“Whatever I do or say, or don’t do or say, do forgive me…” (Elizabeth Bowen) — A fearless faith in fiction — Various passions of the reading moment — Always using purchased books — And if future time allows…
I am pleased to now own this, what I expect to be, excellent biography of one of my two favourite fiction writers. I am pleased, too, that the other one, Elizabeth Bowen, has at least three brief mentions in it, judging by the index.
If any version of Aickman’s ineffable ‘Attempted Rescue’ of his own autobiography ensues when the facts are obtainable actually as well as instinctively, I trust that eventuality results, as based on my own evidence so far, in Bowen duly having many more substantive parts recorded in his life, literarily and bodily.
When I read this important book, any further comments I need to make will be in the comment stream below . . .
My review today of ENGLISH HERITAGE by M. John Harrison….
“Without their indistinctness things do not exist; you cannot desire them. Blurs and important wrong shapes, ridgy lights, crater darkness making a face unhuman as a map of the moon,…” — Elizabeth Bowen
…quoted in my today’s daily review of Bowen, about an hour before reading the Harrison Nightjar with the below circumflex-elbow sitting above the end of its signature, and the deliberate or accidental, not elbow-, but bowel-movement in a seaside holiday house’s mis-opened garage…
“She liked to be lost. She liked the adventure of it.”
And despite being unique in itself, this fine Harrisonic story is the essence of ElBowen (in a similar way Aickman was used by her in the form of this story’s succubus), a story depicting one of Bowen’s shadowy triangulations in contact with psychotic objects (mainly in the kitchen at the end) and an Obelisk, this triangulation being one of two men and a woman, on holiday from Covid in a seaside place where Rick Stein gets mentioned. It also mentions Clun, the first time I have seen this place mentioned in literature, a place where I went on honeymoon in 1970 after putting a pin in a map. This triangulation’s visit to the English Heritage is not only seen in being essential Bowen, but also in the stately house Sweenay — after which house (with its own public car park) their own holiday place was ironically named wherein they were set on telling ghost stories to each other and a place with the strangely opened garage and (or as) outside toilet. Sweenay itself turned out to be badly affected by Pandemic regulations… And places where one part of the triangulation saw another part unclearly in the distance. A story with kites, a sudden thunderstorm, a “disproportionate thud”, an act of partially losing where one has parked a car, strange shouts across the bay in the night, strangely staged conversations between two parts of the triangulation overheard by a shadowy third (or did I imagine that when learning that one of the men “felt as if he were stuck in some view of himself…”?), the story of Chumble and Widgeon, and a reference to a woman “who had spent her retirement in fabulous but waning old places…”
“He remembered an episode of sleepwalking, when he became trapped inside his own bathroom, unable to locate the door handle.”
This work surely is THE great Pandemic Classic fiction to end all such fictions, lockdowned or now set free, the most rumbustiously adept fiction that has been or ever likely to be inspired or even exspired by such a co-vividness as our English version of the worldwide Pandemic and its induced dreaming — a mosh pit of Rabelaisian, grotesque, satirical, absurdist events, legends and people connecting a huge landscape-travelling pipe called Old Grumbler, built to cope with the historic Great Drown, too larger-than-life to check my lacunae of memory, connected somehow with the city sewage conduits of Bazalgette, connected, too, with a lovelorn schoolteacher, coming here to deal with his plastic-mutated inheritance following his aunt’s death during the Pandemic in a community of Morris dancers and yokels […] an endlessly attritional lifetime of just a few seconds between two pratfalls […] and featuring a West Country Music Festival cancelled for the Pandemic in May 2020 (yes, that fateful date, as if prophesied retroactively), and a detailed panoply of the various restrictions laid on us English people, letting in the infiltrating insidious ghosts as well as the confidence tricksters that shafted our poor schoolteacher and much more you would not credit till you have experienced this Insole work! Needs the widest possible audience to come out of their doomed lairs and celebrate it, or to take it back into their eternal lockdowns and chuckle over and wonder at its somehow believable prose style’s literary persuasions and variety sideshows. Applaud it at your doors daily. Meanwhile, I wonder whether you have already become the goosed or the gooser. The supernatural plum or the one who stoned it.
“You’re a fan of one-word texts.” — “A persistent two-word instruction.”
”You’re reminded of the heartrate monitor, three squiggles […] Sharp jolting waves that move up and down, occasionally synchronised, sometimes not.”
The […] that I inserted above as an edit proves the ’sometimes’ bit…. Yet, in a way, this story is almost, too synchronised, connections too readily set-up, too much on-route, despite its ‘off-route’ sat-nav, whereby ideas and images easily cohere along with mentions of ‘cross-contamination of species’ and Weil’s disease, and its description of a Scandinavian statue — as the narrative ‘you’, a woman mainly haunted by her father’s beep-tracked condition in hospital, but she is also preoccupied, in varying graph-lines, by other factors, such as a friend called Rosie who runs a ‘feel-good’ black-and-white films cinema, and, of course, the ironically not so ‘feel-good’ trip with her boy friend Sam (who is a Doctor of some university science) that entails bat walks in some indeterminate northern archipelago, forming the action of this story, a story with these and other leitmotifs — her phobic dreams and thoughts of spiders, bats & rats — white noise and speech bubbles with noises inside instead of words (black noise […]s?) — a doppelgänger app with no signal and the blotting out of words from a political discussion on the car radio — a huge antlered reindeer and some cattle of Bashan who see people as oblong clouds (in contrast to speech bubbles?) — echolocation and boomerang shouts — a detector like the one measuring ‘your’ father in hospital, inducing a ‘string of saliva’ and picking up alien non-animal sounds and the concomitant bats’ ‘eerily constant’ sounds, and the putting your hand right through a door — “the end of transmission in films […] before black and white lines fill a screen” — “your phone playing games”, your story, too. A story of black on white, as well as containing many enticing […]s that have captivated and/or provoked me.
About an hour ago, before reading this work, I gratuitously quoted, with an instinct I could not then fully comprehend, these words during my latest episodic review of a Bowen fiction (here): ‘…a visitor’s dog sat up to beg politely; he, frowning carefully, dropped tea-cake into its mouth.’ Now I see this reflected in a new light when obliquely reflected in this story, wherein a character called Smith (whom the main narrative protagonist, with a flower in his lapel, regularly meets for dinner) talks about animals having the test of recognising themselves in mirrors …and things begin to ensue ‘backwards’ as if in search of lost time… The first impression of this work, as a plainly accomplished and effective horror tale or ghost story about an ornate haunted mirror as bought by the main protagonist, and the reflection being slightly out of kilter with his own movements, and this develops with almost alchemical sense of doppelgängers or what I have long called Proustian selves. Verging from Borri to Borges, Blake’s fearful symmetry, and 17th century spells or cabalisms, and much else. But who is Smith? That ‘sense of self’ (explicitly mentioned), a sense of self that, I wonder, one needs to buttonhole or emulate? I seem to be haunted by a sense of self beyond the words in this story. Not to speak of a sense of ‘fatherhood and copulation’ — GFB: God F**ks Bodies? Leaving what behind?
“In the dream, he was there in a blink. In reality, it was a torturous slog. “
“It was not even slow motion, was it? It was a complete stillness.”
Sometimes, I read a story and I simply know how unreservedly great it is. This is definitely one such. A relatively brief foray into the semantic quicksand or gluey half-on-half Zenoism as from an Aickman or an Elizabeth Bowen… with dreaming sporadically difficult to be differentiated from waking, and the fact of being dressed in one’s finest clothes that are not fine at all, and the unsavoury characters as crude and painterly Bosch depictions snickering with sly pornography folded into tubes, and innuendos — and adumbrations of the main protagonist’s wedding to a woman called Carmine, and the wedding feast in a barn, followed or preceded by a dream of waking up in a cellar, and his waiting bride on the wedding night is confused in my mind with a goddess who explodes… Don’t even go there! And I haven’t yet told you half of it! Just to mention, though, the main protagonist — an ‘old timer’ among other such, slowed-down timers who ‘look like shit’ — seems to bear the name of ‘Lewis’…
“deep and sucking in places, he thought he might be carried down”
Eventually, after the “sacred standstill” of my review elsewhere today, this is a most powerful story with a ghostly feel in it of Elizabeth Bowen and her prehensile accoutrements and belongings of a home and its earlier denizens, at least it has that feel until this shocking journey ever towards its ending, where the above signature arguably becomes an emblem of what sticks up from the chair depicted on this work’s front cover. A story about a man walking forever, it seems, through the woods recurrently arriving at the garden gate of his boyhood home where the memories as ghosts or entities as real as the above ‘pushing upwards’ “to shift a great weight” — waiting for his erstwhile family there possibly to big him up, but “no one to great me on my return” amid the guilt complex of what happened to his father by dint of someone called Giselle, and by consequence to himself as well as to his mother, sister and brother…
“And, too, I can hear the sound of floorboards moving, the compression of wood under the shifting weight of a person.”