This World and That Other

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SAROB PRESS 2022

A book pre-ordered a month or two ago.

Novellas separately by John Howard and Mark Valentine.

My previous reviews of these authors: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/john-howard-mark-valentine/ and of this publisher: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/sarob-press/

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

15 thoughts on “This World and That Other

  1. ALL THE TIMES OF THE CITY
    by John Howard

    CHAPTER 1: CITY AND STORM

    “As the towering gothic façade of St Paul’s grew into sight, Lester would think of the juxtaposition of the sacred and secular, the spiritual and the highly materialistic.”

    An interface like literature versus life within a larger gestalt? This is, for me, a very exciting opening chapter when I compare what Lester sees today of the skyline of the City of London (a City with a female mayor not dissimilar to a big-boned blonde haired mayor elsewhere in a different parallel of the whole of London, not just its City) — those curves and shards and impossible architectures versus St Paul’s and older buildings like the publishing office, with surrounding office gossip and scandal perhaps, where Lester precariously works as he travels up from Kennington, not Kensington. I commuted up from Clapham South, via Kennington, in the 1970s to the City of London where I viewed a different but same skyline and wandered haphazardly the alleys and byways like Lester. And in my later novella Agra Aska (written 1984) I subjected my then writing obsession, in a mock-Lovecraftian manner, about St Paul’s Cathedral, subjected it to a Thames’ riving in a parallel world’s storm…

  2. Lester felt a sense of ‘dread’ at the end of the previous chapter, a dread of city back doubles rather than exploring them?… please see in ‘Back Doubles’ and elsewhere in the Weirdmonger book for obsessions with the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral, after its surviving the Blitz, and much more on this subject relevant, I somehow sense, to this novella so far.

    CHAPTER 2

    We meet Charles Wellclose and his poetry that emanated a power beyond the power of its mere words, and he had his own version of Lester’s ‘dread’ soon after the War had ended and Atlee was Prime Minister, and when much of London was still in unrepaired ruins. Upon the brink of building airy modern places or to retain a city’s mystery? We also meet Rev. Lawrence Furnival and his daughter Nan in that era. And the concept of Sodality of Substitution and Co-inherence about which I have not yet had even a jot of an inkling!

  3. Aptly, by chance, my review simultaneous with that of this Howard novella — a novella seemingly inspired by an Inkling — happens to be of Queen Of Clouds by Neil Williamson that deals with, inter alia, the concept of Compelling Ink!

  4. ‘He drew his finger through the turgid water as if tracing the outline of the true cathedral in its original glory, when all the carriages bore proud humanity through a sparkling jewel of history further in time and essence from his own version of the future than anyone could then possibly imagine. Even as recently as just before the first Great War, the story of St Paul’s Cathedral, as depicted by the now unknown G.L. Prestige, was one of earnest honest endeavour, good housekeeping and unselfish worship of a God who knew what the future held and did nothing to prevent His own eventual non-existence. But the cathedral’s outline soon rippled out of existence, despite the stagnant water actually bearing its imprint for a second or two and, for several hours, within its slowly surging undertow.’
    — from ‘Back Doubles’ first published in 1993 as originally inspired by ‘Agra Aska’.

    CHAPTER 3

    I have long yearned for a gestalt view of the history of St Paul’s Cathedral that stems, like the nearby Thames, from a cross-section of parallel worlds — including time tranches of real history, similar or misheard names of characters who are involved over time, interconnection between these characters by shared memory and coincidence, youth and old age, simple truth and fiction truth, spirituality and architecture, threat and promise… and this novella so far seems to be answering my prayers.

  5. CHAPTER 4

    “Was he the first to write his poem, or had he succumbed to what he had named ‘a connection’?”

    I am becoming more and more inspired by the dread and promise of this work, embodying, as it seems, the essence of what has developed, for me at least, in gestalt real-time-time reviewing certain literature over many years. Whether this be simply Jungian or Bowenesque, or fragmentedly Machenesque or wholly CharlesWilliamsic, I feel fully imbued by Wellclose’s post-war, post-blackout near waste-land of London, and the writing of his own poetry as well as his reading TS Eliot, and a perhaps fictional Stanhope poetic Arthurian imagery, and once meeting Nan at night near the river. A spiritual crisis of dread that he feels cannot be helped by her priest of a father. The need to obviate a ‘hollow future’ as well as Eliot’s conceit of hollow men, I say.
    Someone’s ‘intruding’, though, he feels. He is not alone. The gestalt intrudes, retro as well as forward? It may be me with this co-inspired review, it may even be the author himself conspiring with such forces by writing this novella, but I sense it may be neither.

  6. CHAPTERS 5 & 6

    “…sheets of an epic poem laboriously typed out on a manual typewriter with a ribbon so faded that the ink was scarcely darker than the paper.”

    Two chapters, from the modern email days of Lester to the post-Blitz of Nan and Charles Wellclose, two alternating period streams — both parallel to other streams, the modern one containing an intriguing female Mayor — spanned as if by a millennium bridge of a man called Maidford, including, for me, inspirational vistas of London and St Paul’s as a living organism — vistas from close up and at a journey’s distance. With poetry by more than one character, poetry that is said somehow to mean more than it means, intentioned by whatever Omnipotent or Sodality, or even, dare I say, Gestalt? Just as this novella itself seems to mean more than itself, whether by direct intention or not. And its image of ‘braiding’ a cord with strands is a powerful one. (Interesting that the main character in the con-current Williamson is Billy Braid.)

    “‘Perhaps we are mathematical,’ Nan mused, as she walked slowly back towards Vauxhall Bridge. There is the Trinity, and that’s three in one and one in three. And co-inherence is one way of how we may approach being alone and being part of the greater, at the same time. And the greater being within the smaller, too.”

  7. CHAPTER 7

    “Through his reading of the poems he [Maidford or, as on page 10, ‘Maidstone’ as a mutancy of Adstone?] stood on Blackfriars Bridge or made it to the middle of the Millennium Bridge and looked at the crowning glory of the City of London, he would not see a soaring tower and sharp spire but an impossible green dome…”
    [my square brackets and ellipsis]

    I am, now perhaps unsurprisingly, astounded by the vistas and implications of this alternation or parallel or fiction truth with the present day stream of this book, including Lester and a very old Maidford, and the Wellclose epic ‘fantasy’ poem, and my suspicion that something of this had already somehow seeped into quite a bit of my own published ‘fiction’ work in the 1980s and early 1990s, and my wanderings around this London in the 1970s including regular lunchtime visits to St. Paul’s, and my current obsession with Bowen and the Blitz.
    And the Mayor here wishing (see my hints above about her) wishing to become Mayor for Life!
    And this chapter’s machine or engine beneath the streets of the City, and my thoughts today that ‘Maidstone’ is a reference to the London Stone, allegory as present truth or prophecy, the filtering of various times and authors in the literary gestalt mainly by means of preternatural connection and not as Maidford thinks for a nonce here by means of ‘plagiarism’, and when I wrote Agra Aska or Back Doubles in the 1980s, perhaps I also had “the conviction that his chosen setting was utterly real and genuine”, and what of “the weight of books” as mentioned here today?…

    “At my age I should be getting rid of books, not acquiring more.”

  8. An example of one of my personal St Paul’s ‘story files’ from the 1980s…. Photos here:

    An Example of an old St Paul’s Story File

    ****

    CHAPTERS 8 & 9

    “The drawing of St. Paul’s was a message in disguise”

    Nan’s own post-Blitz epiphany with Wellclose, covering the sense of dread, mention of Blake, ‘sacerdotal’ confession and repentance, her taking in of his burden even without reading the poem, and Maidford’s failed attempt at detachment, with his having indeed read it. Maidford’s attempt to obviate the future by saying: “The Nazis and Soviets might have wanted people to be nothing more than bricks in walls — but that’s not for me.” And the mix of laughing and crying. Absurdist visions and only too real ones as part of a Singular Omnipotent, a truth constructed by various parallel truths?
    And then the city Mayor in the present day as a possible female version of our latest Prime Minister, where Dread is borne out? A ‘web of connections’, social media amid the skyscraping Splinters, and the material rejection of history’s soul and architecture.
    [rambling — Maybe I misunderstand much in this book so far, so you must parallel it with your own alternate views upon it by triangulation. I simply have an instinct that I, too, was used by some omnipotent gestalt when writing what I thought was fiction in the 1980s. And one of my versions at that time of St Paul’s is as a ‘straddling church’ riven by the Thames into a sort of bridge, now to be compared to Maidford’s time- or millennium-bridge? Just one coordinate or splinter or angle of mine to be hopefully triangulated by others, including the eventual finalised coordinates of this new novella still being read?]

  9. AD2C0E34-947A-40FD-94CA-243266470172 CHAPTERS 10 & 11

    “…Charles Wellclose’s poem: reading it at last might allow her to build-out a bridge towards Richard Maidford. But no. They had already spanned the spaces, extended themselves to meet and touch — and, she had thought, to connect.”

    I do not think I need to risk divulging anything more about this novella, nor about its plot as denouement or any possible interpretations of it other than what I have already adumbrated above, and indeed this work ends with me nodding away at it. And, without question, it is a major work for me and, therefore, I find it difficult to objectively evaluate it. But I sense it may be more effective as an intrinsic fiction-truth than even its own author perhaps believes! Whatever its Williams backdrop. Petra Agra, et al.

    “…the bridges still spanned the river: now as much a void as black water. As the other Cathedral reeled, the stones eased —“

    ***

    I will review, in due course, ARMED FOR A DAY OF GLORY by Mark Valentine here: https://etepsed.wordpress.com/mark-valentine/

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