Sunday, October 16, 2016

Rule Dementia! by Quentin S. Crisp

16 thoughts on “Rule Dementia! by Quentin S. Crisp

    “Behind him a strange man, a tramp perhaps, was hovering in the small passage. It must have been Stephen’s cold, or some trick…”
    Jellyfish almost has an assonance with Jesus. This is pure flowing Crisp prose of the most vintage quality despite its presumably more youthful source. It is a text that, at first, I kept my distance from as a religion even though as a fiction it held me close – and I genuinely marvelled at its religious accoutrements and transformations based on the screeds that tell of The Jellyfish – and, later, I began to lap it up as a beautiful religion floating upon or within an equally beautiful hoax. Until I reached the miraculous end and I found myself along an unexpected Road to Damascus where disbelief at a final outcome or message of a religion or fiction somehow allows complete faith in the rest of it. Well, it worked here.
    I don’t think it is a spoiler to say this is “a gothic picaresque kitchen-sink novella of the Uncanny, Surreal and Absurd.” – because it tells you this before it begins proper….
    CHAPTER I: Something the Matter
    CHAPTER II: A Digression
    There is something charmingly weird about QSC works, self-consciously and empirically tortuous, too, and the need for a cup of tea to talk about it. A cup of tea brings me to ‘nostalgia’, also covered here, as we are introduced to Les (not his real name), and his engaging turn-up-anytime relationship with the narrator as they try to outdo each other with brainstorming small talk, and here we have bike rides, and Listening Folk in out of the way places, and, inter alia, the sexing of earwigs. But don’t let this put you off. In fact, the opposite. So far, this work promises some sort of apotheosis of the QSC mind-set as if QSC’s often more complexly textured work since ‘The Haunted Bicycle’ seems to be constructively and exponentially back-pedalling towards a literary nostalgia for it.
    I may be wrong.
    • CHAPTER III: Daytime TV
      CHAPTER IV: Really Serious
      When I heard about the comparison to dowsing of the so-called Haunted Bicycle’s antics of sharp unwanted turns of its handlebars, I thought of my own dreamcatcher (that I have already compared to a dowser) twitching autonomously in my reviewing-hand. It is twitching now over this unputdownable novella (although I do intend to put it down and eke it out), a serious-hilarious side to this relationship of Les and the narrator, an affectionate reference to the habits of the unemployed, cups of tea as Dutch courage, ginger haired people, a laugh with Lassie, all, for me, pure dowseable QSC, especially when the pair of them hear spoken words about the subject matter of their own conversations near where an underground river emerges into the outside, — and other experiments involved sussing the hauntedness of the bike, behaviour that reminds me of Laurel and Hardy, perhaps, like Lassie, on Daytime TV, a phenomenon that I think someone in this book hints brings you nearer Heaven…?
      All God’s Angels, beware!
      • CHAPTER V: Old Letters
        “The mackerels had come! The mackerels with their lugubrious eyes and their slippery stripes! / I hardly move as they climbed through in through the window and hoisted me on their shoulders.”
        That bit is as if straight from John Cowper Powys, except Powys’ version was probably tench. This is marvellous stuff in its own right, meanwhile, as Q the narrator shares with us his letters with Les, an erstwhile relationship not to sneeze at.
        But vis à vis the haunted bicycle…
        “…and it is this achronology more than the possibility of any prescience that disturbs me.”
        • CHAPTER VI: Under English Skies
          CHAPTER VII: The Testimony of the Bloke in the Garage
          “Anyway, everything’s mad really, isn’t it?”
          Proof’s in time’s pudding with Trump and Brexit? Anyway, everything here is not mad, (Rule Dementia?), although it SEEMS mad quite a bit of the time. The bike continues to remind me of my literary dreamcatcher or hawler or dowser or träumtrawler, leading to apparently random but retrospectively significant places and things, such as, in these two chapters, to echoes of earlier themes like ginger haired people and earwigs, and to a transformer in the woods with the sign “danger of death”. And to a “bloke” with knowledge, as lots of blokes do have knowledge, sometimes knowledge about this so-called madness. But, then again, “I kept thinking maybe I’m making a lot of this up, or making connections between things when there is no connection.”
          • CHAPTER VIII: Personal
            CHAPTER IX: The Taste of Ashes
            “If a wardrobe comes to life it can only be for evil purposes; it can only be part of some plot, some great nightmare revolt…”
            Wardrobes or cement-mixers. In cahoots with the Listening Folk, this plot is that nightmare revolt – or vice versa. A dream diary within a dream diary? The nature of the narrator’s persecution complex continues to remind me constructively and separately of the nature of the mysticism in John Cowper Powys, particularly his ‘The Inmates’ and ‘The Glastonbury Romance.’ Books that have long haunted me, just as this one has begun to pedal the literary bike inside me, too. No greater compliment can you give than comparison with excellence. Albeit an excellence that eats away at itself to make it seem less so.
  3. CHAPTER X: Jeepers, Creepers, Ouija Get Those Peepers?
    CHAPTER XI: While the Tide Comes In
    “The great weakness of man comes from his unbending sense of what is absurd and what is realistic. The world is divided by a veil. Beyond the veil mackerel and earwigs are mobilising, pebbles are holding orgies, we are a laughing stock. On this side of the veil animals are mute, rocks on pavements are silent and still.”
    And Les and the narrator hold a séance. Reading about it, I wonder which side of the veil their sitting is sitting on. Affectionate cups of tea, cigarettes that end in ashes, unemployed friendships, perhaps are on the cusp. Meanwhile, another part of these chapters remind me of me, something that has long been summed up by this: [[From the cosmic point of view, to have opinions or preferences at all is to be ill; for by harbouring them one dams up the flow of the ineluctable force which, like a river, bears us down to the ocean of everything’s unknowing. Reality is a running noose, one is brought up short with a jerk by death. It would have been wiser to co-operate wih the inevitable and learn to profit by this unhappy state of things – by realising and accommodating death! But we don’t, we allow the ego to foul its own nest. Therefore we have insecurity, stress, the midnight-fruit of insomnia, with a whole culture crying itself to sleep. How to repair this state of affairs except through art, through gifts which render to us language manumitted by emotion, poetry twisted into the service of direct insight]]
    from ‘The Avignon Quincunx’ by Lawrence Durrell (‘Constance’ 1982)
    And there is is more Powysian cosmic connections, say, between souls and stars, and this section from Powys’s ‘The Inmates’ (another green coloured book like Rule Dementia!) seems definitely on one side of the veil and not the other: [[And it seemed to him as if the word ‘constitute’ were a giant crane that had the power of seizing upon him and hoisting him up to heaven. Not unkindly nor clumsily was it ready to hoist him the moment he wished to be hoisted. It hadn’t intruded on him. It wasn’t pushing itself forward. It had nothing in common with a bulldozer. It was just there, ready and able to hoist, anxious to hoist, but with no intention of hoisting until required by the hoisted. Mr. Lordy began to feel faintly sleepy. ‘Not quite yet,’ he told the great being whose name was ‘constitute’ — ‘I’m not quite ready to be hoisted; but I soon shall be — constitute — constitute — constitute.’]]
    • CHAPTER XII: Orgasmic Climax
      CHAPTER XIII: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Doss House
      “…this the unbearable absurdity.”
      Having lived with these two unemployed characters with one of them riding ‘backy’ to the other, rolling ‘baccy ‘, too. And getting Dutch Courage from cups of tea. Well, I don’t know about Shock-Headed Peter, I’m Shock-Headed Reader, their silent friend, whispering and listening as we went as a trio through this utterly undidactic story, absurdity for its own sake, Bosch as Bosch, in the wood, trackside shelter, no ulterior motive, just a swathe of literary aberration, aberrant in the fact there is no excuse for it. No value at all, other than to pass an hour or so of useless time. Not even escapism, as it worries you that you might be wasting so much time. Agonising whether to abort it of not. But I have not only read every word and weighed them, but written about them here! The apotheosis of something with no beginning and no end, and there can be no argument with that. Just the overdue re-enacted real-time handlebar-twitching free-wheeling seemingly endless pedal-free legs-wide daredevil accelerative bike-ride down the steepest hill near my childhood home towards expected death. That and undeserving pride.
    “There is a certain pub in London which seems to exist more as a rumour than a concrete reality. Once in a while, according to the rhythms of some unknown calendar, the existence of the public house seems to coincide with the existence of whoever is seeking it, and ways that previously seemed to conceal themselves now lead plainly there.”
    I know that same pub. It appeared in my 2011 novel, ‘Nemonymous Night’, and now I know that this 2005 published story by QSC (previously unread by me) was written for this real-time review in 2016. It relentlessly asks itself, you see, in its final series of epiphanies, the question about the identity for whom it is written. Otherwise, what is it?
    It is a wonderful work, one that affects me deeply and reminds me of parts of me over the centuries; it is the un-didacticism of ‘The Haunted Bicycle’ made meaningful and purposeful, miraculously without falling into the sin of didacticism itself. The protagonist has a persecution complex, and visionary mystic qualities of Powys, but it has its own discrete and unique power of self-inquisition layered with a nostalgic hankering for the retro-idealised England of his childhood and his mother, and now with his mother’s coming close to his unexpected, and for him, undeserved girl friend, there seems to be a nightmarish subsidence of his confidence, even to the extent of this girl friend exploiting his beloved cello…
    Yes, his cello in shape and timbre, a significant item, sometimes playing the music of a real composer I have incredibly never heard of (incredible because I thought I had heard of all composers), a composer named (Erich) Urbanner, and the cello takes on a mystical quality – and now, as it were, tainted. But earlier it was like unwinding intestines even when he played it for her. A strange name she has – Tommy – because she was a tom-boy as a younger girl.
    A text where Tommy shares intimacy with his hopelessness, failure, and he can’t quite believe it that anyone of such seemingly unreachable beauty could possibly have him as a boy friend, and his later epiphanal subsidence is all the greater for that.
    A yearning for normality. A conversation with her on a country walk, a conversation – like The Haunted Bicycle – without beginning or end, only middle. Music a language without words. Childhood terrors. Naive questionings of the behaviour of others. All sensitively conveyed.
    I hope I have assuaged some of the feelings that fill this story with inconsolable anguish, assuaged them in real-time with a review that now has, I am confident, moved (at least and not too late) towards the corner of Zugzwang’s eye.
    Pages 157 – 182
    As compelling so far as SADO-GA-SHIMA, and that’s saying something, this is another travel document or gazetteer (here, Taiwan) and it possibly gives lazy non-holiday people like me more of the sensation of being somewhere than BEING there. This is interwoven with the protagonist Paul’s sexual habits and thoughts, and the intriguing female image he uses for onanistic purposes, together with all manner of tensions wanton and spiritual – and a double-dealing turned singular and honourable – literary memories that will remain with me more strongly than do those from many other more famous literary books than this one seems to have so far become. Literature is not fair. (I’m listening to Bob Dylan singing as I write this.)
      • Pages 182 – 218
        “He felt like one of the squidgy, crumpledup tissues that he had scattered across the floor of the flat.”
        I sense that Paul’s top-floor flat is the central force in this story, but that is only a hunch on my part, just as that inscrutable pub in Zugzwang was that story’s, too. Can there possibly be a plot spoiler about the slow build up and ‘fulfilment’ of a Zugzwank that this story turns out to be, a withdrawal of deliberation or not rushing, by means of real-time slow-motionIng, the decisive moment – as central to the art of successfully Zugzwanking, I guess. Delaying the climax, and thus daring, in some form of Zeno’s Paradox, to not take up one’s forced right to make a move first before all erupts prematurely…
        This text is full of those delays and schisms for full ripeness of Zugzwank to mature. Images of the eponymous subject of this process in her various stances and garb, geometrical domes of knickers etc, close scrutiny of words like ‘fulfilment’, ‘homunculus’, ‘synchronicity’ and ‘girl’*, then being in a sort of frightening Eyes Wide Shut type street Carnival with memories of the earlier ghost money, puppeteer, and other mystic figures named in this text, ultra-Powysian visions and computer trailbacks. I could go on and on, including more Taiwanese gazetteering. And tracks with no beginning and end making circles around first causes….
        (There are a few mock fulfilments of the Zugzwank along the way, but they turn out to be false starts to make the final and only fulfilment that much the greater spoutiing, but you will only know whether this is a genuine plot spoiler or not, if you manage to clinch reading it to the end … if it does have an an end.)
        *”The hard ‘g’ dangles its legs out of the skirts of the word. The ‘ir’ in the middle is full of fuzz and bubbles. Then comes the clean, virginal ‘l’ at the end.”
    (the whole of this novella has been read in one amazing sitting, but with my still waiting – as well as ever hawling it, the only work where I feel a hawler actually appears, i.e. as the narrator in the found manuscript that QSC quotes in full, which might mean that QSC himself is a hawler?)
    “This stench seemed to emanate from the pit or pool that took up most of the floor space. In this pit something black stirred vaguely…”
    With the word ‘stench’, I wonder if this something stirring is the tench I mentioned earlier in this review. I urge linking to my post here in 2012 where JCP’s ‘Is it a Tench?’ is discussed:
    The found manuscript is written by Brendan who lost his parents in a car accident and resultant fire, and he is a banker (not the previous work’s wanker!)
    He has many of the traits, alienations and persecutions of earlier protagonists in this book, though, and he is led by his manager into a part of the bank that is more than just a bullion cellar, in fact a maze-like Lovecraftian vision, but supremely in excess of any such visions, as you will find out for yourself, if you have not already read it. This journey leads to all manner of horrific scenes, mystic references and implications filtered through a sense of the existentially absurd. The concept of Waiting seems important to me and fits in with the earlier circles of no beginning and end – and first causes – together, toward the end, with a dire list of ills besetting humanity, to which now should be added the eternally irresolvable Brexit? “the eternal jackboot paradox of life and death.” “Empty lies and terrible truth.”
    The whole experience for the reader, as I imagine it, is like this novella’s own ‘pulse starting in the neck’ – the initial evidence that I am not dead, as it wakes me…and “I was not sure if it were my vision or if I were its.”
    Although first published in 2005, I suspect the works in this book were written significantly at the turn of the millennium….
    “not the haggard despair”
    It is also about the land of the Missing, about the Land of Me, related to Haggard’s Land of She, or Elizabeth Bowen’s Mysterious Kôr….?
    You need to read (as I have) the whole of this book as well as all the still ongoing books by QSC that have since followed it over the near two decades since year zero, in order to see how this work — of Gawain and Rebecca, and conspiratorial outsider Ray(fish?), more Lovecraftian catacombs, (sometimes inverse or synaesthesic pareidolia of common objects in our world), and other floating tropes — is in itself AND ALONE the optimum expressed message to humanity from QSC. Thus, unmissable.
    I wonder if the use of the word ‘imminence’ twice towards the end of this work should have been ‘immanence’?
    And whether it is significant (or a spoiler?) to note that the whole of this book ends with the two word “he waits”?
    I use the word ‘unmissable’ advisedly.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Year’s Best Weird Fiction – Vol. 3

Year’s Best Weird Fiction – Vol. 3



Guest Editor: Simon Strantzas  —   Series Editor: Michael Kelly

Stories by Rebecca Kuder, Nadia Bulkin, Robert Shearman, Christopher Slatsky, Marian Womack, Brian Evenson, D.P. Watt, Kristi DeMeester, Robert Aickman, Brian Conn, L.S. Johnson, Michael Wehunt, Ramsey Campbell, Matthew M. Bartlett, Genevieve Valentine, Reggie Oliver, Tim Lebbon, Lynda E. Rucker, Sadie Bruce.

(To see any of my previous reviews of above authors, please click on the tags below.)

My previous Undertow Publications reviews HERE.

When I review this latest Year’s Best Weird, my comments will appear in the thought stream below.

21 thoughts on “Year’s Best Weird Fiction – Vol. 3

  1. RABBIT, CAT, GIRL by Rebecca Kuder
    “We will have no autumn this year. The season has been stolen, replaced by perpetual summer.”
    …which, on its own, came as a big shock to me, as when I conducted a story by story real-time review in 2011 of the VanderMeers’ massive THE WEIRD anthology (containing chosen stories of Weird Fiction to represent the last 100 years), I came eventually to the conclusion that these stories’ ultimate gestalt was Perpetual Autumn… so this is nothing but refreshing, a new page to turn, a clipped poetic prose, with self-admitted gaps, each a gap like that around the Cheshire Cat’s smile, of a narrator who seems to have returned in body or soul to a childhood rabbit, cats dead or not, having dowsed to find their burial spot — and spiders and the nature of the colour of fire, and what really did happen and whether a bigger burial spot needs dowsing. Dowsing is, for me, a bit like dreamcatching. But I will not dig, only dowse or hawl; I never properly dig in books or stories. for fear of spoilers beneath my spade.
    “–tiny shriveled kernels bounded their grotesquely swollen cousins like rings of baby teeth–”
    This second story has cats gone missing early on, too. Then, dogs. And the cob’s teeth. A meteor, a colour out of space, a genetic engineered sowing of the field, and I have never seen a marriage and its family disintegrate so successfully, all with literally gut-wrenching implications that cannot be told here. This is fast food narrative. It eats how it tells it as if it surprises itself with what it serves up. It left me quite devastated how I had not noticed its joins and how quickly it went. If a ten page tightly texted story is a sudden meteor itself, then this is it. Dare dig its ground no further.
  3. BLOOD by Robert Shearman
    “So long as he brushed his teeth before he kissed her, just in case any scraps of dead animal were sticking to them.”
    Somewhere in this story, I recall, the couple go to see some worthy film at a Paris cinema but ended up, by force of the story’s striking plot, with a romcom. I thought this otherwise well-written work in its first few pages felt like a romcom itself, but when I first learned the nature of the relationship between Donald and Chrissie, it became far more provocative for the likes of me. Then I thought that this page-turner (a bit crass to call anything a page-turner but this story genuinely is a page-turner) was becoming more like a very well-written version of a Pan Book of Horror Stories of the old school, not Weird Fiction as I understand it. But, by the end, I was convinced it is Weird Fiction after all and a gem of that genre to boot.
  4. I read and commented on the next story in my real-time review of the author’s collection and below is what I wrote about it then…
    [[ LOVELINESS LIKE A SHADOW by Christopher Slatsky
    “She’d been rash enough to enter a stranger’s home—she simply didn’t have her head screwed on right at the moment.”
    A thirty something woman sculptor, wrapped by a telling genius loci of cosmopolitan London, put her dog out of the boyfriend manger because he refused her a child even if perhaps she didn’t want one anyway. Create one. Bit like Duchamp out of the walls, the Jungianism of heads, the cosmopolitanship of veils as if beneath we are all one person, moulded from wordclay, as this story is. Impressed. Yes, definitely impressed like a connecting passage between walls. Why have I not got to this author before now? Now he’s got to me.
    “Simply the slight tweak of the predetermined. All set in stone.” ]]
  5. ORANGE DOGS by Marian Womack
    “And then came the eternal autumn,…”
    A darkly rhapsodic tale of what I take to be a future Cambridge, with its backs and colleges, one that tells of a form of climate change, flooding, and swollen insects as a result, orange dogs being huge butterflies to match the colour of the man’s marmalade he barters for information as to their whereabouts, and swollen bellies of the pregnant, well, one in particular woman to whom the man, her husband, tends, with paid help, as he maps the swollen rivers as part of his job. The words, too, are swollen with poignant meaning, of his previous lost baby son, and now, I sense the hint that reality has more than just reality in it in these future days, the whimper of that previous loss still kept by the orange dogs? But whimper or not, the waters swell again and he bikes home to cultivate his own garden, or at least tend to his wife and a real son, I hope. Haunting and half-engorged, a tale to savour.
  6. I real-time reviewed the next story when reading the ‘Aickman’s Heirs’ anthology and below is what I wrote about it then (as my real-time reviews are. intended to be based on the first reading of any work):
    [[ SEASIDE TOWN by Brian Evenson
    When Miss Pickaver said to Hovell, “I catch the train in an hour,” I somehow received a jolt that was bigger than when something more overtly horrific happens in some other stories, which I suppose is a compliment to this otherwise simply told story. Actually, I empathised with the male stick-in-the-mud protagonist, with a flighty female partner, each of whom called the other by surname. I sensed his humiliation as part of the horror accreting…
    The French town, the creepy hostelry, the dark shape seen from the balcony, the half-seen resemblances, the cinematic ‘Death-in-Venice’ like solitude he found himself enduring in face of the strange, half- or non-dressed other holidaymakers… Well, it somehow worked for me. ]]
  7. I real-time reviewed the next story when reading ‘The Soliloquy of Pan’ anthology and this is what I wrote about it then:
    [[ HONEY MOON by D.P. Watt
    “She leapt upon him from behind,…”
    A mildly amusing, but ultimately uninspiring, honeymoon story. A honeymoon to an outlying part of Scotland in a cronk of a car, where they plan to first consummate their marriage. ]]
  8. THE MARKING by Kristi DeMeester
    “Violet woke up with the bruises.”
    This inchoate spasm is almost as if an unintentional coda or supplement to Abigail in the previous ‘Violet’ story above, a girl, then woman, with transcendental visions of what lies behind the blood mapping her body, a shocking sacrifice by her own mother, perhaps, to expose her daughter to an even greater, seemingly inimical Mother that is at least part of herself (of themselves). A ‘demisting’ or demystifying of the man, father or ‘mister’ often portrayed as the stalker…?
    I imagine there are lots of these affecting personal-seeming spasms encouraged by the acceptance of exponentially emergent Weird literature these days, and this one happens to be the one that was chosen for this book. Not a random choice, but preternaturally meant to be.
  9. I read this story as part of THE STRANGERS Aickman book published by Tartarus Press and below is what I wrote about it then…
    [[ Date unknown, fifty-eight pages
    THE STRANGERS by Robert Aickman
    Pages 48 – 65
    “I set about the task of making everything more accurate, more coherent. / After all, the whole business goes far to explain the pattern of my life.”
    I know I said earlier above that I thought that an Aickman fan seeking in this book a new classic strange story by him would be disappointed. Well, I think I may have to eat my words. This is vintage Aickman, to my eyes, SO FAR, building up from a typically wondrously ‘dry’ formal meeting, laced with offish male friendship and tentative girl-hunting, and nice details (e.g. a tramcar with unique brakes). They arrive at a musical piano recital all so wonderfully foreshadowed and then further adumbrated with an Aickmanesquely diffident audience and eccentric hosts including a dumpy ‘girl’ called Vera out for the narrator’s friend. I’ve just reached the end of the interval and am poised for the second half of the recital by a pianist who, for me, may be based on a mutant version of John Ogdon, depending on when this story was written. The low girl count in the audience and the narrator’s crushed feet are bonus hootful moments for me. It is an absolutely perfect Aickman opening to this long story and I have high hopes for the rest. To be eked out and savoured.
    Page 66 – Actually, I’ve just been reminded that the piano recital was the first half, and a new act with conjuring tricks is about to start in the second half of the show.
    Pages 66 – 86
    “Most of the audience seemed still to be wiping their mouths very steadily and systematically after the refreshments, as older people do. One could see their arms moving rhythmically back and forth, when precious little else could be seen.”
    Shades of ‘The Hospice’ or its forebear: Mann’s ‘Magic Mountain’? Indeed, as we delve further into the middle pages of this discovered text, there are also shades of John Cowper Powys’ ‘Inmates’ that I have noticed in Aickman before, as we glimpse awkwardly disturbing scenes at the conjuring show and later backstage involving the narrator’s friend and the Vera person. Two scenes that will haunt you, I suggest, long after you finish with this text. And haunting, too, how they have awkward repercussions on the narrator’s love life thereafter, and the re-conflux of certain characters in an Italian Restaurant near Charlotte Street, I recall. At one moment strangely even naively disarming, at the next nightmarish, like vomit rising? A Sickman. Meanwhile, if Proust deals with a form of unrequited love, here Aickman deals with a version of it that somehow cloys rather than gives romantic pangs. This middle section also has more nice details, like the popcorn-eaters, as well as holding the promise of the first section.
    Pages 87 – 106
    “The crenellations were crumbling, and the elaborate stackpipes parting from their ornamental cramps.”
    I know the feeling! Anyway, as you can probably observe, I could not eke out nor savour slowly this work by Aickman. I was driven to read it in tantamount to one sitting, other than these intervals of writing about what I had read just after reading each section, including this final section. You will be relieved to hear, too, that it definitely fulfils its initial promise as a major Aickman work and I feel privileged to have read it before casting off my own shroud! It is definitely Powys influenced, Proustian, too, now with the simpering relationship with the narrator’s mother. The no man’s land between dream and non-dream is also conveyed brilliantly, as is revisited upon him his unrequited love, with a later final nightmarish vision of the two scenes – the ones that had disturbed him at the conjuring show and its aftermath – by following up the hearing of that pianist again in a building that is characterised so well by the stackpipes etc and its suburban ambiance. Further nice touches, too, of multi-paned sash-windows, his Dad’s clattering calculator, his own striped pyjamas and reading the whole of Sir Walter Scott in relation to this narration (except for the possible tiny bit of ‘text missing’ earlier on)!
    Please do not be put off by my puckish humour about ‘The Strangers’, for it is genuinely disturbing despite or because of its own strange puckish slants.
    I have placed myself on the line by writing this on my Facebook and elsewhere:
    Pleased to report that ‘The Strangers’ as a separate story within the new Tartarus Press book of the same name is a genuine major ‘strange story’ classic by Robert Aickman. Fifty-eight pages of it. ]]
    My previous on-line references to Aickman:
  10. THE GUEST by Brian Conn
    “: how long it has been since you have had anything worth failing to express!”
    This is an example of literary absurdism, one where there is almost a feel of word association – and synchronous cause and effect (in one respect retrocausal and often of global extent away from the claustrophobic house’s glamour dust and its officially pre-announced guest in writing), a creditable example of what I have long called ‘the synchronised shards of random truth and fiction’.
    I enjoyed it, a best of something, but the Best of a Year’s Weird Fiction? A broad church, indeed, so broad in this book it ceases to be a thing-in-itself at all? But a worthy book, one that wouldn’t have existed at all without being part of such a competitive eclectic ‘church’?
  11. I first read the next story in ‘Strange Tales V’ and below is what I wrote about it then:
    JULIE by L.S. Johnson
    “You profane me by loving me too much. Your virtues are the last refuge of my innocence.”
    This 18th century tale, replacing sorrow with ‘hot, dark fury’, both in its central character and in its writing, as if Lyssa is L.S. herself, running not only with the pack of dogs but also with that of the ‘sisters’, against those who use them.
    This is indeed a remarkable and furious tale, of Julie used as, inter alia, brothel bait, then by a real Jean-Jacques Rousseau both in Julie-body and Julie-book (the latter: The New Heloise). A lycanthropic rage that becomes the Noble Savage (or destroys him or her in the confessional process?) This is a Julie-story about a Julie-book. Endlessly scryable.
  12. I first read the next story in the author’s collection ‘Greener Pastures’ and below is what I wrote about it then:
    “Green growing on everything.”
    Not necessarily here the best green that nature can supply? This is another mighty text, as powerful as hell. A story of two oscillating halves in tentative synergy. Do not go lightly into this story. An ingeniously numinous poetic allusive elusive texture hiding hard nuggets of existence within it. A woman hears the atmospherics, as in Greener, of the ghost of the old black man opposite, his horn-playing jazz, his wife and a rite of passage when beaten himself till seeking refuge into the crawlspace of a square hole – with a tabby cat, perhaps. Or something else like a grave. Nothing will explain what I mean because nothing within it will explain what IT means. But you do simply KNOW it. As with the woman’s own rite of passage with her father’s real, life’s hard-knocks of a Faustian visit or another ghostly atmospheric visit as foil to the other more kindly one? Whatever the case, the ways her father once had with her echo on, almost now welcomed against the grain, it seems. Until both halves of the heart of this story slowly join together…till something living from it, a softer nugget, suddenly twitches inside you. Sometime you have to trust a reviewer not to spoil things or make them better than they are.
    Some stories have hidden stories inside, like cars.
    “Most folks wouldn’t have gone hauling themselves through the dirt toward that hole,…”
  13. Although deliberately telegraphed by the story from the start, there may be a plot spoiler in this review….
    FETCHED by Ramsey Campbell
    “Was this an accusation or a question that didn’t bother sounding like one?”
    As if this story is accusing me with that question. Calling ME ‘Pet’ because I’m getting old, already retired, but not as old, I reckon, as REAL old people who outcrowd hotels with their coach parties? This story is a hybrid in more ways than one, about a gradual Kafkaesque metamorphosis into a lost dog called Fetcher, AND a mixture of Conn’s earlier literary absurdism (with the deadpan acceptance, via a deadpan narrative of Horror tropes, like that of becoming lost and threatened, lost here among inimical bungalows and threatened by bungalow owners, a retired man and wife, looking for a lost countryside view that he once saw during his childhood – yes, a deadpan acceptance of preternatural patterns, like this story being the third ‘violet’ story in this book, Vio-let, let rhyming with pet, Val-LEY, “dogged resolve”, “stray”, “let it go” and more such patterns, plus an insidiousness and attrition of soul that heads towards an early “senility”), yes, a mixture of that Aickman-like deadpannness of disarming strangeness and literary absurdism WITH a traditional horror story that this work struggles through the gap in the fence to become.
    Treated in that way, it definitely morphs into a gem of Weird Fiction. Fetched from contriving into originality.
  14. I first read the next story in the author’s book CREEPING WAVES and below is what I wrote about it then:
    RANGEL by Matthew M. Bartlett
    “What Gaspar had lost was not as much a person as a mystery—the full person his sister was going to be… or, if she was alive somewhere, was.”
    This is a tour de force, worth the admission price alone, your joining Gaspar on his return trip to Leeds, Mass., where wxxt broadcasts with goats and other suppurations: a place that will figure like Lilliput, Barchester and Cranford will figure in your literary memories. He lost his sister Rangel one Halloween in Leeds where Halloween really WAS Halloween, or at lest it is NOW, you can imagine, but now he is a married man elsewhere, but goes back to Leeds to find his sister – and finds new Halloween nightmares and visions that will stay with you, and a ‘woman costume’ that those two words alone do nothing to convey what it is, and how easy or difficult it is to climb out of it, or climb out of this story. Thankfully a new channel is tuned into when this one slips its hold on the transmission band, upon your hearing a conversation through the static about sloppy noises at a funeral which may or may not be connected with Rangel, more a phone-in than anything else that I may have dreamt or thought I once heard read aloud in two different voices or one voice pretending to be two different voices. Enough to send you mad.
    “One of the dolls had violet eyes that have turned unnervingly pale. She can’t remember the colour of the doll’s eyes in the train car, long ago, no matter how hard she tries.”
    At least the fourth story in this book with ‘violet’ – but that is almost beside the point, with the intense entrancement that this work worked upon me, a quilt of encounters along a stitched track of rail towards its terminus by the sea as some blurred audit trail (including war bonds) of transformation or hauntedness, 20th century period encounters over years with a presumably unaccompanied small girl and her doll on a train, with fatalistic repercussions to those who encounter her, including eventually herself. Two of those encounters, as examples, feature the ‘common’ wife of a professor who needs to improve her vowels to match those of his posh family, and a door to door salesman who needs to disembowel his vowels in order to make his sales. This story, meanwhile, has the aura of Elizabeth Bowen (including wartime London) and I can give it no greater compliment. A major reading experience.
  16. THE ROOMS ARE HIGH by Reggie Oliver
    “, the sea pale blue; the whole suggested the delicate, light tones and meticulous detail of a Victorian watercolour.”
    The seaside town almost unchanged since you were at school there decades ago. A ‘Tales of the Unexpected’ type encounter with a Bed & Breakfast place (reputed to have ‘high rooms’, whatever that means), a traditional old-fashioned establishment with a dinner gong, a dowdy landlady or her daughter, and a single fixed resident, other than you. You who have recently finished suffering a prolonged and painful widowering, just getting over it. You were at school in this seaside town all those years ago, and one of the teachers, believe it or not, is still alive, a teacher the boys called Hoppy. (The B&B is called Happydene.) An unwelcome return of memories as you talk to Hoppy about what he used to do in those politically incorrect times of yore. And, later that night, potentially catching up, since your unmindful loss of it, with the sex you prefer, but with a nightmarishness that makes this story, in spite or because of its engagingly bespoke dark humour of occasion and place, seem both intensely felt and felt to be believable.
    “True beauty lives on high.” – George Herbert
  17. STRANGE CURRENTS by Tim Lebbon
    “In reality, the sea was a living thing, clasping the fixed continents in its smooth embrace and curling, twisting, abrading them over eons too vast for the human mind to contemplate.”
    From the traditional seaside land side, in the previous story, we have here the pure seaside, a man lifeboated as sole survivor after his ship went down with his wife still trapped in the cabin aboard…. his backstory also involving an ‘adoptive father’ that may be relevant to his eventual fate? After much time, he sees two birds that might betoken nearby land and, thus, hope. The land-side toward which he strives, after sensing huge things present below his lifeboat. This story should not work, but it does. it works with a simplicity and an old-fashioned narrativeness. It also works, because it subverts expectations then suddenly fulfils them, but with dread. This story should not be in a book of Weird Fiction, but how do I know that for certain? (Perhaps check where it was first published?)
  18. THE SEVENTH WAVE by Lynda E. Rucker
    “I wonder how different humans might be if we wrote history as a chronicle of significant orgasms rather than political intrigues,…”
    These days, the two seem to go together! But that isolated quote gives a wrong impression of this story, one that is emotionally compelling, but not at all weird nor even Weird with a capital letter. It is a heart-rending life story of a woman, now old, one beset by attritional ‘love’ affairs, although producing three children from a dull marriage as part of one of them.
    It is the fourth story in a row in this book that features different sides of the sea, and like the first one of these is a journey towards some significant culmination at the edge of the sea, although the Rucker is effectively imbued with the sea throughout.
    It is an ominous imbual, and one the reader feels through cleverly communicated empathy with the woman. The retrospective inevitability of the ending is well conveyed, tragic, yet resurrectional in a way, and still, today, unwinding as a sort of haunting by earlier actual or potential sacrifices to – or by malevolent (?) transcendence by – the sea.
    There are seven numbered chapters to this story.
    “‘I think I would enjoy being a bone knot,’ the girl said. ‘I imagine I would be good at it and I would love it.'”
    This is a very striking story, a consuming word portrait of a state of existence as a bone knot (or, for me, as ‘ligottus’, three such ligotti in this museum that the little girl emulates) – it reminds me of the broad tenor of some SF stories that appear over the years in Interzone, and this state of existence is almost between states as that title pertains. The contortion that is made for Piedra, then as a sculpture hung from the ceiling for her Baron. The depiction of the knotting of this particular ligottus, to which I can do no justice here, is utterly beautiful, effete, fey – ultimately cruel, but an apotheosis of some need one can even empathise with. Or is it an ironic view of gender politics in a Swiftian Modest Proposal mould? Whatever the case, it is a very fine culmination of this equally fine eclectic book as a whole.