GUEST by Françoise Harvey

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NIGHTJAR PRESS 2022: my previous reviews of this publisher HERE

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(POSSIBLE SPOILERS OR TANGENTS)

“I elbow him. ‘So what do we do now?’ I ask.”

This example  of my beloved ‘elbow’ moments in literature has given me a most defining pang. What do we do, now that this latest spray or spate of daily Nightjars is complete? This one is an adeptly haunting  culmination, however, with an aura insidiously of the hotel hospitality and car travelling deployed in yesterday’s Nightjar HERE. In fact this one contains what surely must be the Platonic Form of a disarmingly off-putting, off-key hotel, with, for example, a ‘grim grim grim’ bathroom, and involving literally an off-key doorcard for the room with a distant on-key piano sound and the main woman protagonist  looking in a mirror wondering who she is! Perhaps she is a famous French songstress (“You speak French, right?”), a songstress with a similar name to the author, having seen a French bodice-ripper among the books on the hotel’s coffee tables? And the staff apologise unapologetically, even on one occasion apologetically to disarm you further.  With Zeno’s Paradox as a sensed backdrop to this couple arriving at a hotel to attend a wedding tomorrow after a slow mazy car journey… “The receptionist hurries towards us – or at least moves in a way that implies hurrying: jerking her shoulders and swinging her arms.” And a book structure that collapses (like my own disappointment at the current Nightjars ending?) All the cars in the car park are at mis-angled tangents within their spaces. And other  people whom the couple meet in the hotel, people who are going to the same wedding, are strangely recognisable as having been met before but also unrecognisable, all with a sense of threat. The wedding itself is airbrushed if not hidden under a mask of smudged mascara, but its aftermath with the guests going back to the hotel (in the hired London bus with streamers) is sprayed in various  mis-directions of spate and potential unforgettability. But which guest in GUEST was the eponymous one? Perhaps the story’s main guest who asked  the receptionist for a night jar to put under the bed, i.e. the reader who thought he was me!

“I don’t think I’m doing anything in the right order.”

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My previous reviews of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/francoise-harvey/

THE COUNTRY PUB by David Gaffney

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NIGHTJAR PRESS 2022 (my previous reviews of this publisher HERE)

“; the sandwich would be a bowl of liquid and the soup a block of compressed radish gel or something.”

I take my hat off to this story. And as with the man HERE in yesterday’s Nightjar, and now when freeze-framed we don’t really know if he’s dissolving or undissolving. This is a brilliantly sinister and often counterintuitively amusing  evocation of a man’s visit with his girl friend to Kendal to launch his graphic novel at a comic book festival, where things become wholly against the expectations  of treating themselves to uncustomary posher cuisine  and countrified inns with log fires — even the countryside itself is nightmarishly countrified! And so much more that happens after the frame’s margin  or a text’s semi-colon, with the subtle or unsubtle clue by sleight of writerly hand of ‘Einstein’ relativity inserted somewhere in the text alongside the static hugging of hello or of goodbye being as ambiguous as a non-existent ‘candlelit snug’! 

My previous review of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/david-gaffney/

THE DISSOLVING MAN by Douglas Thompson 

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NIGHTJAR PRESS 2022 (my previous reviews of this publisher HERE)

“A colossus of Rhodes made of grey Meccano, all mad gantries and trusses and ladders.”

Honestly a major story for our times, from the narrative vantage point of that Glaswegian crane, as well as wearing all the threatening Done men merging or dissolving as one [resonating HERE].  “Thus, he hated himself. So, I am quite sure, did Hitler.” All those Bodgers, Trusses, Trumps and Stammerers…. A story here of a singular meddler who actively meddles himself into passive quarried manipulations. As perhaps we all vainly do.

“Nothing less, nothing more. Oil, the reason for all our endless meddlings in the Middle East.” 

And a merging or dissolving of all those political so-called leaders , as conveyed by this compelling story of a policeman coping with all the plots, conspiracies, deep states, as well as losing a dear wife by his desire for a woman meddler celebrated by the TV screen everyone watched. 

On a dissolvingly different  level this work is being spread over time’s history, and becomes a spookily memorable crime story of what our narrator sees as a crime-collusive  man dissolving and undissolving, not as a Wellsian Invisibility  but something far more complex and frightening as part and parcel of the crimes and corruption in a staggering portrayal of the physical city of Glasgow which needs to be read and have its tags tattooed inside you. And a highly believable self-portrait of the narrator  himself in a conjunction of vain tension  with such subsuming factors being factored in.

“We can only be sure of our existence in relation to others, how they reflect our light back.”

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My many previous reviews of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/douglas-thompson/

MEDLAR by Joanne Done

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NIGHTJAR PRESS 2022 (my previous reviews of this publisher HERE)

“…it mocked every hypothesis, every equation, every poem and psalm ever thought or ever written.”

I looked up references to ‘medlar’ in Chaucer, I looked up Shakespeare…. But I was wrong about Andrew Marvell. I even morphed MEDLAR DONE to ’endodermal’ in strong resonance with Bevan’s Bull Frog arguably created as a hybrid by the coupling of the two Nightjars just reviewed before this ‘shadowy third’. But this Done story has remained the first ever  work of fiction that has genuinely bletted me, left me literarily pucker-arsed. Yet I did somehow have tactilely evoked for me by it — two girls kissing as they grew up, kissing to a mutual groaning brink, with certain men as threats, but which of these men nailed up the chicken wire?  Which the notorious murderer? Which the uncle, which the step dad? And why the dreaming spires transposed from  an inferred northern roughness? Why the specific names of women that sound like real ones, why the cream doughnuts and mandarin segments? 1970s stuff at first, while my first  era was the 1950s. And why did I read it twice? I rarely do. I may even do so a third time! Readying myself anew. The reading of a work like this is never done.

Not even DH Lawrence is helping much, something about ‘loving someone rotten’ and…
“A kiss, and a vivid spasm of farewell, a moment’s orgasm of rupture.
Then along the damp road alone, till the next turning.”  (from ‘Medlars and Sorb-Apples’)

THE BULL by David Bevan

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NIGHTJAR PRESS 2022 (my previous reviews of this publisher HERE)

“Other times he would just say, ‘Hello,’ his deep voice dropping the word like a stone in a lake.”

This is a dual-timed relationship between a sporadically raging father and a daughter, as narrated  by the daughter, Chloe, whom her father called Bluebell. “Fragmentary images began to flutter in my mind. I laid them out in sequence as I walked.” — and as I read. Father and daughter more alike than unalike. Like a commonwealth of two matching friends as potential enemies, the bull emblem of which appeared last night in our own real-time? A backstory of dysfunction, a family and her baby brother. Duplicating the walk years ago with her Dad to again encounter that shed-like container in a field, a mohican cut path near the two separate reservoirs leading to her maritally estranged father, in later years, asking her, as a barber, for a mohawk…

That earlier time when clocks stopped, and another different time when her father witnessed, with subsequent trauma, a drowning of a coworker in the meaty downside gory offal ironically equivalence to Gol’s snorkelling yesterday HERE.  What  did we see in that shed, alongside them then, and alongside  just Chloe today? Hints of an answer within that earlier meatiness and her dad’s motorbike’s growling brute of an engine (see the chance concurrent engines of equivalence HERE) and the later contrastive pent-up silence  that had “the solemn quality of a long-held oath…” A pent-up story in itself that will ever snarl in the mental background. Expressing somehow otherwise inexpressible emotions.

 “What? What? What?”

 THE GOLDEN FROG by David Bevan

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NIGHTJAR PRESS 2022 (my previous reviews of this publisher HERE)

“In pride of place over the old gas fire, he had stuck a Slayer Angel of Death poster.”

I don’t know where to start to do justice to this tactilely powerful piece. The less said probably the best, so its word spawn won’t be spoilt or contaminated by me. But I will mention the narrator (with a dog called Max) whose evocatively depicted central character is someone he calls by various shortenings of Gollum, the character’s nickname when they were at school together. I knew a similar epitome of sad at school whom we all called Dogsbody in the 1950s. In real life, Gol is a window cleaner, a prying job that somehow cleaned the glass for this vision. And here, the inferred clear-sighted vision is [POSSIBLE SPOILER] Gol’s wondrous transcending of  life’s boggy conduit leading to the eponymous trophy in the prestigious bog-snorkelling championship via the earlier storing of regurgitated frog eggs for later ‘mad science’, I guess. But not so mad at all.

Now I seem to have said more than I intended, because I evolved into wanting to convey at least a soupçon of what I have just read. But, I must also add that I can now empathise, if not sympathise,  with the protagonist in yesterday’s Nightjar story (HERE) where he left money out for the window cleaner because he did not want to have a conversation with him. (From two lakes to a single bog, an irony?)

The Lake by Livi Michael

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NIGHTJAR PRESS 2022 (my previous reviews of this publisher HERE)

“There was even a forum for somniscribes in which one member claimed to have set up email accounts in his sleep and to have emailed abuse to himself.”

A touching story of bereavement, additionally a mutual synergy with yesterday’s Nightjar story bearing the same title, as reviewed HERE, literature ever being a helpful gestalt should one expose oneself to it with a fearless faith. This story conveys a man’s ordinary daily living, such as brown rubbish bins, window-cleaning matters, resoling shoes thriftily, and a diary kept of such things disarmingly to replace a dead wife! With the circumstances of her death blocked by denial and guilt. Somehow I will not leave a spoiler in this real-time diary of what I have just read, but merely state that what is ostensibly depicted may not be so pragmatically mercenary as it seems and it also leaves you with a fearless faith not only in fiction but also in its preternatural  forces  if not fully in its supernatural ones. Whatever forces there were tugged down at me, though, like the foreign land beneath its surface, after I was enticed into it by clues written by the author in the text, although, I suspect,  they may be disowned as ever having  been consciously written at all (or they actually even appeared in it by other means after sending it to be published?)

“…punctuated by a chup-chup-chup call I could not identify,…”

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My previous reviews of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/livi-michael/

THE LAKE by John Foxx

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NIGHTJAR PRESS 2022 (my previous reviews of this publisher HERE)


“…he never managed to swim right across the lake. He always had to turn back, even before he was anywhere near half-way.”

A sense of the half measures in Zeno’s Paradox coupled with the different paradox inherent in the anonymous mythology of a woman being able to be seen in conjunction with a swan but not with a man. But I wonder whether that was intended by this haunting and limpidly expressed story of a boy-to-man as a rite of passage, gaining childhood confidence by visiting the countryside’s lonely lake and thus defying his parents. But also unease at the mysterious depth it hid, that made him stop halfway. Till he grows older, and he has this story’s core lasting vision,  and, even later, he sees that the awesome lake has begun to be contaminated by modern ‘progress’.
Who was Zeus in this hovering fable, I ask? The protagonist himself, unseen even by the omniscience of the words, thus left unexpressed by his threnody of thoughts about the past vision he’d seen and the more minor mistake he had made in its connection, or was it the man, a different man, with whom she had borne children into this world? A sad question. Whatever the case, for me, the result led a similar path, i.e. to our own global version or vision of the Trojan War with its once hidden forces  soon even to breach halfway, toward the already baleful end.

My previous review of John Foxx: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2021/11/09/best-british-short-stories-2021/#comment-23446

A Nightjar Sextet

The NightJaw Syndrome

A FEW ALTERATIONS by Jordan Harrison-Twist

STATIC by Justine Bothwick

RETURN by David Frankel

ON MIRRORS by Ben Tufnell

BAT WALK by Shirley Stephenson

A VISIT TO THE BONESETTER by Christopher Burns

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NightJar, NightJaw, NightJour, NuitJour, NightDay, NightLight, NightJourney

NIGHTJAR PRESS 2021

My previous reviews of this publisher: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/nightjar-press/

When I read these works during 2022, my thoughts will appear in the comment stream below…