19 thoughts on “Queen of Clouds — Neil Williamson

  1. ONE

    “Billy Braid reclined on the side porch, waiting for the five o’clock rain.”

    I haven’t even the shadow of an idea why that felt to me like one of the great openings of any novel. Nor why Billy’s ‘shirker’s guilt’ reminded me of a survivor’s. I am truly captivated by this first chapter, couched in the fine-tuned, accessible tactility of semantic, syntactic and phonetic prose so characteristic of this author. I somehow sense the nature of ‘sylvans’, of Billy’s master, Kim, within a perhaps William Morris crafted world, plus a knowing animal such as this chapter’s buck deer, and prehensile trees with their own scythes, and an elaborate moustache to die for as worn by a visitor named Bully, as short for Bullivant, from a nearby, perhaps inimical community called Karpentine. I feel I have grasped most of what has been going on but without grasping it at all! A good feeling.
    A feeling to be eked out and savoured slowly…and hopefully with no spoilers.

  2. TWO

    “They could wait, as everything had to when the wood called.”

    I am imbued with the nature of the sylvans during my reading of this book I’m reading and only by reading this book I’m reading will you, too, be imbued with the sylvans — and I am imbued with Billy, his backstory, and with Kim, the relative lack of his backstory, the nature of Karpentine and its hold on this book I’m reading and Billy’s nurturing and pruning, the Book of the Law. And the nature of ‘compelling ink.’ I guess this book I’m reading has its own version of that ink in its print, and even in its electronic version I feel its well-tempered path, with the ominous threat of change to Billy’s stoical working and his life. His now necessary trip with Seldom to Karpentine. And the nature of the nature with which he has been working… any ugly vase he once made in callow youth, notwithstanding?

    “Despite the ironwood’s bullying, there was still harmony here.”

    “…caress verging on constriction. […] The wirebush fibres that connected the joints glistened steel-bright.”

    And for some reason I thought of elbow joints of wood, and of the sylvan called Seldom. Whether those were sad thoughts of mine depends on the book I’m still reading.

  3. Aptly, by chance, this review — of a book that deals with, inter alia, the concept of Compelling Ink — happens to be simultaneous with my review of John Howard’s novella in This World And That Other seemingly inspired by an Inkling.

  4. THREE

    “Doubly insulting was that Kim had seen fit to write the instructions in the ink of the schoolroom…”

    Another enormously enjoyable, nay, inspiring chapter! Billy has started his sort of pilgrim’s progress, involving Kim’s compelling, if patronising, written instructions, including the keeping secret of the identity of Seldom within a pilgrim’s canvas burden, for the journey, events that also remind me in extremely timely manner (see here in my review earlier this morning of the above mentioned Howard novella) of Kit’s lifelong desire in ‘Back Doubles’ to visit St Paul’s Cathedral and the resultant vision thereof. The vision comparable with the literally and literarily unforgettable concept and vision and surrounding ambiance of the Tower of Hands here, and the strictures of Kim that Billy risks breaking to have his hand and contiguous bony joints moulded or cast there. And I, too, recall ‘Blackie’s Illustrated Children’s Histories’ from the parallel world of my childhood! And with Billy having left the canvassed Seldom in the ‘safekeeping’ of someone called Maundy, I suspect the latter’s elbow absorbed more through the canvas than just Billy’s name!… Any earlier mock ‘crowness’, notwithstanding.

    “Billy found Maundy and Seldom where he’d left them, the man’s elbow propped against the canvas wrapping.”

  5. FOUR

    ”You left me, the sylvan said tersely, and after that it refused to speak again.”

    Although empathically frustrated with Billy’s ZenoParadoxical slowth of journey, I am entranced by what the story has in store for him! The sight of the genius loci of Karpentine eventually welcome, even with its hideous “Ostentation piled upon ostentation”, the encounter with the Weathermaker woman at the grapevines, and her mechanical dirigible (depicted on the cover?), weather continuing to be a controllable device when a cloud later dogs him with its shadow. And “the conflation of trade and family” in this area when compared to the hands-on William Morris crafting I identified earlier. And the queue’s slowth to get into Karpentine itself, testimonials of worthiness needed, like refugees today need visas? The refugee camp outside the city comes to life as do Maundy’s machinations (written partly with fading ink) to get Billy into the city and what awaits him there.

    I am wondering whether I should continue itemising all what happens in this novel, a journey that I am certain to enjoy finishing. Like Billy, I am reluctant to accept a ride that would diminish the worthiness of my eked-out slowth in this reading pilgrimage — so, onward, and let’s see what I later allow myself to divulge along the way, while being ever careful not to leave spoilers in my savoured wake.

    “…the vibration jarred up the length of his arms.”

  6. FIVE

    Intriguing conceits of ‘weather engineers’ and ‘Inksmiths’, and a card game called Monument. I am still caught up by the felicitous flow of this plot and its skilfully crafted setting of words. Felicitous, yes, but ominous, too, as I gain more about Karpentine (including its public toilets!) and the people Billy Braid meets and the matters that he infers. His sense of the potential relief when he eventually returns home.

    The name of the Bello Brothers was personally arresting for me, as the main character of ‘Agra Aska’ was John Bello, a novella that I have already mentioned in my concurrent, and sometimes coincidentally connected, review of the John Howard work.

    I continue to be fascinated by the unique nature of the sylvan called Seldom and the combination of rustic growth and Collodic skills needed to have created it. And the poignancy with which Billy cares emotionally and physically for this pilgrim’s ‘burden’….

    “His fingers slid the length of Seldom’s limbs, across its chest, around the articulated angles of its joints; lingering, relishing both the natural texture of the wood and the old man’s skill.”

  7. Loess is the best for the soul, they say.”
    from LADIES (a novella first published 1999) where loess as mud figures in it significantly.


    The plot develops satisfyingly, including the characters and conspiracies and philosophies of man and sylvan, the Weathermakers, and the cloud or “anomalous nimbus” that dogs, follows, stalks or shadows Billy either by design or, as some suggest here, ‘coincidence’ (like the coincidence or deliberation of following or connecting (or followed or connected by) the leitmotifs thrown up by gestalt real-time reviewing fiction) and here there is more of Lady Loess and the ‘crowness’ of Tocka…
    Spiked drinks and the sorrows of Seldom, et al.
    Ever captivated.

  8. SEVEN

    As the crow flies, Billy Braid.

    Yet I enjoy the wily meanderings of this plot, from Billy’s encounter with Lightning to Sandwiches with Lady Loess. The Blackie book that resonates with the ink and satisfyingly capitalised print of my childhood books and their ethos, contrasted later, via concerns of outlandish architectural ‘legacy’, and Billy’s arguable trial by magistrate but its still unknown sentence in solid “black, black ink.” The pendulum from a stoical backstory of crafting to a drained and ramshackle future. Why did he not pay more attention to Kim’s list of instructions to prevent this new burden upon Billy’s back of those with truncheons, amid his sad Seldomising… And I leave out much that would make more sense of what I have included to tell you above, and some of its characterful expression by the storyteller is based on such a pendulum of narration. Silence as the only wall to preserve dignity within it, as well as preserving fiction truths, I would add.

    “…his burden was Seldom, and that every vicious dig and jostle was simply the young sylvan shifting in its dreams.”


    “…he understood it to be the premises of the Inksmiths. There his crew delivered factory soot and slaughterhouse bones, or leaned for hours over stinking vats, inhaling acrid fumes as they mixed the contents.”

    I am delightfully swept along by this now breezy plot. But even if some of its aspects are clearer, some intrigues remain cloudy to me. Though, the days do cease to ‘smear’ into each other, and, meanwhile, you and I perhaps can guess who is — or is close to — the Queen herself as Billy becomes indentured to Para Loess for the residual duration of his indelible sentence, however much he might try to make a dash for it — to get back home to the mountains. But not indentured before he witnessed a ‘vivid dream’ of a prisoner in the next bed being tattooed with ink… not necessarily verifiable as a COvivid dream, I guess, as the neighbouring prisoner had vanished by the morning!
    By the way, I was intrigued by Para’s later concept of ‘animeaux’…
    And I look forward later to the ‘poke and whisper’ of the Grand Ball!

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