The Outer Algebra


SEAWEED TEA by Mark Valentine

“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…


Full context of this story in The Fig Garden:

“I cannot think there is anything so heart-breaking in hell.”

G. K. CHESTERTON: The Awful Reason of the Vicar’s Visit

“…the tempests no longer devour our navies, nor the mountains with hearts of fire heap hell over our cities.”

Well, when I read that at the start, I thought we had an even more unreliable narrator than that of the The Treasure of Abbot Thomas story, which turned out to have a monkeypox monster with tentacles, and here, in the Chesterton, chimpanzees. But now I am prey to the SPOILER! So, beware! Do not read further into this review! 

A mad story of old ladies at a Dorcas meeting… “…out of their poke-bonnets; the figures of district visitors with the faces of devils. I cannot think there is anything so heart-breaking in hell.”

Don’t let me detain you though at that earlier point above of a mock plot-spoiler warning, because this story is about detaining itself. Detaining as a job, and depending on the assumed identity of your detaining rôle, the fee is different. Here a man, tussling with a collar stud, is detained from going to a dinner party, by a visit from a flappy, floppy, Vicar belonging to my county of Essex, a Vicar whose urgent plea for a speed or urgency has an even more be-longing Zeno’s Paradox of fictional detainment by his deliberation of dialogue style, and his covering of all necessary detective-story machinations. But who is ‘Major Brown’ in this story? Well, it’s not that man-servant called Brown from the Abbot’s treasure story, but Father Brown in disguise! (Unreliable narrators need equally unreliable reviewers, I guess.)

“He lived perpetually near the vision of the reason of things which makes men lose their reason. And I felt of his insanity as men feel of the death of friends with heart disease.”
My reviews of all the many stories by G.K.C. about Father Brown:

Full context of the above Vicar’s Visit review:

King and Queen of Souls


Below is the end of my review of THE QUEEN OF CLOUDS by Neil Williamson, its full context here:


“Where was the Book’s sacred every hand the same in all of that?”

“Gallon jars of darkling ink”, a bomb like a prize pumpkin, all cats if not all characters called by the same name, Bello versus Bello in some eternal fight, and a dirigible…“There is only one sky in this world, wild one.” This Gestalt has become the Gaia. Whether motal = mortal is “a moot point”…
And a possibly forgotten Queen sitting “stone-faced”…
Here is represented what I imagine awaits us all eventually, i.e. a transformation that should not be able to be described or contained within any words — except it is somehow described or contained here! The sylvan seeds of renewal are certainly possible, I hope, to enable absolution of all that needs absolving, and the grain of structures we need to look out from towards whatever visionary vision it is.

The ending of this chapter and its coda makes me think that I should re-read The Moon King as that earlier novel now seems equivalent to this book’s own ‘paper and ink’ version of the transformation described within it, but a transformation in which direction of timelessness? Whatever the case may be, the two books represent for me a combined pillar of high class speculative fiction with Swiftian fable for our times and containing poetic expression — and a sacred or mystic sensibility, whether that stems from the particular grain and knurls of belief within its freehold author or not.
The reader’s personal rite of passage within this wild plot and character-storm has affected the reader’s own mental-weather day by day for the past month. He shall miss it.
Towards ultimate Loess — “Anonymous service is admirable, but it’s not my style. […] He is a resource, as we all are. And in our world resources are shared equally.”


The Treasure of Abbot Thomas

And so from the Graham Greene (To Unswallow God), we make the perfect segue to the unreliable narrator who later dared not ‘divulge’ something, plus half hints of an explanation …

“I labour under a grave disadvantage as narrator of this story…”

“‘…back – to keep – something – No; I can’t speak of it yet. Do you mind calling Brown?’
‘Well, Somerton,’ said Mr Gregory, as he crossed the room to the door; ‘I won’t ask for any explanations till you see fit…’”


M. R. JAMES: The Treasure of Abbot Thomas

“There was no bond of connection between them, either historic, symbolic, or doctrinal,…”

Well, everyone must already know this classic terrifying story — i.e. terrifying when its accruing of gestalt is complete following the connection of cryptic clues from Germany to England of three prophets depicted in stained glass and the counting of 38 stones etc and and the common man servant called Brown who wrote an epistle containing, inter alia, these words: “it will be a Pleasure to see a Honnest Brish Face among all These Forig ones.”

A story of subtle fumbling hints outside bedroom doors, towards the reported — after being withheld — narration of more substantial horror of clambering down a well, after decoding many garbled letters of the alphabet, and antiquarian or ecclesiastical men terrified at monstrous forces let loose, i.e. forces I dare not describe here for fear they will become the prey of T.F. Powys’ spoiler.

But I can clearly allow myself the indulgence of pointing out, perhaps for the first time, that it was one of those ‘elbow’ triggers — often discovered while gestalt real-time reviewing — that let Things loose… “…my left elbow knocked over and extinguished the candle. …”


Context anthology of this review here:

Above image by Reggie Oliver

To Unswallow God


GRAHAM GREENE: The Hint of an Explanation

“That’s a master key that opens all locks and that – that’s what I bleed people with.”

Who swallows fiction as truth?
Essentially a religious story, and — if its ending in particular becomes a climax excised or bled away like a train boiler’s mistifying steam — this work has at its heart the dark absurdity and disarming strangenesses and haunting hints of an Aickman story for its own sake, this Greene being an insidious classic that should be showcased in horror fiction anthologies as well as in literary ones, whereby there is an abiding hint of an evil ‘Thing’ that is often anthropomorphised, as it says, into Satan, a work that tells of a discussion of hints about ‘the corruption of children’, a discussion between an Agnostic and a stranger he meets on the train who is a Catholic, on a precariously light and dark train as it enters and leaves tunnels with its own echoing haunting whistle, I assume — yes, a work that also yields hints of hints, hints of other leasehold hints of which the freehold author is possibly unaware. The intentional fallacy of the Eucharist.
And who should ever be able to forget Blacker the Baker, a ‘freethinker’ who once importuned the Catholic when the latter stranger was a small altar boy? Except the Agnostic (listening to him tell this and then telling us) was not a stranger to himself, with his being Greene’s leasehold narrator. And the model tableau of an electric train with which the Thing tempted that erstwhile boy to unswallow God. To unswallow His ‘extraordinary coincidences’ and ‘traps’, too.
The Thing of this story is Greene as freehold author. With a key that not only bled Christ but also wounded him up. The train not being electric powered at all? All fiction contains lies mixed with hints of hybrid truth, such as electricity that needs a clockwork key as well as a radiator bleeder, hints instilled into the minds of its readers…. All of us clocked in and clocked out from afar by the Thing that starts the live circuit that is a mock-up of life and death. The blood and the life of fiction and its often involuntary electricity in the regenerative thews as part of the suspended disbelief that is translated into the sprung faith of such fiction as later such faith is transubstantiated into bread to be swallowed and then offloaded. My reviewer’s unconsecrated freehold-thinking ‘hint of an explanation’ at least!


Full anthology context of this review:

My review in 2017 of Greene’s UNDER THE GARDEN:

Ganymede by Daphne du Maurier

The Des Lewis Gestalt Real-Time Reviews


“Unsavoury is a hideous word. It’s the most hideous word in the dictionary. It conjures up, to my mind, all that is ugly in life, yes, and in death too. The savoury is the joy, the élan, the zest that goes with mind and body working in unison; the unsavoury is the malodorous decay of vegetation, the rotted flesh, the mud beneath the water of the canal. And another thing. The word unsavoury suggests a lack of personal cleanliness: unchanged linen, bed-sheets hanging to dry, the fluff off combs, torn packets in waste-paper baskets.”

This is a compelling, page-turning, darkly insidious novelette about a man’s trip to Venice, and his obsession — as in ‘Death in Venice’ — with a boy or youthful man. Leading slowly but exponentially to being appropriated by the place and by a man in a white mackintosh and others connected with the boy. A story…

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“in the grip of – blind – blind stumblers –!” 

CHARLOTTE MEW: Mark Stafford’s Wife

“Well, I can’t to anyone open every door; whoever owns the poor little house, there must be rooms of which, to the end, I keep the key.”

If only Kate did not give the key to the eponymous “lurking horror”, who looked over her shoulder: the celebrity ‘vivisectionist’ or ‘pathologist’ writer called Stafford, but a writer of what? Of books of fiction? … Looking over her shoulder like Death or like God? A Hamlet to her Ophelia, whether with her hair done up or let down, as depicted in a photographed tableau towards the smashed negative-plate that could only happen to early old day frozen stances ….
This would have been deemed a great classic ghost-horror novelette like May Sinclair’s ‘Where Their Fire Is Not Quenched’. It also outdoes even Daphne du Maurier’s darknesses of short fiction, but the Mew novelette would only have been deemed to possess such greatness if  without its own ohm-resistor of style as if borrowed from a tentacular blend of the late works of Henry James and the most rarefied yet-to-be-written Elizabeth Bowen works. A unique style by Mew that I relished, but perhaps many wouldn’t.
This Mew work even prefigured Elizabeth Bowen’s conceit of a ‘shadowy third’ with its own ‘shadowy fourth’! Certainly Mew was one up on Bowen! But Mew as a word also defined as a noun meaning hiding-place.

But who is the shadowy fourth?
The unreliable narrator, a mature woman as Kate’s mentor?
Charlie Darch, a stolid man of ‘the glare’, whom she was engaged to marry before she married Stafford?
The eponymous hindsight monster Stafford himself? — but was he a monster at all, or did he write it all as fiction, as St. Quentin did in Bowen’s ‘Death of the Heart’?
But the shadowy fourth can not surely be Kate herself who sees herself as the one “over-shadowed”, or do I misremember that? — a woman who is at first a fay sprite, but later striding in ‘the glare’ of society, when often neglected by her husband Stafford.

As the narrator herself says — ‘a bewildering tangle.’ Full of stumblers. Indeed, was Mew herself hidden in plain sight ‘overshadowing’ them all? “…this uplifting darkness, that we are in the grip of – blind – blind stumblers –!”


Full context of this review: and