firm with a “poke under the bonnet” and a Sapphic edge, now a lady in ostensible solo soliloquising to a ‘you’ cast as a dark-skinned, polite, giving-little-away person in a twin-set, whom, even at the soliloquiser’s now advanced age, she wishes to take Godalming on a ride… or so I infer.
Nothing much I can add to this simplistic, seemingly pointless story of a broken marriage, and a misguided adultery with a man from her childhood community and retribution by this woman protagonist’s two girl friends from childhood for her breaking some childhood pact in front of a monument with skulls in the local church… strangely they seemed to be also somehow in a sort of pact with her husband whom she had now effectively broken the marriage pact with. I’m not sure, though. So perhaps not as simplistic as I originally thought!
“In her stories the women were in charge”
About, inter alia, an Indian Goddess or a now Mother Thames not Father, this is a striking story of a dark-skinned 14 year old girl and her relationship with a classy lady called Cally amidst the Blitz, as they sexually ply the male punters as a make do and mend. A tale of themes and variations upon sexuality, where I wonder, if the Thames can recalibrate genders or races, can the place itself recalibrate? — the place where men of war wear women away, and then, vice versa, in lethal bloody retribution, becoming a different place of war that later continues recalibrating in all our ensuing times or Thames?
“I’ve come to realise that you can get used to anything. Even the bombing.”
A flighty fable of twitchers and matings inside and outside a bird hide.
I particularly appreciated the annoying part played as the produce of someone’s mating in the ten year old Chris with a toy car who first heard the booming of the bitterns, tellingly a battle of song as well as a love match!
From a ‘boom bird’ to “a boom in the wool trade”, we reach its Tartarean apotheosis in the ironic guise of a pastoral portrait of Coverdale and its wartime environs…
“Most of the world was angry in 1940.”
A lengthier story than this author’s norm, there is much to think about here. Entranced by its fulsomely described Dales, one also feels its nearness to industrial sites like Middlesboriugh, and a ten year boy is ‘orphaned’ by marital rupture and war, billeted in Coverdale with his Aunt Millie and her curios. Taken there with his little blue suitcase, in a deliberately stifling car by a near-invisible father with ‘a closed face’. A war that eventually makes it fully closed.
The boy, while growing up, goes on explorations in the Dales and meets a strange lady with an unblinking stare who moralises, if not foretells, about his future. And maybe futures can indeed be made and fulfilled, against the odds, even when Tartarus is above in the blue as well as below in the dark.
“As you know, a battle is being fought in the skies above Kent and Sussex. Our Spitfires and Hurricanes are shooting at German aeroplanes in an attempt to keep this country free. No-one knows what the outcome will be. Some people think that Hitler will invade within weeks.”
The name changes through the ages.
Pingback: Damage: As Below, So Above | The Des Lewis Gestalt Real-Time Reviews (from 2008)
Initially, I thought this a rather hollow tale about a hollow actor as narrator and a hollow actress with whom he sporadically interacts, but eventually it becomes an ingenious story of unrequited love and of one’s legacy or posterity. A symphony of false appearances as well as the act of living or dying for the part one plays.
I feel rather affectionate about this story, as the reader of its ruthful runes. Especially with it addressing me as ‘my dear’. A real-time moment’s passion of reading as a fearless faith in fiction, indeed in any story that stays the hollow hand of death, at least for that moment. Playing one’s rehearsed and recurring rôle till the very end. The act of reviewing fiction as an art in itself: an act not as hollow or fictitious, now, as it once seemed.
Cross-referenced this story, as well as ORACLE, with the McMahon story here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2021/12/11/the-best-horror-of-the-year-13-ellen-datlow/#comment-24158
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NEXT DOOR NEIGHBOURS
A strange strange story. Possibly a new genre next door to the more normal strange story genre?
Strange meets strange, husband and wife as mediums with free rein over their own property and the fortuitously empty one next door. Until they meet what they thought were two quite untall ‘brown’ ‘illegals’ turned up next door. What happens then is even stranger! Indeed, I felt like a stranger reading it, as if I myself were the odd one, having landed in a world where such stories like that could actually be written let alone published!
“His lichen was considered nutritionally interesting, being, like many species of lichen, partly fungal, partly algal and partly bacterial, and a larger, more foliate specimen than most of its kind.”
The lichen man, George, working for a pharmaceutical company, examining moss and lichen, on an island outpost of the north, including Gulfoss waterfall and Krafla volcano, and meeting a woman called Birlind as cocktail company in the Sky bar who seems to warn about meddling with Nature and the Huldufolk. All seems to teeter on significance beyond the routine attrition of seeming omniscient narration; I somehow admired the chutzpah of someone who had written something like this, and indeed got it published, even where it ever teetered without a plot’s full payoff. A bit like life itself, as we near teetering ourselves off the very planet, I fear. Yet, the little folk of folklore maybe can save us — again those next door neighbours in a reality we have not yet plumbed to explain, amid the speculative intrigue and perhaps productiveness of neither a clinched fertility nor a tapped barrenness in our spiritual or fungal terrain. But why a Northern Light in the singular?
“Maybe the little people are a way of explaining inexplicable things.”
“The door was opened by a small man in jumper and jeans”
Michelle’s visit to Netterton Manor to assess a corrugated iron labyrinth with depicted nursery rhymes inside, and more adult nude naiads etc. etc. a feast of a journey and the whole story is gratuitously delightful to the nth degree of the non-fustian. I give it permission to be raised, then praised — whatever my doppelgänger says differently! Bath barns, cakes, eye teeth and toungue-and-groove sheds, notwithstanding.
Seriously, a classic of whimsical delight, one that badly needs anthologising!
An older story uncannily, even preternaturally, connected to the current world Gestalt, as if I was destined to read it today in my own real-time, with references in this work to Kiev, separatists in Donetsk, the study of Ukrainian literature, collaboration with the Russians and references to a passing platoon of ‘Russian Dogs’…. Even a hip bath as a resonance with the footbath in Aickman’s Houses of the Russians.
A story of Pavlo and his visit to his family Dacha, after many years, in the desolate Steppe, to write his commissioned screenplay of Liliya, the seer, and the hopeful chance of requiting the once unrequited love between fact and fiction after his rifle oiling and shooting it into the sky to stop a wolf howling…to leave a sound called Mercy? Or did I read the ending wrong?
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A step too far?
Another UKrainian story read by me in the last few days that seemed destined to be read at this time: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2022/02/22/skin-and-grief-r-ostermeier/
“Change is coming, as it always has, and none of us knows exactly how it will affect us.”
A most tantalising story of Mr Proudfoot, an ‘observant’ coal merchant around the Dales, amid dying heather and other die-backs, and now diversified as chimney sweep, perhaps dabbling in wind farms, and warming up, at least for the nonce, an otherwise cold lady customer by centrally heating her.
A story with its own inbuilt or self-generated changes that somehow contradict each other with slowly emerging subtle healing references to us and our world damage today, if not yesterday or tomorrow… and not so much ‘observant’ as an adjective but more as a noun.
I had an open fire as a child.
“As he took photographs of the damage, James calculated how long it would take a skilled dry stone waller to rebuild it.”
No need to rebuild completely, I say, because the damage is part of the beauty as gestalt. The ‘dark absences’ being part of its pattern: “the rips and tears skewing the pattern: dark absences in the design.”
A token of my unqualified praise for this strangest of strange books, a book of often abrupt tales.
Here, in the final tale, a wondrous sense is conveyed of the Dales by some of these tales, this one in particular, this Dale another pattern wherein James lived (“The unique beauty of the dale lay in its concentration of the geographical diversity of the North of England in one, little-known place.”) — James an honest man who takes no advantage of the women he rescues from the fells, dutiful, too, to his inspection of dry stone walls, the wiping off of graffiti that touched the barns and more. From a red grouse in its self-sacrificing within the sky to the sheen of reds and purples of a torn gold-glimmering dress he finds, a ‘small dress’ that could have clothed a mediaeval Princess, he thinks. A Princess small enough to be drowned in half a pail of water? All as factored into a Chaucerian Mountebank’s Tale within this Dale Tale itself. I was entranced throughout but do not exactly know why. Maybe its untouchable celibacy of true love. Within a strange strange book’s gestalt of hidden gold glitters transcended into disarmingly insulated glitches or end-stops.
“…highlights had been applied afterwards. The tiny flowers were, he thought, forget-me-nots. James focused the lens over the holes and tears—it looked as if the damage had been inflicted deliberately, rather than occurring over time…”
“There was something…uncanny about her.…”
Tartarus Press now has a real book version of above PS epub: http://tartaruspress.com/parker-damage.html