19 thoughts on “The Fig Garden & Other Stories — Mark Valentine

  1. The first work I reviewed in May 2015, as follows…

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    EXCEPT SEVEN

    “But to be accounted an author, more, an artist, a philosopher even, I must draw out some motif, some profound essence.”

    And as Melchior does, so do I upon him, with this review. His ‘fictional’ notes whence I need to draw out a motif, a gestalt even, are thus, I sense, not fiction at all. Ostensibly, this is a disarmingly ornate traditional tale, with sedge and church carvings &c. &c., academic research, eccentricity, exegesis of Genesis, a tale located upon the cusp of England-Wales, upon the darkly ancient edge, too, of Romano-Britain, when King Arthur and Demons and the Devil’s helpers were later spoken of, by we later imagegenerations, as living still. We learn of these men of the present day, men with surnames like Verrall, Melchior and Nightcap, in this John Cowper Powys world of puckishly pastoral and mystic ‘deep lanes’ that effectively exist today, if only in our minds. Machen, even, as well as Powys.
    Melchior (the narrator) visits his friend Verrall at this genius loci, and unlike in this book’s previous story, he is not waylaid into a different story, since he perseveres with the dangerously cosy-feeling journey towards his friend who is to be a major character, too, I guess, with dark resonances behind his hospitality. And a woman’s later recitation of Taliesin, perhaps unfitting for a Christian church, due to take place, with the Parson himself called Nightcap present…
    Now rushing back to the tale’s beginning, I need to recall that this whole thing ignites with Melchior’s ‘chance coincidence’ discovery of a magazine called Seven, and its retrocausal conjuring of this tale in his mind. A tale he has already lived. Moonlit croquet, too?
    The language is immaculate and Powys-poetic, without being difficult. As before, I shall try to eke it out, savour its olden timbres in my modern brain, before proceeding to its second half.

    ***

    “Would you be willing to ‘read’ one of his books?”

    As I usually try to do with what I have called these my ‘preternatural’ book reviews, I read this story as well as ‘read’ it in the sense meant by the story itself. “I no longer tried to lunge at the meaning of the words but let them rise from me with all their mystery.” A reader of a book often reads aloud to imaginary others from within himself.
    It is more Powys than Machen, I feel, but Machen nevertheless, and something else altogether, “a cone of utter otherness”, a cone zero, plus six with the reader making seven. Upon the various cusps of place, religion, historical time, of pottery with poetry.
    Valentine has managed to bring something to us between the precarious margins of tributary floridness and distinctively sublime texture, enhancing our appreciation of sumptuously imaginative literature in cusp with real or meaningful ecstasis.

    “Yet we live by myths and symbols. And who changes those, changes all.”

  2. SEAWEED TEA

    “Have you ever gone beachcombing?”

    You can ask that again! I do nothing else, what with my time-seasoned souvenirs of the Serpent and the Wood/Stone/Metal Beam, et al (here) and now this momentous (at least for me) story that tells of tides of secret surge or urge that I recognise now for what they are. This story’s own echo of how I absorb and re-float books of fiction for others in instinctive equivalence to its “outer algebra” and “blind mirrors” and pent up black stones or pebbles dark-luminously summoning the hidden tides of the soul. I enjoyed the pungent seaweed tea that is evoked here for actual drinking and sharing with the fiction’s characters being told about by one of those very characters to others smoking pipes, the tide tables of CaNUTE and NepTUNE, the slap of “the dangling green ichors of wet seaweed” and ‘dry husks’ on the crooked drainpipes and outer walls of a matchless house by a place where tides differed between the two tide timetables, and the pipe smoke of those listening to this story within a story. A story within me, too.
    Not forgetting The Liar’s Dictionary syndrome of publishing a book with an odd mistake to reveal plagiarism…

  3. Pingback: The Outer Algebra | The Des Lewis Gestalt Real-Time Reviews

  4. CHARACTER

    “They are just the alphabet of the profession, as it were. What you are missing is the story itself.”

    A new outer algebra that needs alphabetical letters for its ‘story’ character.
    A story of ancient inn-craft (“Good beer, good food, good company, and a good bed at night for the guests”) but with a ‘character’ needed to make it into a fine ghost story to which readers would come back time and time again with relished frissons on its rumour-advertised pumproom menu. That character was a Scandinavian with a Tree Companion and beliefs in pagan sorcery — a man called Ivar supposedly an old college friend of the would-be dependable innkeeper, Ivar having gone into the precarious walking-stick-as-prop business after college, a story’s character thus creating a diversion from the would-be innkeeper’s own over-coloured backstory’s plot of a suspect youthful behaviour in his college past! — and thus, in turn, creating a new backstory prop as the story proper about which for us to relish frissons, beyond a mock secret-room in the inn with a mere contraptive ghost as gimmick.
    With our own legacy or career ever “pried” or “plied”, we still need pray our own character be assured.

  5. Pingback: Character by Mark Valentine | Bowen KÔRner (The Circumflexing Elbow)

  6. I read the next story in 2019 and reviewed it then as follows…

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    THE PALE SENTINELS OF ASPHODEL

    “Though he was Leys by name, there was no ‘laze’ in his nature.”

    A luxuriantly elegant story so richly deserving of this particular author’s efforts to hone it. The still solid house, but rundown, is rented in the story by the narrator from a R.K. Leys who dies during it. The bequeathed pot-pourri holder and the garden of the house, and the essence of the flowers’ secret scent as loaned by the husks of their petals, and the eventually unfolded findings — beyond any strident eschatologies — of connections between that scent and the god Set, all make me further play around with the words myself and distil new meaning from them, to lay or set down, relay the Redolent Kinaesthetics of Flowers. A medley of cattleyas, and more. Set as Scent. The floral ley-lines veining the ark of history itself.

  7. For She Will Have Her Harvest

    “…the students idly scratched at the mud with their walking sticks…”

    The perhaps fictional tale of a modern man, amid the towning of our once spiritual countryside, who poetically and academically stalks the real Henry Kirke White, one of the ‘graveyard poets’ of the 18th century, a White lesser known than Gray, and this relatively short work is a vintage deployment of Valentine’s skill, stemming from a whole series of his works over the years, evoking the mysticism of poetry and legend, here of the Ceres that haunted White.

    “A radiance, as of some invisible candle, was upon the pale stone of the church tower, seen only in half-profile.”

  8. CANDLE LAND

    “the Candle Land, from Candlemas to Candlemas”

    “I might be a bit mystical at this point and say that I knew”

    Not Imbolc so much as Graal, this is possibly, for me, Mark Valentine’s greatest work ever, and that is saying a great deal. It is the artist as conduit, the candle land as a piece of rough ground that is somehow otherwise valuable, plus an honestly crafted, grafted but magical genius loci that truly exists, trees as potential candelabra or ‘outer algebra’, and a land bordering on others vaguely seen through the veil of words. A narrator who shares this narration with a woman, alternately, not a collaboration. It is perfect, as we experience a humble ritual or ceremony with a candlestick, where tenants of the poor squire (the first narrator) bid for the Candleland when the candle in the candlestick snuffs itself out after watching it burn. The woman narrator wins. The implications and the soul of this story will be bespoke to you as individual reader, I am sure, separately sharing this exquisite story as we do, but perhaps not this time triangulating and collaborating our reactions to it … along with all its shifting angles and shadows and reflections.

    “I watched the candle as it wore down and the pale wax tears dripped down the column (it had been my job as a boy afterwards to prise out the stub with a pen-knife and carefully scrape off the drips, and it still was now) and finally it began to sputter.”

    ***

    My own separate contribution to its coordinates (that you do not need click on so as to maintain the purity of your own vision of the story’s visionariness) is here, an ancient prose poem of mine, so different from the Valentine, but perhaps your perusal of it may blight or even complement Candle Land with a different narration. A ‘shadowy third’ as it were to the Valentine story’s two. The risk is yours.
    Null Immortalis.

  9. Pingback: Candle Land — Mark Valentine | The Des Lewis Gestalt Real-Time Reviews

  10. THE VEILED REPUBLICS

    “Things have a habit of resurfacing.”

    Just as an initial aside, this intriguingly seemed to hark back to the ink of the Queen of Clouds to which I compared some Valentinia a few weeks ago…
    “originally written in black ink but which had now become blurred to grey tears down all the pages.”

    Well, after that, I got annoyed at the end of this story where the tentative list of eponymous places did not seem to include Clacton, which of course it should. Disregarding that, this is an engaging, nay, charming tale of a Warden of the Alms as its narrator, he being a sort of official Administrator of the orphaned funds of well-meaning societies, such as, in this example, The Original History Society.
    I also enjoyed the account of his backstory missions and his stay in Caistor for this one. And the jobsworth banker called Worth, et al. Not forgetting the imprimaturs of the ABYSSinian cat called Prester John and the goats. And, of course, the tantalising but convincing nature and aims and beliefs of the Society in question.
    I owe, I owe, I owe.

    “‘?’, ‘?’ and ‘?’.”

  11. From the sideways Backwarding Agent above to…

    I read and reviewed the next story during this month in 2018, as follows, in its then context….

    ==============================================

    THE FORWARDING AGENT

    “They had found fragments of what was surmised to be just an oscillum here, with the curves of an eye-shape, a corner of a mouth, the sliver of a brow.”

    Vintage Valentine, a textured, illuminary, eventually sinister classic, I am sure he would agree, if authors were allowed admission into reviews of their work. This story is as if an admission ticket itself to something wonderful, starting with a fascinating adumbration of the collecting of admission tickets, as an alternative to stamps and coins. Its rationale, even its irrationale, engaging and convincing enough. The aloneness of the conscientious traveller on tour, too, the trips to places at the side or edge of more popular places, the sense of the nigh-on-empty industrial estates made highly empathisable as places to wander and wonder at, where some minor museum may be found. I met a young man once in a shed who called it a museum. Sadly, I did not keep the admission ticket. (Nor did I keep the ticket to the museum shown in my sub-comment below. I now seriously wished I had!) Adumbration, too, of those who wave at you from motorway bridges. The compulsion to do more than just adumbrate such a phenomenon, but visit them, too, even more than once. It seems likely there will be a mask hanging or a broken wing mirror, or something even more personal? As I say, this is something haunting, something whimsical, something worth cherishing, something in the end being insidiously forwarded rather than having initiated what was first sent.

  12. THE WITCH HEATH

    “But which heath is the witch heath?”

    “But really the truth is that I have a curious kind of mind that likes delving into footnotes, following up odd byways in literature and history, and this is what drew me on to find the original of the witches’ heath.”

    … not unlike the exploring of a fiction’s byways and hints, then ‘finally cohering’, by instinct, an ‘original conjecture’ that clinches something momentous in this process, but something that one still needs to scry, and so on, like a Zeno’s Paradox of reading. But, above all, I do not think I shall ever read — or witness a performance of — MACBETH in the same light again after reading this richly drawn account of hunting not only for the conjectural gestalt, in the sharp shadows of a Goddess’s ‘disdain’, but some secret of the three witches’ venue and of what this work dubs as ‘the dim’ that this scene actually transcends. Via Holinshed sources and lines from the play, one seeks which unknown Heath it was where the witches met Macbeth and his companion, and with the final cohering, here, of instinct within the narrator — via ‘flippant’ references to modern electronic devices and cars on roads — he or she, by that very instinct, locates the very place hidden in some plain sight…yet now hidden again even as I think about it?
    The revelations and interpretations of Macbeth demonstrated in this work, together with Valentine’s own darkly rhapsodic matchless style make this essential reading not only for weird literary fiction enthusiasts but also for serious Shakespearean scholars alike. And indeed for extrapolating flounderers like me!
    Ben Jonson, meanwhile, please accept my own disdain, because your submission to the ‘more’ will soon become a victory for the budding of a new ‘less’ — a lesson that the morass of modernity somehow teaches us. Or will do so, soon.

  13. Pingback: The Witch Heath by Mark Valentine | Bowen KÔRner (The Circumflexing Elbow)

  14. Red Lion Rising

    “ENGLAND UP AGAINST IT”

    And that is not just the Oval Test Match. This story first published in 2019 (but when was it first written?) of herd immunity as transgressed by politicians’ madness centring on an obsession with a Red Lion leitmotif spreading outward from Parliament — and even trending on Twitter, I guess! This is also full of Valentine prose magic, of hidden secrets, heraldry, pub signs, and children’s hopscotch games with secret sigils and much more, and the perceiving of patterns towards a gestalt while roaming round London, and we end up witnessing a ceremony that frightens me even more than the truth about our times that underlies it.

    “he headed towards the last dim”

  15. I read and reviewed the next story in two sittings in 2016, as follows, in its then context…

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    THE FIG GARDEN

    “I understood, with a dreadful certainty, that I had to make the next move: that I must pick up a pale grey pebble and put it in another position.”

    And that, with its immediate aftermath in the story, sweetly matches the manipulation of the Flint in the previous story.
    And, notwithstanding that, this story is surely sweet enough, so far. The first sections represent a perfect blend of Fruit Stoners, Uncle Paul’s Education, a Prisoner in Fairyland, Jimbo…with a seasoning of Sarban’s Calmahain, and much more. It is, above all, Mark Valentine fiction at its highest exquisition, a distilling of what we all have expected from this writer, however high his work has already reached by ever exceeding all previous expectations, before the time of or knowledge of the possibility of a work entitled The Fig Garden (aka The Figgery) existing as it does now. Even only halfway through this story, as I speak, I already know I make no exaggeration.
    The early sections, yes, about the Figgery, the Procession, the hazy precious quality of the identity of the children involved in the Figgery’s den, the mythic or magic moments, the adumbrations and the endlessness of childhood…I am sincerely speechless with awe….
    ….Until the narrator enters adulthood and another world that we as readers love entering, the Monuments Commission, the apotheosising of places, for their qualities of being in such Machenesque or MRJamesian or Blackwoodian fictions, with or without monuments. And the man — whom the narrator (once a child of the Figgery) meets and with whom now plans such apotheosising for places like the memory of the narrator’s Figgery — incredibly has named a different place he knows elsewhere as The Figgery.
    I cannot wait to read the rest of this certain masterpiece. Fitting the figments together. Knowing you have the susceptibility for such stories where perceived exaggeration is simply stating facts about it.

    ***

    “There is something piecing us together.”

    The narrator continues to feel, within this rarefied susceptibility, the effects of some filter that works both ways, as I do, too, by actually reading and absorbing this text, a text that surely surpasses itself time and time again as you allow its immaculate, rhapsodic descriptions to flow through you. The narrator sees a glimpse of the Procession from childhood’s figgery (the fig with such special qualities itself as a fruit), a glimpse of a ‘blaze of scarlet’ in the city darkness, then grappling with his own path through life as if along an extrapolated Knight’s Move from chess, his job as Monuments officer in going to visit – there and back across small bridges – the previous story’s barbican now as some stonework redoubt, while daring against daring that each move may misalign a move elsewhere, later meeting one of the Procession participants again, a woman with a cigarette, who claims that it can be possibly re-enacted – and the whole journey is miraculous, as we follow on, as personification of the dare he dares, as you equally dare his dare. A catharsis or purging: flowing in both directions via the meanings on the page of this remarkable work, a genuine and irrefutable apotheosis, I honestly feel, of its author’s canon of fiction.
    And I will not even breathe a word here that it all may be part and parcel of this very Dreamcatching that I exercise upon this work and vice versa. Exercise, I say, or is that, within the whole context of this book, exorcise? – flowing in a two-way, two-directional filter.
    I shall be very surprised if I don’t eventually call The Fig Garden my favourite story from 2016, if not from over a longer period.

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