Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Drowning In Beauty – the neo-decadent anthology



Drowning In Beauty – the neo-decadent anthology


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Edited by Justin Isis & Daniel Corrick
SNUGGLY BOOKS 2018
Stories by Brendan Connell, Justin Isis, Damian Murphy, Yarrow Paisley, Ursula Pflug, Colby Smith, Colin Insole, D.P. Watt, Avalon Brantley, Daniel Corrick, Quentin S. Crisp, James Champagne.
My previous reviews of Snuggly Books HERE
Whenever I read this anthology, my thoughts will appear in the comment stream below…

13 thoughts on “Drowning In Beauty – the neo-decadent anthology”


  1. The first 3 items are non-fiction:
    INTRODUCTION by Daniel Corrick
    FIRST MANIFESTO OF NEO-DECADENCE by Brendan Connell
    SECOND MANIFESTO OF NEO-DECADENCE by Justin Isis
    ****
    The first story in the book is by BRENDAN CONNELL and is in deliberate and aggressively harsh contiguity with the soft Royal Wedding today broadcast live to the world from Windsor about an hour ago. Though, the bride herself had an attractive sharp-eyed patina.
    I first reviewed this story in 2011 here and below is what I then wrote about it in that context…
    Molten Rage
    “Massimo arrived back at his car, but it was booted. He shrugged his shoulders and threw his car keys into the the gutter.”
    I keep my door-key on the same key-ring as my car-keys.  All keys are a form of escape. And Massimo lives in a an industrial nightmare that is Milan (brilliantly described) and in a Magic Realism blending Joel Lane and Peter Carey, inter alios, the Leftist truths (for some, dilemmas) including direct action, are canvas-tested with ‘dabs or paints’ of words, including sniffing out dreams that risk us flying without wings in gold sunsets sown with “silicates” and “stigmata“.  To boot a car, is to kick it or remove its back-lid or ‘graft’ a clamp to its wheels like stitching angel-wings clumsily to a man’s back in more hope than expectation of flying or to turn the ignition as one would boot up or kick start a computer.  There are many other keys (some I still hope to find as they were never on my key-ring in the first place before I threw it away), keys to unlock the doors to this gloriously ‘painted’ fable of cruel modern industrial reality, artistic aspiration and revolution-in-the-streets so relevant to facing out those fosterers of our own gathering autocratic austerities as well to the Arab Spring (if not to today’s April sunshine outside) or to this book’s earlier Spartan warriors now heard at our doors (rattling keys). (10 Apr 11 – four hours later)
    My previous reviews of BRENDAN CONNELL: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/brendan-connell/

  2. THE QUEST FOR NAIL ART by Justin Isis
    “, a detachment from the decade’s worth of exhausted designs.”
    We live in decade gulps, I reckon, and this is my first gulp of gestalt. When I just now, this morning, finished this story – the day after, as it were – I pencilled the word WOW! at the end. This is one of those reading experiences that seem like a watershed, one you cannot miss whatever else you may miss to allow it into your toppling reading eyes, here a smooth, somehow luxuriously strident work of fiction, about Erina, stage name Rumika, a hostess and nail artist, feeling old and organ-splitting at age 22, connecting with an outrage of phone calls, her doorbell ringings, texts, this text teeming with status updates, stalkers and stalked, emptying to allow more in, conniving, collisions, collusions, and such mind-smacking magic of detail about her nail art and backstory. But also so utterly smooth and accessible to read. A mix of the Meghan image from yesterday and much much more, read it and see. So completely powerful. If this is what nemo- or neo-decades are about as a movement, then give me more. Stage names and her numbered boy friends galore. Masochism with envy folders. Aura stretched distances. Inferior nails the biggest sin. The concept of seasonails (my word for seasonal nails). The deepest nails, as some sort of embracing of stigmata? The empathy, or not, of massage. On-line reviews of nail bars and nail marklings. And at the end even Okada (as I later saw to be myself intruding) was rightly spurned.
    My previous reviews of JUSTIN ISIS:
    https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/justin-isis/
    https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2011/01/25/i-wonder-what-human-flesh-tastes-like/
    https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2011/07/20/the-master-in-cafe-morphine/

  3. 0B303B02-FBE2-43D0-A29D-A2087B2D89C1
    A MANSION OF SAPPHIRE by Damian Murphy
    “She often amused herself, knowing that few would read her handiwork, by slipping linguistic ambiguities, absurdly detailed descriptions, unintuitive turns of phrase, and blatant contradictions into her translations.”
    At times a homing pigeon within the game, Stella plays it in a retro fashion with a ZX Spectrum by loading cassette tapes, a process that I and my son (with whom I have just checked) remember, well, him better than me. It is effectively the LP vinyl version of Damian Murphy in ritual process, with language to match, and it is surely supreme for all Damian lovers. With the congress of her daily translation duties and her times off from choosing her own route to resplendent adventure on the retro-religious kick, you can hardly wonder why this might become a classic, especially when splurged with a sapphire centre upon a Mansion’s Compass. It also resonates with the ritual path of this book’s previous story, when there instilling emojis on her route of status updates. Here, Stella has a Moleskine notebook. If this is neo-decadence, then give me more of it. The ultimate ‘colour-clash’, included.
    “She passed encoded missives back and forth…”
    My many reviews of DAMIAN MURPHY: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/damian-murphy/

  4. ARNOLD OF OUR TIME by Yarrow Paisley
    “The moment stretched. Secrets passed back and forth, billets-doux of consciousness, cherished missives stolen from the courier of time and savoured in the vault of sentiment.”
    …as does the pigeon post women in the previous two stories, now a young man, a gradually self-identifying Arnold, on his shoe berg or a bus journey worthy of ‘The Parry and the Lunge’, and I took it to be a sort of Pilgrim’s Progress with capitalised allegories or archetypes of people, including sex objects without intending distaff exploitation, the Grand Ma Ma, and Others, as if John Bunyan had written it as a rite of passage towards Ice Cream Heaven or Disco Martyrdom, with tingle, to untangled to untingled. The Hawt Sauce was the hawl-light for me. And its essence of Dadaoism (sic), if possibly not Neo-Decadence.
    My previous reviews of YARROW PAISLEY:
    https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/yarrow-paisley/
    https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2012/05/12/dadaoism-a-new-anthology-from-chomu-press/

  5. FIRES HALFWAY by Ursula Pflug
    “In Canada to be famous you have to be famous somewhere else first.”
    “Who wouldn’t take beautiful, exclusive, scary new drugs given to them by Lou Reed.”
    There is much beauty in this story, even, I guess, dolphins drowning in it. Colours as dosed endorphins and more. The story of Kim as created by the song of a would-be Lou Reed singer in still wall-split Berlin, a period glimpsed as Kim’s backstory that it was due to become after she then later fulfilled a Canadian career in fashion, while his fate was to be a Zeno’s Paradox diminuendo of a singing career. No, it is not the story of Kim created by a song, his song, but a song she helped create with him, to create herself — transcending any tarot findings or Sirian/Fortean events or passing troilisms of a nature sexual. But who knows what strands or connections she picked up from such a still evolving backstory to create the gestalt she is today? That’s the beauty of fiction. A Zeno’s Paradox (“And never get to zero”) of threads and colours and earworms, that can be twined any which way. God’s or the Devil’s. And which of them fires first.
    “I think maybe I have had enough of beauty for a while, you know.”
    “Beauty always pays a lower price, in all things.”
    My previous reviews of URSULA PFLUG: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/ursula-pflug/

  6. SOMNII DRACONIS by Colby Smith
    “Here the world is achromatic.”
    From the Colours of Pflug to a faded ‘painting of creation’, (and from Sirian there to Silurian here), from those Colours to this to-be-chipped-away account of “failed sketches” as fossils, and the sex of stones, to this gestalt of nature’s seemingly inchoate Aesthetics, while two, I guess, grizzled land-combers, one with a dowsing implement rather than a metal detector, and “dead yarrow”, both soon to become fossils themselves, human buoys discovered by boys. I just quoted here this couplet from Anne Cluysenaar literally, by chance, a few minutes ago in a concurrent gestalt real-time review:
    ‘For ever is not the point. Never can be.
    It’s all for now. To have been again.’

    Yes, all seems to fit inchoately. Amid italicised, gradually bone-morphing conundrums of science, nature and existence.
    “Things have become too complicated.”
    My previous encounter with COLBY SMITH: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2018/04/02/vastarien-a-literary-journal/#comment-12115

  7. THE MEDDLERS by Colin Insole
    “And in the exposed rock, was the fossil of a prehistoric bird, the lines of its beak, claws and feathers, as clear as when it fell, millions of years ago.”
    The Colby fossils and his sex of stones blend here with the Insole ‘den’, called Leckles as a possible morph of Nettles, an ancient tangled hollow that holds generations of ‘fossilised’ keepsakes not kept except buried here, the consequence games of childhood or of aberrant or sexual adulthood or of more recent internet bullying, all keepsakes and fragments scrawled and moulded into a palimpsest of some gestalt keepsake, amid the snowy, ashy weather, today, near the sea, an elderly care home tenant escaped to come here to rediscover his own keepsake, while the policeman — sent to investigate that man’s death in this den and last refuge — has his own keepsakes to rediscover in the den, too. This is utter classic Insole, a redolently textured receptacle for me, too, even with the synchronicity of the Jeremy Thorpe TV drama broadcast for the first time last night as based on some ancient tangled scandal: “I’ll be your hunny-bunny, if you will be mine. Gummy, what a chap—“
    My many previous reviews of COLIN INSOLE: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/colin-insole/

  8. DA69D910-1833-4D23-B9B4-9AD7BA45B1C6
    9580CF06-0B98-4935-90DB-6EFF61EB01C3
    DA69D910-1833-4D23-B9B4-9AD7BA45B1C6
    JACK by D.P. Watt
    “all reds and blues and purples and oranges and yellows;”
    In today’s otherwise near-monochrome pub, Jack expletively and colloquially plays poker with fictional money as counters in this otherwise near-fiction, playing with two old male friends and one of their upstart girl friends, his pint spiked, he suspects, spiked, as it were, with those earlier Colours of Pflug, becoming a startling panorama of some colourful mediaeval battle and carnage, with Jack then literally and meaningfully becoming the “bloody bastard” that the suspected spiker calls him! Jack back in the poker game, now with whisky that “looked like dark, morning piss”. Some striking visionary material as born from pub talk. Overlapping realities, too, I infer. A story itself spiked.
    My many previous reviews of D.P. WATT: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/d-p-watt/

  9. GREAT SEIZERS’ GHOSTS by Avalon Brantley
    Where has this story been hiding all my life? A massive entry to this book’s increasingly powerful gestalt. This is Henry V on his deathbed, ‘confessed’ by a vision of a childhood friend as today’s jester (“that increasingly familiar smile on the man’s kind, round face”), writ in a texture of words Shakespearean. Beyond Shakespeare, even, dare I say? Don’t let that put you off. It is truly wonderstruck. You will not be able to prevent its strong positive/negative impingement on your beliefs and life so far, blending hope and Ligottianism. It starts with a quote from Henry IV, Part One, that serendipitously resonates with something I self published yesterday here (before I read this Avalon) about stalking hope and the sun and the frictional abrasions of life’s battles. This Avalon also has “Silurian” from Colby and the Colours of Pflug (“the dauphin’s cheeks”) and bottle- or battle-spiking in the Watt (“the wine whatever it was—“), their overlapping of realities and history’s ‘real’ battles (have you read my review of an overlapping historical battle in SHILOH by Philip Fracassi here?), “strut-and-glut glots out of London”, the cohering by Henry V of pre-battle fragmentary conversations that we all love from this king’s bespoke Shakespeare play, more of Connell’s molten rage, “melting gold of sunset”, and creaturely concatenations of vision. We are in the vanguard of this story’s battle with death and I am now proud to be one more party to it. I have never been a convinced fan of Shakespeare’s works themselves, but I am of this Avalon story. It is essential reading for scholar, dreamer and by-passing reader of fiction alike.
    “Thou art indeed the head of the body, Sire,” said his companion. “With English arms and Gwentisn fingers didst thou seize thy day.”
    My review links and original tribute to AVALON BRANTLEY: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2017/03/28/avalon-brantley-1981-2017/

  10. CHAMELEON IS TO PEACOCK AS SALAMANDER IS TO PHOENIX by Daniel Corrick
    “, interspersed with shots of precious metals in molten and solid states.”
    I desperately don’t want to over-praise this book, but, yet again, I am given to read a potentially important story, one that I am sure will stay with me. This seems to be the apotheosis of not only this book so far but of what I am beginning to understand is Neo-Decadence. Read this, and you have nailed it, I guess. This contains again the Colours of Pflug in various versions of positivity and negativity, here embodied by the protagonist’s sudden visitation — amid his normal life as an aspiring artist, envious of past artists who were enshrined in vellum and leather, and his girl friend Colette, in London today — by a chameleon, a creature that is magnificently conveyed to us in all its forms, affecting intrinsically this story and being affected in turns BY it, affecting the artist and his art but his art also then affecting the chameleon, but not in a linear way. This alchemy of Aesthetic I sense is unique but feeding off past literature and past forms of Aesthetic. And vice versa. Medieval bestiaries, the Soho art scene, “spiky black-green leaves”, “the tang of iron”, “Surreality”, not surrealism, conveying better this book’s overlapping palimpsest of history and colour, being “nettled”, giving us this “free trip” to enjoy, well free once you’ve bought the book, rooms and buildings adumbrated to suit like chameleons themselves, and so much more I could quote or reference of the Ravissante, Aickman retrocausally become Machen become Corrick, its Arcimboldo of the Spirit. (Samuel Fisher recently wrote a first novel entitled ‘The Chameleon” (reviewed here) vis à vis book’s fiction and non-fiction, a book itself being its actual narrator. This Corrick (published simultaneously) inadvertently apotheosises parts of that, too, or vice versa, but Corrick does it with painting and art, an even more formidable task than Fisher’s. Other than the title, there is very little resemblance or comparison between the two works. But worth serendipitising, as I have just done.)

AMEN by Quentin S. Crisp
“; joy must not become intemperance.”
I have followed QSC fiction for years, and I sense this as some epiphany to expunge purgatory or ‘acedia’, an ornately calligraphic or painterly illumination — in a ‘chamber’ as a monkish version of Insole’s Den — of the word AMEN, as the clincher of some faith or lack of faith, or a hybrid that is neither. Another “keepsake”, following the envied vellum and leather indelibiities adumbrated by the Corrick work, plus words containing colours like those in Pflug (plus gold and silver), and words like ‘scriptorium’ and ‘abertive’ or, earlier in this book, “Rastafarian” and “Paludamentum”, amid now the spiky ‘thorns’ and ‘spinis’, the ‘wingéd’ (wingèd) and ‘belovéd’ (belovèd). And it seems significant to my view of this book’s crystallising gestalt that here you can see me trying to effectively ‘illuminate’ this arguably core-seminal and/or valedictory QSC work after it has already been bound in a book. Just as the protagonist is doing within it to the word AMEN! In The Beginning Was Logos. But Who Let Amen Be The Ending?
My many previous reviews of QUENTIN S. CRISP: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/quentin-s-crisp/


  • [CHAMPAGNE CODA or COILED BONUS TRACK]
    XYSCHATON (A CHRONOLOGY MIX) by James Champagne
    “(as stealthily as an under-aged rent boy seeking the flat of a British MP in Dolphin Square in Pimlico)”
    Seems fitting to my earlier mention of the latest Jeremy Thorpe TV drama and this book’s dolphins and dauphins and dosed endorphins. Starting with a quote from ‘Forbidden Colours’, this Champagne follow up to AMEN has ‘Z’ as a narrative replacement for the first person singular pronoun. Seems apt when time travel as a concupiscent visit to an earlier and younger version of oneself can thus exonerate oneself, and hopefully can be exonerated, too, by Burroughs, William S., not Edgar Rice. Otherwise one might be raided by the Authorities for simply owning this story in a book. It is self-consciously non-linear or achronologic but Z still get the picture despite references to items of music that Z do not listen to, plus the mind-banging flow of words as if by the Creation Press James Havoc, aka James, not Champagne, but Williamson, aka Julian Hallett, not Hewelet, or like a similar flow of words by Mike Philbin, aka Hertzan Chimera, and the ‘boy ocean’ that Z drown in as if in beauty. Whichever way one looks at it, the concept is staggering. (Possibly, a ‘girl ocean’, in the case of any character written by Chimera?)
    Well, Z am the first person singular reading this coruscating work, not Z who am in it. The Z as a letter-design is like what Z want to do to a much younger version of ‘myself’ in the story. Think about it.
    My previous encounter with JAMES CHAMPAGNE: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2016/06/18/marked-to-die/#comment-7468
     
    Xyschaton as the new Eschaton?

This Coiled Coda is arguably a loose cannon. It shall be left to you to decide whether it enhances this great book, or otherwise. Only time – and triangulation by sufficient readers – can give sufficient hindsight and perspective, whichever way you zig or zag it.
This book is a literary landmark, whatever.


      
 

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Best British Short Stories 2015

Best British Short Stories 2015


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Series editor NICHOLAS ROYLE
(My previous reviews of this writer are linked from HERE)

SALT PUBLISHING
(My previous reviews of this publisher are HERE)

Featuring stories by: Hilary Mantel, Jenn Ashworth, Helen Simpson, Charles Wilkinson, Rebecca Swirsky, Jonathan Gibbs, Matthew Sperling, Julianne Pachico, Katherine Orr, Bee Lewis, Helen Marshall, Uschi Gatward, Emma Cleary, Alison Moore and Neil Campbell.
I hope to gestalt real-time review this book over the next few months in the comment stream below…

22 thoughts on “Best British Short Stories 2015

  1. The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher August 6th 1983

    HILARY MANTEL
    “I’m here for your sightlines. I don’t care about your affinities.”
    A miracle of a story, where the reading eyes are mishmashed by a misangled door to Narnia or somewhere next door and back again, a bourgeois sash window to shoot a bespoke gun through, and demerara in a hot drink as sugar. It was a boilerman in disguise as an IRA gunman, or vice versa, a resonating crystallisation of the ‘The Good Terrorist’ by Doris Lessing (just opportunely and accidentally real-time reviewed in the last week or so: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2018/04/02/the-good-terrorist-doris-lessing/) and a perfect description of this part of London, full of itself as itself on the page, the believable affinity between him and the possibly batty woman whose flat is to be used by him as a lethal sight-line, the whole world outside, it seems, being a network of his colluding PALS, to shoot down the toddling handbagger after her own sight-line has been operated on in the hospital, the hospital’s frontage being overlooked from the woman’s sash window. Remember that occasion? She left the hospital, as we watched her bid goodbye to a line of nurses and doctors, and rejoice we said, just rejoice. Rejoice at this story.
    “They may have been blind at the end, but their eyes were open when they went into it.”
    My previous reviews of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/hilary-mantel/
  2. Lucky

    JULIANNE PACHICO
    “The man’s face suddenly becomes a mass of deeply ingrained lines. He isn’t old or wrinkled but his face is still cracked with deep splits, as if only just recently patched together.”
    Stay-at-home girl, with her Star Wars Books, while her family go away for the weekend, well-characterised adolescence of her in an inscrutable Latin American type place, supposedly with Angelina a servant-like woman who sometimes gives unwelcome touches, like the male stranger (part of whose description I’ve given in a quote above): perhaps they are the same person? Both trying to get in, beyond the locks the girl has turned against them. The electricity generator now stopped, Other insidious haunting hints of guerillas etc. An impending societal dislocation. I almost imagined, hope against hope, that she would be rescued. Ah, it’s Luke Skywalker, so rejoice! But that may be my wishful reading between the lines on my part? A sinister and memorable read, whatever the case. With ominous blanks.
    “The computers in the office seem like medieval relics. The screens stare at her, blank and impassive as grey-faced children asking for coins at traffic lights.”
  3. 4CB92797-3FE4-47D4-87A5-86DBFA8698B5

    The Iron Men

    BEE LEWIS
    “There is something comforting about seeing my shadow stretching out in front of me,…”
    There is so much of me in this wonderful ‘dying fall’ story. That shadow. The beachcombing. The dislike of dogs. Although not a teacher nor into chemistry or physics, I can empathise with my dispersal at the end of my life into chemicals, my consciousness evaporating amid the stars, even my gestalt real-time reviews, after my demise, awaiting de-Wifing, a withering of WiFi and eventually widowed Wife? But thankfully I won’t be in that long line of men standing at the sea’s edge, each with their bespoke burden of deserved or undeserved guilt. I did not allow my hatred, yes, hatred, not mere dislike, of dogs, to diminish. That thin end of the wedge that this story’s protagonist allowed. Nor his chemistry-physics stoicism regarding “‘mud sticks”. A heart-rending poignancy in this story. But that is where it will remain, for its endless posterity of future readers to feel and then leave there for others to do the same. Be Lewis, indeed, I say. Honey trap, or not.
  4. Festschrift

    JONATHAN GIBBS
    “A combination of gaucheness and verve that would have been disarming, if I hadn’t already been thoroughly, comprehensively disarmed, dismembered, irradiated.”
    A highly sophisticated choreography of sexual and academic/business or conference politics that should be completely over my head. But it was not. It was as if I have become part of some archetypal social-literary symphony of words that flowed slickly, wittily, cynically, stoically, words from the POV of this woman about her ex-husband and her now terminally ill mentor Leonard and the bloke she met in an unmagical outside area held over for cigarette smokers at this particular conference. The conference for her mentor’s eponymous swansong. Seeking her life’s optimal anchor.
    My previous review of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2018/02/18/best-british-short-stories-2014/#comment-12204
  5. Five Thousand Lads a Year

    JENN ASHWORTH
    “Lazy get.”
    But get it does (see the end of my review below)?
    The get being by a professional writer who gets not 5,000 but 20,000 hits on the website of writing and has a flat in Andalusia, who, like a primary school teacher, can enchant even difficult cases with story-telling and poetry and nifty moral tales. Here the difficult case is a prisoner segregated while awaiting anger management. Just one more lad out of 5,000 such cases a year, with not one failure for this writer.
    Not even this hardest case of all is a failure, because, later in emergency hospital after hunger strike, I infer that he wrote this very story by empathising that he was the teacher who had cured him. Who else would write ‘lazy get’ amid the rest of the stylish prose?
    That’s my theory, anyway. Hope it’s not a spoiler for this story, but just its happy ending..
  6. 611C9030-B128-4A89-B51A-8413B01CD3AE

    LS Lowry/ Man Lying on a Wall

    NEIL CAMPBELL
    “All my life I’ve sat at desks in front of a computer in warm offices surrounded by women.”
    You as safety elf.
    Which side to fall off the wall?
    The river one side, or the road the other?
    Sherwood as a forest of matchstick men.
    A work break.
    A deadpan deadsnap corporate horror
    Wanting you to make this free verse,
    Rather that staying imprisoned
    By a lifetime plotted by fiction.
    My previous reviews of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/neil-campbell/
  7. Lightbox

    EMMA CLEARY
    “I do some work at my laptop until the light from the screen is the only light coming from inside the room.”
    Watching Elsie. Living with her. Evocatively conveying images of the town, the blocks with yellow squares of others’ life outside the apartment where they both live. Always at least half-lit by the hotel shining though the windows. Following her life, her blog entries, her Facebook friends, keeping the narrator’s eye open for her well-being, sitting in the coffee shop, then watching her again at their home, as she dresses, say, for a night out. I have a theory he is her on-line follower. As I am his? And thus hers, too. The words are backlit.
  8. Green Boots’ Cave

    JIM HINKS
    0B101718-3D74-4E2E-8819-15F92E3954B2”This is a vivid and complex dream of your whole life, in real-time, from your birth, right up until where you are now —“
    This story only makes sense if you gestalt real-time review it. Then it makes awesome sense. It is as if it was written purely to be subject to this review. And it is also as if I started #GestaltRealTimeReviewing ten years ago purely to experience what has now turned out to be one of the world’s truly great stories that reaches its peak simply because that peak is there — a synergy just ignited in real-time and in retrocausality simultaneously. Henceforth to be known (no longer gratuitously) as the Green Boots’ Cave Syndrome. Or the ManLyingOnAWall Syndrome?
  9. The Clinic

    USCHI GATWARD
    “Has he been questioned before, I wonder, about branded goods on people found (alive?) in the woods, in caves?”
    Caves, indeed. The growing number of Green Boots Caves all over our land. More and more coded fiction like the inscrutable Lucky by Pachico. They hide in this book, aliens not humans, hiding tins of sardines like a game they play with our authorities, doctors and social workers who do not spot their hidden-in-plain-sight precocious children. A brand of survivalism fiction as an ironically positive Ligottian anti-natalism? No, it is a deadpan-true SF, more like, that certain ‘readers’ attracted to this book will fully understand and act upon.
  10. May the Bell Be Rung For Harriet

    TRACEY S ROSENBERG
    “I was always a slight girl, but I had a way with strange children,”
    The strange child in the previous story, hidden in plain sight or, if visible, rarefied, here Harriet little more than a child herself, as a slightness for slightness, as a child Governess for other children and as this story’s gossamer ghost writer or narrator, to keep tidy and combed and suitably garbed a slightly younger girl, as tidy as her father’s high standards dictated.
    “I flailed ineffectually with a net, jumped until my arms ached, and despaired ever to understand how the dark and heavy things flew.”
    Only in this book can such a story not float or flutter away before you read it. No wonder it was chosen for reprinting. My own hymenal hawler or dreamcatcher now in play to keep Harriet herself also tidily intact within it.
  11. Strong Man

    HELEN SIMPSON
    ‘It hurts,’ I said. ‘Paintballing.’
    No wonder she needed her knee fixing. The precision of mending a fridge freezer, the precision of knee surgery, the strength of Putin, the strength of the immigrant Russian contracted to mend the fridge freezer (he lives in Brentwood), the anal retentiveness of her husband currently elsewhere (she a successful businesswoman, he an insecure historian currently studying ancient Mesopotamia, with three daughters, now her step-daughters, she his second wife (at home today for a a change to deal with domestic matters rather than her husband), his first wife having died), and history is lies, the Russian man thinks, as he finally mends the fridge freezer. She needs to write notes on what was precisely wrong with the fridge freezer for her husband’s future reference. Very telling. Makes me think anew about the fiction of history, the sliding scales of geography and its backstories, about sexual politics and the truth of fridge-freezers and of fiction. The paintballing of or as life. And the need to meticulously retell a story like this to make sure you understand it. Well, at least to know what it tells, if not why it tells it. Poking into the hole to clear the anus of food clogging it.
  12. Voice Over

    MATTHEW SPERLING
    “Yes, well, I don’t know, someone sent me a book, it was a whole book about Dieter and his movies, and in it there was a whole two pages about this one shot.”
    The voice is over, indeed, a premonition in 2015, of Weinstein and MeToo.
    Disgrace and redemption as an omelette, the journey towards the amazon god and book pimping. And a transcripted recording of a mutual interview between two participants in a cinema film about to be relaunched. Their tangents and backstories in the sometimes negative synergy of their memories’ single panning shot, ten seconds of vision spread out into two lifetimes.
  13. The Lake Shore Limited

    K J ORR
    “She was hauling herself one step at a time with the help of the rail. He took her in: the roomy, low-cost, middle-American clothing. The hair, which must be grey or even white, dyed caramel and coaxed into a wave.”
    Three gratuitous journeys, except the main male protagonist only counts in twos. This is the story of three couples in chance encounters here with all the accoutrements of travel, and chance glances, chance decisions, all towards a single gestalt of unintended intent. The woman Joanie on the eponymous train through America in this British book, her thinking of a late husband. That is the first journey of two. The second journey of two is the main protagonist — with whom Joanie takes up, as part of the view of clouds outside the train’s window, one that we can all share wherever we are — and he, that protagonist, thinks about a memory sitting by his (soon to be late?) wife’s hospital bed and then a more distant memory on board an aeroplane with that same wife, the aeroplane no doubt carving through those same clouds? And the third journey of two is the young couple with whom he and Joanie meet up in the restaurant car of the eponymous train, and share chance small talk beyond their own recent chance small talk together as previous strangers. The twist at the end is that this protagonistic train journey itself was somehow destined to be more of a chance decision than any of the others. An immediate memory of his hospital visit or vigil (a vigil unfinished?) but a memory clouded by a different distance than that of time. Very telling in a gestalt of a detached alien’s cloudy view of humanity that this book seems to be cumulatively harbouring. No protagonism at all, in actual ironic fact. Despite my revelation of the existence of a plot twist, there are no spoilers of the story in this review of it.
  14. The First Day

    TAMAR HODES
    “; a buddleia attracting butterflies;”
    A tale of a mother and her daughter, on the eponymous first day. The feeling of starting afresh with the skills one has already learnt to try out, both meeting the challenges of this unaccustomed departure from each other, and a new path that most of us will have taken, given independent fate’s nodding us through when the time comes. And this book’s butterflies again, now barely beyond being hidden in plain sight.
  15. Go Wild in the Country

    ALAN McCORMICK
    “When they came back later they were laughing like coyotes, running up and down the paths in purposeful patterns as if creating a topographic maze together, one only seen by them or by an imaginary bird hovering overhead.”
    Another institution to which some of us go when independent fate nods us through on a half-chance it may do us good. Here, Tom works as staff, but fraternises with the damaged inmates, one called Nadine. With a larger than life session together – in the fields around the institution – with magic mushrooms. Has the decided feel of the late 1970s – backed up by entertainment references of the day. A feel of that imaginary alien again, disguised here as an imaginary bird hovering overhead, watching, nodding meaningfully, but not learning a lot from us, almost feeling sorry for us and for our pains and interactions and blurry demarcations lines.
    “There we sit together barely speaking, my brain slowing, settling, but still flickering connections, wondering if hers are making the same ones…”
  16. Secondhand Magic

    HELEN MARSHALL
    “He glanced at me underneath a fan of handsome eyelashes, quick as a bird.”
    Having read this author before, I have high expectations for this story. It indeed has FLAIR. It flows like magic. It has this book’s earlier independent fate that nods us thorough life, stoical, make do and mend, expectant of the worst, and the worst does happen, but do we truly recognise it when it comes, or do we see it as a happiness, turning us in and out of existence, even changing our name at a whim? A snowman in a chimney hat. A close-knit township called Hollow. A stuttering boy who wanted to be a magician but, on the occasion of his show, the second choice volunteer he summons from the audience makes HIM vanish instead of the other way round. And now I do this to the story itself. Bish. Bosh. Gone. It was a secondhand reprint in this book, anyway. A bad sister story of its good sororal source. Flowed so magically, it hardly touched the sides of my mind. And that ended the story even before it began. Magic, indeed. Its own stated expectations thwarted. And my own review of it tantalisingly dreamcaught upon itself.
    My previous reviews of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/helen-marshall/
  17. Fresh Water

    CHARLES WILKINSON
    “Apparently it had once been thought that line-management structures should be linear;”
    Fiction, too. Now no longer any linear fiction, along with fresh water. This story (as controlled wilfulness with a densely packed audit trail of sane extrapolations disguised as absurdisms) of a boys’ school, once of the old school, a school that becomes sodden with the AICKMAN AMICABLE genre, here coming to terms, literally, with modernising and with the undrownworthy drought of its nearby river called Ver; a series of bureaucratic management changes from linear to conical regarding boys’ behaviour and cross-country practicals and academic subject dissemination. Not a satire so much in favour of our past traditions but more relishing the finding of things in the river of history as Aickman found things in similar circs, as he told us in his THE RIVER RUNS UPHILL. The characters of the two old fogey teachers are worthy of my own river. Brilliantly portrayed. And the visual arrows on the page are like passing birds looking cynically sidewise down at us. Just look at the line-managing of those fat but fleet arrows. The particular squamous thing from the river that one boy picks up is sort of representative of this story itself or of its imputed gestalt-reviewer’s mind, I think. To be put on your mantelpiece till when it or you first dries out finally.
    My many other reviews of this author: HERE
  18. The Common People

    REBECCA SWIRSKY
    “They worked in lines of fours and fives, in synchronicity and in breathtaking speed, as though performing well-rehearsed movements.”
    By means of a Biblical-style flow of narration, we hear of the town common around which the people have already set their roots, presumably for generations. Then a set of travellers arrive on the common, at first in dribs and drabs, then in fuller force of numbers, beginning to set up new structural roots. By devious political means, the original common people get the new ones removed. But one wonders whether the ‘original’ common people were all that original to the place themselves! A premonition in 2015 of some of the issues surrounding Brexit. And which original common people had their own Cinderellas with slippers to slip on or off depending with whom or with what they had been courting fate across illicit bridges, between which common markets or communities. The only originals being animals and other non-human nature endemic to the land.
  19. Eastmouth

    ALISON MOORE
    “She sees, in the molten wax around the wick of the candle, an insect. Sonia picks up her fork, aiming the handle into this hot moat. She is an air-sea rescue unit arriving on the scene to lift the insect to safety. Carefully, she places the insect on a serviette…”
    Swirsky’s common people are advancing again, I guess, as Sonia herself becomes the insect, with no hope of air-sea rescue. Not by common law, but a real arranged marriage impending at this atmospheric, typically threatening seaside resort. Among the common people, her intended’s parents, a token woman in a transparent mackintosh, a tribute Elvis act from a tribute Las Vegas setting, even Cannon and Ball.
    My previous reviews of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/alison-moore/
  20. The Tourists

    JULIANNE PACHICO
    “He doesn’t see us, but we’re watching. We’ve been doing so for a while now. We didn’t get any greetings, no gentle air kiss near the cheek, no firm pumping handshake, but that’s okay, we don’t take it personally, we don’t mind. Instead we take our time, take things slow:”
    This work seems to be the core of this book. Those deadpan alien watchers, like birds or baloo monkeys, or a wounded peacock, or his old friends with old people’s diseases, or someone who has lost a flip flop like that slipper was lost in Swirsky. Like them but NOT them. WE are this book’s watchers. Or that flip flop he’s found probably belongs to his feisty young daughter, whom he can’t currently find amid this house party, an unforgettable gathering meticulously and tactilely conveyed, in Latin America. With impending threats like the threats of those common people in Swirsky and Moore. Or political threats. Cannon and ball again, that the tourists like as much as jell-o?
  21. Worlds From the Word’s End

    JOANNA WALSH
    “You told me you preferred your women quiet. You wanted to increase your word power? Trouble is, you didn’t know your own strength.”
    “We’d taken ourselves at our word, literally: so that, in everyday speech the supermarket became ‘that big shiny thing where you buy other things’, your house, ‘the building one block from the corner, count two along’.”
    That man recurrently counts to two again! This is a coda to the book, a coda that I fail to understand. Everything has been changed much in so few years, including Brexit and Trump, since this story was published. It must have been fair warning, though. If we could all go back in time and so understand it better, we would be able to help alter the world’s course. The diminuendo of nouns, then doing words, then… Presumably, not enough of us read it when we first had the chance, but we try to read it now, as I just did. And we don’t now have the words ready to replace the words it told us were missing, missing from the usage by us common people. A different story if we had only read it THEN.
    “The last time I saw you we spent days walking around my city. The only voices we heard were foreign: tourists or immigrant workers. You spoke their language but only I could understand the silent natives.”
    The silence that starts after the end of every book. There will always be one book that will be the last one you ever finish reading. Let’s hope it is this one. Or that it isn’t. Depends on hindsight. Or on those who watch as alien outsiders, watching us common people.
    end