AT FIRST SIGHT by Walter de la Mare

“He detested rags, dirt, and neglect; even the brazen spectacle of ‘potatoes’ in stockings or of leaking welts failed to amuse him.”

“Two large bony hands had been holding his elbows,…”

A novella or novel, but really a long short story? I cannot do justice to it, so I won’t try. There is potential for keeping one’s eyes low, and as you get used to Cecil’s disability, you see everything, when reading it, from under his facial green shade, too painful to raise your eyes, every word sullen, till it slowly pans out into a love story ….and a story as a kindred work to WDLM’s THE RETURN (reviewed here)….

“For a minute or two he stood listening, then raised his face by a painful inch or so to peer in at what was confronting him in the wide mahogany looking-glass. […] ‘You mean,’ said Cecil, speaking out of the turned-up collar of his overcoat, ‘that as I can only see their lower halves, I cannot be any judge of their upper. You don’t seem to realize that a person’s character is scrawled all over him – over his boots even, rough-hew them as he will.’ The reply would have been almost sprightly if it had not sounded so bitter.”

A facial justice. Keeping a slightly perfumed grey glove (with a hole in one of its fingers) that Cecil finds amid the minutiae and litter he keeps his eyes bent on, a young man cowed by his Grummumma, and a woman cousin and a Canon with the bony hands.
And that grey glove he finds on the pavement with a hole in a finger is a link to a draper’s assistant, a woman beneath him as it were, if not visually, but certainly beneath him on the social ladder. And they both ebb and flow against the blind love — in a red jagged thunderstorm — for each other. A painful passionate, poetic, textured work that will play about my mind perhaps forever. Raise your eyes at least once to read it. But it is often difficult and insufferably frustrating.

“…as if this were the first face that as a mortal creature he had ever seen at all – a landscape, a garden, a marvel, before time, lovely, earthly, yet unbelievable, all-pitying, burnt up with pain, never to be forgotten, never to be exhausted, never to be understood.”


Context of this review here:

CREWE by Walter de la Mare

“He told me himself that he had remembered me in his will – ‘if still in his service’. You know how these lawyers put it. As a matter of fact he had given me to understand that if in the meantime for any reason any of us went elsewhere, the one left was to have the lot.”

The Crewe railway waiting-room too, ominous enough to have been built by a bad man for waiting in… This story is arguably, I feel, about what you call a Tontine (please see quote about this would-be Tontine above), and one needs to wait a long time normally for the results of this legal technicality to pan out, if the lawyers allow it to pan out at all, perhaps out of spite or simply jaundiced Jarndyce? So it seems appropriate that this is a story told in a waiting-room by the man who had been waiting for this form of Tontine to resolve. A story told in Crewe station about a non-stationary scarecrow!
And a solid or a substance become a mite, and a mite then become a mighty revenge by a ghost of a man who survived cremation after his suicide, if I recall correctly. A suicide caused by his losing the Tontine by being sacked for drinking too much. The story told by Mr Blake, and the Listener repeats verbatim for us what Blake said, a garrulous man who needs to speak to a stranger like us and in order to speak freely, and he also needs to speak simply to waive his waiting loneliness in such a solid place for waiting, but his description of the Reverend in a large house as solidly ominous as the waiting-room, whose drunken gardener of much harvestable fruits and crops was one participating in the Tontine till sacked, and Blake another servant to the Tontine, as is also young George, and they were the ones who got the gardener into trouble with the Reverend over his drinking and thus the curse starts and the curse makes the speech full of queerly oblique hints of terrifyingly disarming strangeness as Aickman might have later put into Blake’s garbled mouth, hints rather than solidity. And we sense the scarecrow is part of Blake’s waiting process, Zeno-slow, that comes perhaps half nearer, then half of that half, ever nearer forever. And still is, and Blake has come here to wait, within the disarming solidity of wooden benches. Creepily ungraspable.
But what of the Hesper, a ship about which those train passengers who had earlier been in the Crewe waiting-room were talking (there were many such ships called Tontine, too, I find.) And was this Hesper aka the Hesperus, i.e. the one that had a solid iron hull? And what of each ship’s crew now?
I somehow sense the scarecrow crew….

“And the night-jars croaking too.”


PS: I’ve just read CREWE by Walter de la Mare and I feel it is blended with a sense of a future Robert Aickman and the type of Mrs Maple voice of a past M.R. James.



And of M.R. JAMES:


CAKE, a story by D. F. Lewis

I’ve never been able to make cake. My father, however, was a dab hand at it. He always called it Welsh cake, with him being Welsh, I guess. He has passed on now to where cakes welcome new tenants onto Heaven’s hillside, cakes forever made, forever eaten, a constant cake, a cake cake, in fact. Let them eat cake, sing the angels. And God has let it be so. And there I leave him.

But others of us pass onto a different hillside, a different lower case heaven, but still it’s one with constant cake, and most after-lives are tantamount to *being* cake, a perceived spirituality, one based on the faith in cake-ism. Each of us an ingredient in the great big mixing-bowl, trickled down into it as a would-be trickle-treat that some mistakenly believe is upper case Heaven. This being the place where a version of angels with no known gender mix and mingle within the flow of eggs, flour and whatever else entails growing a cake, but each passer-on brings one ingredient to the so-called cake, a cake that often seems impossible for us to eat and even eats us! A cake of no known gender, sifting our eggs, grating our tubes, into one composite cake of angels. Layers of battenburg with soul fluids between, a wondrous massive mix, with skin peel and lots of loving. 

I suddenly stopped day-dreaming. It is peculiar what the word ‘cake’ has evoked in my mind. Told to write about cake, this is what I have written. I had been forced to write about cake by some duplicitous writer’s group to write quickly, smartly, without prior thought, using the upper case title of Cake. A proper Proustian cake, I hoped it would be. But parts of me, I am now starting to disown, the moving joints and other elbows of my body joining together as one, more a meatloaf than a cake, a dream of melted consistency and baked log, oozings of cream with pangs of sweetened dust or lust. A huge panoply of trussed existence that only being cooked by some power source of this lower case heaven, a culinary process triggered by death, a rationale for eerie ghosts as well as enviable spirits. Globs of jammy substance, yet still trickling down, that once corroded the living veins, hot-flush prostate tissuing, and interleaved with dark brown chocolate slabs or cushions, or at least I hoped it was chocolate. Bony ribs ground down for the meatier logs intended for those who prefer the savoury rather than the unsavoury, but somehow that does not sound quite right, and I wish to edit that bit if I ever live long enough to publish this snap-judgement flash creative work. Minced body-middles to make the consistency softer and more al dente at the same time. A lava bread, a loofah, a sponge, a trifle, even a proper fruit flan for the all night pudding party of the soul …. if only I could go back and change things and help everyone who are still alive trickle up instead of down. 

Yup yup, I can now see a mighty mountainous ever-lasting never-ending whoopee whopper of a, yup yup yup, superbly prehensile upper case Angel Cake like me.

Eric Stener Carlson’s DIVINING ROD


“She never took pictures of whole things, just fragments of objects or moments that caught her eye.”

There’s something about the dark arts of this book that are themselves hinky. Well, you can’t have one without the other. And although I recognised the intentional pretension or artificiality of this story, I relished its preternaturally divining dark arts, too. The same as my gestalt real-time reviewing, I hope, whereby I take photos, too, photos of ready-mades, found art, like the art installation in this story of clothes hangers doubling as divining-rods toward gestalt; I actually sometimes include them in the manipulation of the book review itself, this story being of a woman who takes photos and then makes them into a story: three pictures, hem, racist, apples, small breasts, doe, truck. A woman on a bus fancying the conductor, a woman who also thinks of MoMa and ends up seeing her Momma, her Mother of Stones who is almost a rival in Art’s gestalt-game, her own MoMA at the family home, a house falling down in slow Zeno motion amidst the wilds where nobody goes,…
“But she liked this wall, because she could read it like a script. ”
“Just keep telling the story, until you run out of words. Then go in­side.”
Images of Rosetti’s Mnemosyne (one of those rare words containing ‘nemo’), Romeo and Juliet, the war in Sarajevo, Odysseus, an ever-living cricket as lodestone, ‘interactive art’ becoming a co-vivid dream, death by virus, her father’s ‘apple tobacco’ … 

“Things got mixed up like that,…”


Context of this review:

The Little Girl by Elizabeth Taylor

…who is attached to her dirty teddy bear, much to her own posh mother’s chagrin. ELizabeth BOWen wrote a novel called ‘The Little Girls’ and Elizabeth Taylor wrote in this brief story one of the elbow-triggers that beats any of Bowen’s! …
“‘I have never been so insulted,’ the woman shouted, too angry to see the absurdity of the phrase. ‘How dare you!’ She flourished the glove again and the man raised an elbow.”
After much business — about the little girl’s anti-social behaviour at parties and her fear of the chop, chop, chop in the Oranges & Lemons game, and her consternation at the mother’s trying dancing shoes on her little feet in a large department store, and the girl’s continued attachment to the teddy come what may — that elbow moment triggered a thought of sexual pests and of Krafft-Ebing! … but a thought in whose mind? And by what innocent means of petulance by child or child’s mother or the shouting woman or the author herself?


Context of this review: