Every book has an empirical soul…


Every book has a soul. The soul of the person who wrote it and of those who read it and lived and dreamed with it. Every time a book changes hands, every time someone runs his eyes down its pages, its spirit grows and strengthens.” —from ‘The Shadow Of The Wind’ by Carlos Ruiz Zafon


Below is a section from my ongoing review of WHITE SPINES by Nicholas Royle as published by a white spine SALT.

I admired the author’s making an exception of a hardback in a collection of paperbacks not because it had ‘Vertebrates’ in its title but because of its loose ‘chance’ “inclusions.” Including a pressed flower. Also felt empathy with the reference to “Pale Fire” by VN, as I think my real-time review of that book is one of those possibly most in tune with the spirit (so far) of ‘White Spines’.
This book has not necessarily created a new literary form of Tarot, but some sort of religion, that I shall call C of E — viz. Catholic (small c) of Eclectic. Involving itemised, even dated, Tiger Garden dreams, and very personal details of this author’s life, and, yes, a fearless faith in fiction, as well as, possibly, the Passion of the reading moment that I have been extolling for yonks. Involving all books I choose to buy and read and review, not only the books that are, as its says here somewhere, “in good nick.” (Small n.)
The endented ‘concrete poetry’, meanwhile, that this author found in one book reminds me tangentially of my often finding meaningful rationalisations in my reviews for seemingly accidental typos, as well as for chance stains or, yes, other ‘inclusions.’ Found-art that also works for me in photography.
Then onto books lent out and never returned, a new basis for freehold / leasehold ownership of what a book officially or unofficially contains as well as simply what it is.

The full context is here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2021/07/15/white-spines-by-nicholas-royle/

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Burdens upon an Immense Divan


MARRIAGE by Robert Aickman

“It was hot has Hell.” (sic)

It has much Hell today, too, for me where I live!

Meanwhile, anyone who has read this story, will probably believe this is Aickman’s most remarkable story. Some will think it is his worst, others his best. Some his most salacious, or most politically incorrect, or most scandalously absurdist in a very good way that opens our eyes. In a very bad way, too. I think I am in all camps. It leaves me hot, it leaves me thankfully cold.

The story of a man called Laming (a Christian Name) and I note that ‘Taming the Shrew’ is mentioned later on in the story. Except he is the one arguably being tamed, tamed by three shrews, Helen Black, Ellen Brown and his Mum like the Mum in ‘The Fetch’ yesterday. There are a number of sexual elephants in the room of this story involving, not only metaphorical elephants that  are now airbrushed by me  in this review but also literal ones that become various large heavy parcels and other burdens. Sciatica, Bayreuth et al.

Arbitrary errands of delivery punctuated by bouts of paranoia and acts of stalking as well as coincidences of encounter in theatres, cafes and parks.

The answer to life, the universe, everything — especially at “Forty-two Washwood Court, North West six”? But it must be hot in London today, even hotter than it is here where I write this beside the story’s “immense divan.”

All my Aickman articles linked from here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/robert-aickman/

Reeking of Seabed Mortality

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THE FETCH by Robert Aickman 

“Her lips were like dark rose petals, as one imagines them, or sometimes dreams of them.”

…being the polypetalous lips of one of Brodick’s women, a different woman in his life later, as women often do, ‘materializing in one’s rose garden.’ Most of us have already been fetched by the Aickwoman in this work at least once and if you are reading this review have successfully resisted it, but now it has happened to me for a second time, although I have for years blocked this work so as to prevent future approaches by the one who fetches. The one who needs to be let in so as to fulfil its fetching. On one occasion, leaving a trail of residue that “reeked of seabed mortality […] slimy-sleek head, always faceless…” Brodick Leith is our diversionary magnet or decoy here, the son of a Scottish judge, a father who terrified him, and Brodick eventually inherits a hard-to-reach house in the Scottish wilds with a so-called tower, and antlers and ‘death pictures’ on its walls, “stags exaggeratedly virile”, and “Dust was settling everywhere, even in that remote spot” — “the most burdensome and most futile of houses, so futile as to be sinister…” Brodick who, as a small boy, was in an implied relationship with the soft-body of his mother whom he loved. And his mother’s fetch one day fetched her, the fetch having arrived along what I myself recall, in my own life, as a dark landing of some large house where I lived at the time, such unknown figures often appearing there, whether dream or not. Brodick becomes a banker not the ‘weaver of dreams’ he wanted to be. He had a series of women, often seeking one to give him a child, women whom we believe in, because of the various quirks of their relationships with him, including a small black girl, a “rococo cherub”, called Aline (“her mouth full of prunes”), all of these women arguably fraught and then fetched or fetchable, eventually Brodick himself being fetched or is, even now, still fetchable in that most futile of all houses, if this work is to be fully believed. A work that attritionally progresses with a rambling, but nicely styled, narration of patient restraint. Most women are fetching in their own different ways, I guess, and in the shades of different meanings of the word ‘fetching’ itself. Don’t think Aickman, however, used the word ‘fetch’ even once in this work, except in the title, otherwise detachable from the story itself! One of Brodick’s women wrote a secret book, but is his later revelation of its contents true or a diversionary tactic? The parallel lift shafts, unlike Selfridges’ lifts, without women attendants to work them from inside, in a block of flats where he lives with one of his women. Oh to be as writerly as Sir Walter Scott, then we would have no doubts as to the meaning of this work. On the other hand, perhaps best never to be certain. Eugene O’Neill and Sartre’s Huis Clos, notwithstanding. 

“Men chase the same women again and again; or rather the same illusion; or rather the same lost part of themselves.”

All my reviews of Aickman: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/robert-aickman/

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PS: My subsequent reading and reviewing of TIME IS NOT PASSING is in the comment stream below, a story that immediately precedes THE FETCH in ‘Intrusions’.

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WOOD by Robert Aickman

“…of course there is an enormous difference between Suffolk and Norfolk, and between both and North Essex.”

I look at my own wide shallow bungalow house in North Essex where I have aged and shared with my wife, and at this house’s matching log cabin and shudder at what fate draws us to which.
This WOOD, of course, is a fiction classic, if a disturbing and reprehensible one. A story of a best man (who had been knocked out during action in the war at the precise moment Wilfred Owen was killed, then became an architectural writer) whose availability for a registry office wedding seemed to dictate its date. The groom is a vexed ex-Inland Revenue man called Munn who, when we first meet him, makes straw men on his “mill” over the sub-post office he runs, and he is due to marry an undertaker’s daughter. A transpiring story of this particular marriage and of Marriage itself, of Woman herself (“woman’s). Munn…”), and the house the undertaker built for them to match the ‘englutinating’ of such institutions of couplement and eventual de-coupling by merging with whatever essence that any boxed wood caskets possessed, a house imitating a cuckoo clock with alternating rain-sensitive puppets that manipulated the metaphorical strings of themselves till the very end. Even their only child spotted inside the house as clock.
“When the woman’s blindly scraping /  Then’s the hour for blows and raping” – part of verse handwritten on a scrap of paper pasted on a wall within this story. This strange and worrying work cannot be airbrushed because it is an astonishing literary absurdism bordering on an assumed artistic madness, worth condemning, if ever madness can be condemned but only admired or pitied, by alternating turns, for its pangs of eventually constructive creativity that would not otherwise have been constructed at all.
It also mentions a story by Maurice Baring*, but I don’t think it is the same Baring story that Aickman included in his Fontana Ghost series, a series that I reviewed in detail recently. All the Aickman choices for that anthology series need factoring in and out of his own work, in order to reconcile its difficulties and explain some of its minutiae — entertaining and inspiring difficulties and minutiae for the weird fiction lover.
The pantomiming best man’s gift to the couple at the wedding is an envelope (with a ticket inside) as sealed with scarlet sealing-wax. The cackling nature of the bride’s parents is off-putting, and the bride herself, all three of them described gnomically. The father called Pell is a man of “timber and satin”, as I think I have mentioned already. The nature of the town where the Munns settle, with their Daphnes and Daffs, is unsettling, a place with sporadically heavy wet weather to bring the best out in them.

All my reviews of Aickman: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/robert-aickman/

* The plot recounted in WOOD (as a putative Maurice Baring story or play) about a man in a romantic relationship who reveals his secret of being the hangman, to his loved one’s shock, reminds me of a story I read recently, but I can’t yet place it!
Any ideas?

PS: WOOD is to be differentiated from Aickman’s INTO THE WOOD that I reviewed here in 2013: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2013/04/20/aickmann/#comment-7243

Accretive Stains

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THE STAINS by Robert Aickman

“Dr. Who?”

“And, judging by recent experience, the moment might even prove a noticeably long moment. Time might again stand still. Time sometimes did if one had not expected it.”

“That, after all, was a main purpose of science: to make things of all kinds happen sooner than they otherwise would.”

…Aickman’s obsession, recently discovered in his other works and his editing, with Zeno’s Paradox and time’s battle with it? But here accretiveness finally wins?

The Stains is an increasingly marked and remarkable Aickman novelette, telling of the civil servant Stephen who has just lost his lifetime companion wife Elizabeth and meets, in a so-called “clough” on the moors,  the beautiful,  seemingly naively minded, waif-like, faded-clothed and virgin-breasted  Nell on the moors near  where he is staying with his vicar brother (a hobby student of lichens), and Nell takes Stephen to the du Maurier-like Pool where he becomes Hylas to her Nymph, or to her oread, or maenad, or sylph, to her “Knell” of Fate — or is it the apotheosis (“Rapture was beginning”) of his new life had it not been for this  work’s accretive Mark Trembles, stains and patches and lichens and mosses that less and less civilly and with more of three-dimensions Thread increasingly the words as well as our reading brain, including the staining and marking of the solitary empty house (so reminiscent of one of the Houses of the Russians elsewhere in Aickman) where Stephen and Nell shack up as lovers, and marking his apartment or flat back in London, and his brother’s rectory walls  and presumably the latter’s now sickly, once teatime obsessed wife Harriet, and upon Stephen’s own back, too, and driving glove fingers, even upon Elizabeth’s natural fibre bag.

 Some marks like inhuman faces. 

Nell’s backstory of father and sister nearby is ominous. Nell’s sole mark near her breast meanwhile accretively fades towards a “honied” purity. The meaning of this major novelette is also accretively found in its textual words’ and textures’ and stainy objects’ “conglomerate” — viz. “virtual void”; a map’s dividers; a bus journey where the passengers are explicitly social-distancing, the bus driver with a sick kid cancelling the bus journey altogether, then avoidance of The Waiting Room syndrome, a story by Aickman I happened to re-read and review yesterday; what Nell found on Stephen’s roof in London; the stinging of  Portuguese man-o’-wars; “a fungus and an alga living in a mutual beneficial relationship” (like otherwise separate works of fiction?); the music of Schumann that comes out of nowhere at the end; the stone oubliette where Nell and Stephen eventually shelter from her impinging father; and if I told you of any more, that would spoil it for you by putting things on your brain that you might not be able to get off.

“The first step towards mastering time is always to make time meaningless.”

[The Stains, first published in Ramsey Campbell’s NEW TERRORS 1980]

My other reviews of Aickman’s stories: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/robert-aickman/

“my flesh crawls now as it crawled then”


RUNNING DOGS by Steve Duffy

A story of my train line from Liverpool Street, here with a story told to another passenger about a Norfolk halt, if not Holt, a tale of Robert Aickman proportions and, can there be a greater compliment for me to give than to say that many aspects of it mean that a lost Aickman-type story has shape-shifted into this quite original new one. Not a pastiche but a re-toothing. It needs to haunt many more readers with its lingering absurdism, a dream that still feels oh so real!

Full context of above here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2021/06/30/the-night-comes-steve-duffy/