A fearless faith in fiction — Employing an ‘intentional fallacy’ consciousness — Various passions of the reading moment — Walter de la Mare, ELizabeth BOWen, Robert Aickman and many others old and new — Please click my name below for this site’s navigation and my backstory as intermittent photographer, writer, editor, publisher & reviewer.
This is a superbly scary pre-M.R. Jamesian story of Fresco hunting in the oppressively insular Wet Waste community of Yorkshire as cast upon by a morbid moon of astrological strengths. A man, for some reason, thinking it may be a fillip to his chances of marriage into a certain family, if he divulged to one of them this story of why he always wore high starched collars!…
It would be remiss of me to help make such secrets more widespread here, nor why the Three Authentic Epistles of Ignatius are mentioned. But it is genuinely a story about intricately double-locked area of a church in the Wet Waste that has been unavailable down below for many years — and for good reason! Its piled-up skulls and shin-bones, too, and its toad-like sentinel.
The saddest part of this story is what happens to our hero’s dog called Brian, and you will go far to read anything more devastating, so beware! I only mention this incident as I can’t help thinking Brian is an oblique metaphor for our human Brain and the skull that keeps it safe! Not forgetting W.F. Harvey’s hand!
I also can’t help thinking this remarkable story’s ‘Evil One’ whispered these words for a character to say as if it were his own… “My son, marry not in youth, for love, which truly in that season is a mighty power, turns away the heart from study, and young children break the back of ambition. Neither marry in middle life, when a woman is seen to be but a woman and her talk a weariness, so you will not be burdened with a wife in your old age.” Which brings me full circle to this story’s need of satirical divulgement?
“Still more I scraped, and then abruptly I leaped out of the hole and away from the filthy thing; frantically unstopping and tilting the heavy carboys, and precipitating their corrosive contents one after another down that charnel gulf and upon the unthinkable abnormality whose titan elbow I had seen.” — H.P. Lovecraft
“She troubled over events in the world and had no trust in the President.”
This is an astonishing deadpan, dead-eyed prophecy of a world obliquely as dystopic as our own today. Also with various characters adumbrated who behave in strange ways, but not unlike we do, and grey geometric brutalist open-plan offices, precarious relationships, and growing AI or computer control.
There is a man who arrives one night with a gun complaining he hadn’t been invited. And various instincts pre- and post- and in-step, and only the latter get on in life.
There is a passage from it below as essential reading about a child’s lessons by telephone — far inferior to what has been optimised these days!
“– women shoppers, men with children on their shoulders, young fellows elbowing each other for a better position. […] I edged forward and was forced to stand on tiptoe.”
This is a strange concoction of Angela Carter and Walter de La Mare and I don’t know what! A unique fiction that has poignancy as swords, elbows and toes. A puppet akimbo? No, a man who swallows swords on the streets with a young busker who plays on a vibrato saw like a violin. The sword swallower, naïve and with his own hopes based on the freak of having no thrapple, in contrast to the thrapple-slow swallowing in EELS earlier above in this overall review, a man surreptitiously hung on transvestism and is here persuaded by the story’s protagonist to perform at a boozy university club where the audience is all male, an event that …well, no spoilers here; it is a story, though, that has a taped interview as an appendix, one that is telegraphed from earlier in the story, a device that somehow adeptly increases the poignancy… Touching eccentrically the vulnerable vitals within?
“There was no physical way he could have swallowed that last sword – it would have had to come out of his toes.”
“…elbowed his way into the middle and extended his hat to begin collecting.”
“He sat down again and began to finger his toes.”
“Throughout the subject was barefoot and fiddled continually with his toes.”
“He was no longer gracefully strong as the room was accustomed to see him, for he had forgotten to adjust that other appearance which here was his, and the clumsy and angular figure with which his mirror in the real world was familiar had leave to show itself.”
This a writerly tour de force that no review could possibly do justice to. A story about writer’s block? Paradoxically gauche, too, but inspiring what I dream to be a Big Book of Gauche Stories, Ghost characters that grow and flourish — and fight back at the author, or ironically with whom the author or his protagonist is in unrequited love, and this one is about a man with only one friend called Philip but a whole imaginative life whereby he created a real terrain with a woman who lives by having this written fiction about her, whence she then becomes autonomous. He seeks to retrieve the sole manuscript from the friend to whom he had sent it for comment, to reclaim the woman he had created… unless I have clumsily, if creatively, misinterpreted it all! There is so much more in this work, and I guess its male author as fiction character has been effectively created by a female author, and here we experience a description of her being the one he truly seeks so as to reclaim her or to melt back into her or somehow to punish or even to love her without unrequitedness, the Guerry de Guerre and its rapprochements between fiction and reality?
“If you’ve got a back to spare, there’s Christ on the cross, a thief at either elbow and angels overhead to right and left…”
There are four of five other elbow moments in this amazing portrait of a tattooist and his tattoo shop and its customers while watching with exuding-blood vampire references the multi-coloured painterly tattooing of a man who fought in Japan, I guess, through the eyes of a woman who for one moment needs smelling salts to continue watching. It is a cornucopia of tattoos that feel as if the words are also tattoos on these yellowing pages in an old book telling me that it is copyrighted to Ted Hughes in 1969, this looking to be its first and possibly only publication? It shocks and fills one with literary joy by each jab of the needle. It includes a man who fulfils one of those elbow moments with a deeply bent bodily bow, come to service the tattooist’s needle springs. But who was Ned? Is this story personally didactic or for its own sake? To express the inexpressible before 1969. The last paragraph gives some clue, as the lady witness of all that goes on imagines the tattooist’s wife with a “death-lily-white and totally bare” body. The ‘world’s menagerie’, meantime, howling and ogling from the tattoo shop’s wall.
“In April there were rainbows, often far below him and sometimes upside down. In May, a madness of cuckoos. A preserved and empty country.”
The touching, time-remembering story of a now derelict Northwest community that once merely existed around a pigsty, and a Quaker Meeting House, still intact, and its small house appendix in near ruin here taken over by a squatting family, wife with tumour, a cussing husband who did his best to renovate the roof etc. And the stoical forbearance of the Friends who still employ the Meeting House for their silences… trying to get through the squatters’ rubbish and withstand the seemingly spiteful noise deliberately breaking the holy silences of the Friends. Yet, eventually, and I won’t spoil it by saying quite how this is done, the story becomes a fitful conclusion as a “confident, peaceful, luminous” ghosts’ epiphany for this eclectic book of often fearful stories about ghosts. We meet together in silence just at the endless point of departing?
“The highboy had not moved; but now it looked heavy and sullen, and seemed to have developed a kind of vestigial face. The brass pulls of the two top drawers formed the half-shut eyes of this face, and the fluted columns between them was its long thin nose; the ornamental brass keyhole of the full-length drawer below supplied a pursed, tight mouth. Under its curved mahogany tricorne hat, it had a mean, calculating expression,…[…] The irritating thing was that now I’d seen the unpleasant face of the highboy, it was there every time…”
….being the high point of this story in which I got confused about the human characters within which fiction array this bird-like piece of furniture featured, a haunting pareidolia and sense of potential anthropomorphic retribution or selfful protection from an otherwise inanimate object. No wonder it outshone the characters it controlled! It even controlled the author writing about it, I sensed. And now it has come into counterpoint with a rare reader of this story and yearns to reside in some heaven’s museum of a receptive brain as a sort of posterity. Or hell’s? (My family had a highboy in the 1950s when I was a boy, but we called it a tallboy. Not sure what that signifies. In any event, I recall that tallboy was plain and unassuming.)