Wednesday, October 29, 2014

After The Fires

After the Fires – Stories by Ursula Pflug

I have just received my purchased copy of After The Fires: Stories by Ursula Pflug
Tightrope Books 2008
My review of this author’s ‘Harvesting The Moon’ HERE.
I may slowly absorb these stories closer to me as I read them but spread myself about them in the comment stream below.

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9 responses to “After the Fires – Stories by Ursula Pflug

  1. Memory Lapse At The Waterfront
    “Before Mum died she used to forget things all the time. I can’t remember what it was that killed her in the end.”
    Dear U, A series of letters from one to another, the same writer and the same recipient, with no intervening replies, giving a rhythm of meaning, a rhythm of life being collected together, about ‘rodents’ that came to check up on us, about the the clutter, about the surfaces upon which the letters are written, the other people named in that deadpan or oblique rhythm, and the tree or more than one tree with these letters about them … or on them. Love, Des.
    ps: the last book of yours I read was fronted with a story with ‘water’ in the title unless my own memory has already lapsed at last.

  2. Blue Gloves
    A cigarette in another story, or a U for Umbrella or Ursula? This is a patchwork story that conveys life as a patchwork of relationships, feeling engulfed by a grey whale, times are hard, jobs hard to get, but a wry humour is a hope of a post-modern art hindsight that makes life something worth experiencing? I loved this story and can’t do justice to it.
    imageThis story really complements another story, one by Rosanne Rabinowitz I reviewed here an hour or so ago. And vice versa. My morning has been made of collections of downtrodden life bits uptrod by words.
    Impulsively, earlier today, I had this slight caricature made of me in a slot-machine booth on an empty Clacton pier (it was too early in the day for ordinary weekday visitors to be walking on the pier in October)… It cost me two pound coins which I now feel rather guilty about.

  3. Python
    “People mill about as though it was the last day on Earth, as though there are no longer any jobs to go to, as though, at last, they can do anything they like.”
    …as though the ice is melting, and this work is a sinuously fluid symphony of blending inverse, often cynical, anthropomorphisms of men, plus general skin colours as well as prime colours, genders, sexual orientations, friendships… While wielding the moon… Surely, the Apotheosis of the Pflug.
    “In the bath she looks at her submerged body, confused,…”

  4. A Dog’s Life
    “people in the television could never see him, / they just told him news of the war.”
    Broken by cannibalising enjambment, this is a very disturbing work where the Pflug fluid identity tropes, as I have come to know and love them, emerge, pass and re-emerge, like the same war does, in a Toynbeean backdrop of rhythm to a human challenge and animal response.

  5. The Exit Sign
    “Paper airplane pen pals.”
    …our grandmothers in a residential microcosm with several floors, even basement windows looking out upon inner pipe work. Top floor people, middle floor folk, lower floor, too, all vying their place or accepting it, and two of us with dinner parties between like up and down Caleb Wilson’s Scree elsewhere. This is my favourite Pflug story ever. Top story.

  6. Basement Alembic
    “I showed you all my old books that I’d collected in my travels, some with the paths of worms etched in their pages like scribbled hieroglyphics. / What do worms know? / Enough to eat books.”
    Like the previous story, the Pflug world is a house or a home, here a sororal Alembic between stories or a theosophical one with a ‘guide’, a guide who is a reviewer or a character in the story?

  7. The Eyes of Horus
    “They didn’t have multicoloured push pins in clever geometrical shapes back then, Pinka thought,”
    A marvellously substantive story about a para-cultural ambiance that one may call the Isis State, where Pinka works for an ornament firm, good at apportioning baubles on a Christmas Tree, but taken back and forth by a microcosm of a commune of friends and colleagues, who drift or focus by turns, conversing with each other, loving each other, sexing each other, in permutations, with roleplaying visions of Egyptian deities as a form of telepathy. Or real deities as a form of a real alternate world.
    “And as they left the dawn lit streets to climb the stairs to the third floor, dragging themselves, wishing for once they lived on the second floor and not the airy eyrie of the third,…”

  8. Ramona’s Baby
    A baby under the borage, this is a dreamily stoical tale of a smelly abandoned woman, undrowned by possessions, helped by an equally stoical fishing-hole man, without intentions, and by whatever help she could get to go shopping. It is extremely haunting, poignant, and I am beginning to see \ what I should have already seen, by dint of the many stories I have by now recently read by Pflug, i.e. that she is a major short story writer albeit one where, I sense, many readers have not yet crossed that retrocausal \watershed.
    Not that I am claiming any special critical perspicacity, but only luck from dreamcatching books.

    Red Velvet Dust
    “In fire shadow Chelsea imagined there were birds, little swallows cut from paper and hung there, thousands of them, like the origami cranes she and Esther and Julie decorated their tree with at Christmas. Who had done that? Cut out and folded all those little birds, hung willows with them?”
    Pinka? But I, too, tinily helped hang a willow with them – and later became the willow tree itself? This story I obviously first read in 2007, and I can’t remember reading it since then, and today I feel I see so much more in it, but I saw a helluva lot in it then, so now it bursts with meaning, teems with it…and it sheds new meaning on much else I have read by this author in recent weeks: vice versa, too. I am too close to it to comment further. But, just as one of many aspects of this story, I have today been able to refresh how to blend already departed people with their continued presence, also how to blend people who have not yet departed with the promise of their future presence. Even self with self. Story with story.

“A ghost leading ghosts.”
A very telling coda to ‘Red Velvet Dust’ (‘In fire shadow…’)?
A single fire as a gestalt not of leitmotifs as in my real-time reviewing but a single fire as a gestalt of an infinite number of fires, ‘after’ which this book came, hand in hand.
  • The Tesla Tower
    The Tesla Tower
    The Wizard of Wardenclyffe
    “‘Earth,’ Ada said and started to cry, still missing Yonge Street. She’d have given anything to see a fine blues player at The Colonial instead of yet another theatrical adaptation of a Russian speculative fiction novel.”
    Harvesting the Earth, while living in Nikola Tesla’s City of his Mind, this is an engaging enough fable of some length, yet it seems more a bonus track to this book rather than an intrinsic part of it. It has traces of the book’s leitmotifs of relationship and drifting, posting oneself, as it were, an alternate world or Isis State, yet it seems contrived and over-didactic towards the end, whether Nabokov’s Ada or Kapek’s ‘War of the Newts’….or a transcribed graffiti beyond any fire’s reach ….it certainly has its moments. Unpflugged electricity in the main, though.
    For my personal taste, a mind-tantalising book, and when coupled with the ‘Harvesting the Moon’ collection, evidence of a significant North American short-story writer in the history of general literature, I propose.

    Monday, October 27, 2014

    The Monk's Bible

    The Monk’s Bible

    By Harold Billings
    Photo by Zagava

    Les Éditions de L’Oubli MMXIV

    Previous ‘Les Éditions de L’Oubli’ in the modern age are shown here.

    Previous reviews of all my purchased Zagava – Ex Occidente books are linked from here.

    I shall report on my experience of this book in the comment stream below as and when I happen to read it.

    It is a highly luxurious book, with 48 pages. “Limited to 100 numbered copies for sale, plus extra copies, which are reserved for private distribution.” Mine is numbered 10.

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     One response to “The Monk’s Bible” 

    1. “…but it will take me awhile to learn the names of this vast torrent of flowers and foliage. [...] A recent heavy rain came and the stream burst its banks…”

    2. This short story, as owl- or para-quel to A DEAD CHURCH, is wholly readable as a separate entity, with a plotted ‘envelope’ of a modern couple reading it as the commissioned translation of the marginalia in an ancient Bavarian Bible, transported, in the dark past of the earlier pre-quel, to the new world by migrants, a man and his gradually blind son and wife, leaving their daughters behind with their own imputed happy ending as our own modern couple in the ‘envelope’ may be forced to endure their own imputed happiness forever?

    3. The meat of this book, though, is the passage across the ocean in an old ship, and, later, the formation of the old church and its later downfall, by torrenting stream of both a flood of local superstition and a flooding out of the graveyard, fearing, as they passage across the oceans, even hoping, that their linked Bavarian ghosts and angels travel with them, including the blind son’s familiar …well, I can only tell you so much! Like the marginalist’s vision of his dead wife’s face as recurrent faces on such fleeting flying things, and like his fear for his blind son’s sexual health, and like much more.

    4. There is a definite feeling in me about this short story being substantial enough to form this thick-papered tome, one with its luxuriant stiffening and hedonist artistic context, ensuring we realise that the words are far more weighty and fateful and downright horrifying as they would be if they were, say, scribbled in its margins, more easily outlasting in meaning and physical survival most other books in this fragile world. But, believe me, the marginalist’s failure, in this book, to knot a ‘nostril link’ (something that I advisedly call a ‘ligottus’) is probably the centre of this whole growing mythology of the angel bird, this stiffening monumentality of happenstance, and other matters of which perhaps even the book’s headlease author may not realise the implications?

    5. Whatever your thoughts on its presentation, this is the genuine opening out or forced lifting of the lid of a weird fiction story that deserves the attention of those with the interest in such things and with the fortitude to withstand its implicatory monumentality as a classically disturbing, arguably anti-natalist, literary work.

    6. end

  • I have forgotten my exaggerated anti-natalist response!

    I took this photo today with such an angel bird following me on my regular morning walk by the seafront near where I live:
    It also roosted on the building below along the way but you can’t see it so clearly;

    Sunday, October 26, 2014

    The Curious Case of Jan Torrentius

    The Stream & The Torrent

    The Curious Case of Jan Torrentius and the Followers of the Rosy Cross: Vol.1
    By Brian Howell
    Photo by Zagava
    Photo by Zagava
    Les Éditions de L’Oubli MMXIV
    Previous ‘Les Éditions de L’Oubli’ in the modern age are shown here.
    Previous reviews of all my purchased Zagava – Ex Occidente books are linked from here.
    I shall report on my experience of this book in the comment stream below as and when I happen to read it.
    It is a highly luxurious book, with 160 pages. “Limited to 86 numbered copies for sale, plus extra copies, which are reserved for private distribution.” Mine is numbered 25.

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    8 responses to “The Stream & The Torrent

    1. Vandike and I
      Pages 9 – 23

      “…no more than you can remove a layer of paint from the one above without destroying the whole.”
      Although this is not my normal practice in fiction reviews but — based on my past experience in reading this author’s exquisitely crafted novel about Vermeer, The Dance of Geometry — I suggest you google ‘Jan Torrentius’ just to get a flavour for optimum returns. Not too much googling, though, but just the bare minimum to centre your callow self in the era and ethos.
      These first passages in the book do not disappoint the hopes of any reader of that earlier novel, the prose style imaging and characterisation being as if from a camera obscura created by the inner dome of a vast cathedral but with finely meticulous results and any eroticism being sufficient to make you blush with embarrassment or blood pressure.

    2. Pages 23 – 41
      I am truly astonished by this text so far, the holding fast of its passing images, Jan’s first person backstory, the conspiracies, the collusive couple with whom Jan constructs both finely vesselised art as well as sweatily entrancing the female half, the alchemy of painting, the cruel appropriation of animal eyes, devices such as camera obscura and torture instruments, the name-dropping of historical figures, your trying to hold fast to all these images real and fictional and magickal through the Howelling eye. All my real-time reviews are based on my first reading of any book. My stream of consciousness has already turned to torrent. This book is something special. I will read it, indeed relish reading it, real-time reviewing it at first vesselised sight, as you will, callow though you be, even if you mete out the days to try slow its torrent, or will it let you? Think Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell?

    3. Ex Anglia reversus
      Pages 43 – 62

      “…a newly formed gap between two teeth and which could, equally, like that gap, be a source of pleasure or frustration.”
      I am now seriously trapped by this book, but I still intend to try stem its torrent. Now, we have the engaging penned view of Jan Torrentius by a historical third party, and the language and hints continue to accrete as to his nature, as a salon painting competition impends (still to be resolved), a competition or artistic duel stemming from a most intriguing demonstration of a street view by camera obscura, all imbued with a sense of magick, tricksy silences, comings and goings, amid a tangible 17th century historical ambiance plus a real poem by one of my favourite poets, Donne. And wordplays upon stream and torrent, brook and flood.

      • Intermission
        I have re-read Brian Howell’s MOBILE, PHONE in ‘Nemonymous Three’ (2003)
        “…you know, that bit of bone right at the base of your spine that makes you feel queasy when you touch it? I felt cheated. I bent their arms and legs here and there, until finally they came off. But when I tried to put them back, they wouldn’t fit.”

    4. A photo today from where I am writing this review
      A chance photo taken today in the room where I am writing this review
      Pages 62 – 86
      “…and I felt myself very much in the presence of History.”
      …or History embracing me, with all its truth and reality as well its reflected contrivance via eyes that are not mine, primary sources notwithstanding.
      This book is astonishing, really, in its ability to divert linear truth by curtains over doorways (cf my view of ‘Tristram Shandy’) as well as by mirrors or camera obscura, with digressions that, we are told, are destined to return to the stream’s source however much they torrent off course. And the painting competition plot machinations do in fact move on and act as a structure upon which a vision of historical time and metaphysical conceit are magically poured or meticulously brushstroked or wildly daubed. A great fiction book is a sort of diversionary instrument – forming digressions from the otherwise inevitable audit-trail of your life – a device to distil truth from paradox upon each and every occasion in your life you happen to read such a book. This book promises to be an optimum version of such a cunning contraption, I feel.

    5. Pages 86 – 106
      “But each has achieved this without seeing his rival’s work.”
      I was not disappointed by the outcome of this section of the book, tantalisingly in spite or because of reaching a sort of vanishing-point, after considerations of still-life palimpsests, a skull and other objects, ‘imaginary triangle’, having bearing upon my gestalt real-time reviewing techniques since 2008 including my theories on reader triangulation, plus my considerations of literary plagiarism and, above all, my own past view of Holbein’s painted skull called ‘The Preterite and the Preinternet’
      So, yes, I am not only ‘not disappointed’ by the painting competition’s outcome, but also decidedly inspired by its uniqueness and by its on-going mechanics of characterisation as part of a modernistic ‘happening’ filtered through 17th century sensibilities. A filter working both ways between now (a ‘now’ with this book first published in 2014 by luxurious sleight of hand) and then (a ‘then’ whereby, say, Donne still lives and writes poems even while I write this).

    6. Cornelis Drubelsius Alcmariensis
      Pages 107 – 127

      “Let me explain. He was there the day I showed my ‘perpetuum mobile’,…”
      Which made me think, in tune with the comma as device in “Mobile, Phone”, that the alchemy of painting in this book could travel by sound as well as by light? Meanwhile, on a saner note, this is the start of the third and final section of this book, a new narrative angle coordinating truth in this fiction from a new point on the globe of 17th century civilisation, forming the aforementioned ‘triangulation’. Yet, I believe this book is Volume One of triangulating Torrentius and who knows yet what might be further triangulated of him within whatever hologram of sight and sound the yet unpublished next volume may already hold? A stream and torrent, as in all riparian matters, are surely sound as well as sight, but each does not exist as the same structure of object to see or hear from one moment to another. Text, when mimed or mouthed upon reading it, is surrogate sound, I suggest.
      This book is full of contraptions, contrivances, devices, and you need to hold fast to yourself as reader to avoid becoming their puppet or doll. For example, I had to shake off the sound of the bubbling devices of experiment in the Alec Guinness film about a Man in a White Suit when now learning of the properties of colours and how Torrentius operates them.
      “…I began to wonder where the reality of the objects we were viewing gave way to their images and, indeed, where the images took over from the objects.”

    7. Pages 127 – 159
      “But I had not anticipated those unnerving sounds, then the sudden quiet, and the feeling of pressure on our ears.”
      This book remains more sight than sound, but one cannot discount the Royal conspiracy that involves, I infer, codes relating to the Rosy Cross via Music, the sounds in the ears when in an underwater rabbit-eye vesselised craft beneath the riparian Thames as stream or torrent under the narrative bridge …. and (Toyn)bees as music. A book of place as well as time, with London, Prague, Amsterdam forming well-historicised genii loci… a legerdemain ‘mobile quality’ with exquisitely crisp but tessellated prose, and a political historomancy of a plot in which Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell might once have been implicated as I earlier predicted – and a device for the hatching of eggs without hens, a book within a book as a hen and egg conundrum, with a promised creation of a double yolk that is probably more legerdemain de L’OUBLI than this one! A Book of Tricksy Philosophical Aesthetics. A prestidigitator’s booth or cabinet to enter, but beware, by just opening its door you will never know if you’ve entered it, but if you have entered it, you will never know whether you have left it.

    Wednesday, October 22, 2014

    Social Insecurity and Economic Unease


    Horror Uncut: Tales of Social Insecurity and Economic Unease


    Another review from the reviewer living in Clacton-on-Sea:
    Horror Uncut: Tales of Social Insecurity and Economic Unease
    Edited by Joel Lane and Tom Johnstone
    Gray Friar Press 2014
    I have just received my purchased copy of this book, including stories by Joel Lane, Simon Bestwick, Priya Sharma, John Llewellyn Probert, Stephen Hampton, Gary McMahon, Anna Taborska, John Howard, Laura Mauro, Stephen Bacon, David Williamson, Rosanne Rabinowitz, John Forth, David Turnbull, Alison Littlewood, Andrew Hook, Thana Niveau.
    My previous reviews of Gray Friar Press books linked from HERE.
    I intend to conduct a real-time review of this book in the comment stream below as and when I happen to read it…

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    10 responses to “Horror Uncut: Tales of Social Insecurity and Economic Unease

    1. A Cry For Help by Joel Lane
      “He travels fast who travels alone.”
      There is a ‘cutting’ about the news of a funeral in this story, and it is as if the words themselves are cut, not only into the paper of each page, but also into a pair of deep dark retinas within you that your reading eyes try to disown…
      I, too, had expense paid business trips to hotels in the hey-day of my ‘career’, selling things I didn’t want to sell or shouldn’t have been made to sell in those nineteen-eighty, atey, hatey days, and a sense of guilt seeps into me, a cry for help to assuage the past but, by double jeopardy, I was also perhaps undeservedly lucky, unlike Joel’s protagonist’s leaving his wife or her leaving him (and then her later leaving the world itself), with this not happening to me, but would I have helped any stray person who cried for my help to give the world their absence or, rather, to take their life…from it? Hotel rooms and British cities held all manner of doubt and creeping vision, whatever your circumstances, they still do, no doubt. And this story crisply and powerfully conveys all that and more. Deadpan or damned, selling the health of others as a job, or selling one’s own health just to make a living – or just to make or take a life, it’s all the same.

    2. The Battering Stone by Simon Bestwick
      “He’d decided I was his ‘weird shit man’ and therefore I was.”
      Constructively reminding me of Joel’s detective protagonist in ‘Where Furnaces Burn’ (who, incidentally, had a colleague called Bestwick, I recall!), this psychic or ‘weird shit’ specialist detective investigates a series of seeming socially deprived suicides by skull-battering stone in the derelict climes of the Manchester area, their bodies found by a recurring large hole in the ground and recurring graffiti nearby: and a final fight with a tall stone by means of a hammer… A ball-pein hammer, something I first came across in an AJ Kirby story as a ball-peen hammer … penis or pain, one wonders? A cure-all where bits of the good Earth shard off in the shape of inchoate stone, punishing us by its own self-punishment for what we have already ill-done to that Earth – making holes as a sort of defiantly slow motion vanishing act? Or enabling us to harvest the ultimate stoning out of consciousness, where it little matters whether next Christmas comes or not. As I said in my review of that earlier AJ Kirby story featuring the ball-peen hammer: “This is a morality tale rather than crime fiction – except financial greed is a crime when you infect other people with it even if they infect you with their own greed thus to encourage you to infect them in the first place.”
      No easy answers I say to the interactions of the Earth’s scarce resources with the defaults of wealth or deprivation. Perhaps this book will have its own eventual answer?
      “And I was thinking too much; thinking about a lonely Christmas, people I missed, people I’d lost…Big chunks of time disappeared in all of that.”

    3. I read and reviewed this book’s next story over a couple of years ago and below is copied and pasted what I then wrote about it in that review (the original context is HERE):
      [[ The Ballad of Boomtown - Priya Sharma
      "I stand on the threshold of the past."
      On this very day, the UK has officially entered a double-dip recession: and Adam Smith (once author of 'The Wealth of Nations') resigns his position so as to create a political firebreak. And this story is a symptom of our era's enduring financial f**kbubble: here now taken literally as a bubble crime of both passion and omission, a crime that brings down retribution upon the story's female protagonist even from those mythic beings (The Three Sisters) who should support her. With which I feel emotional empathy. Like the first story, we have roots to and as well as from the past, turning 'pastilential' just as human motives and yearnings are subsumed by entropy. But where does entropy start, when does it end? Towards another 'cold sore'-type of facial condition from the first story, & we are stirred by the effective prose that has its own roots in the paper on which the text is stained like tiny articulate shadows. Here we truly inhale shadows. In the previous two stories, shadows inhaled shadows, perhaps. Then a bird, now an owl or horse. Although humanity always reaches the ultimate endgame of encroaching amnesia, myths exploit a special athanasy. The Three Sisters. And tantamount to a type of Lady Macbeth, our heroine inhales the sorrow that always follows a false certainty. A debt crisis of the soul. Like starting to build a housing estate in the more positive sectors of a cycle only to be aborted by the boom's evocatively conveyed. And she will herself be turned to stone, no doubt, rooted to the earth's core: potentially becoming her own myth: a myth towards which future women might return or seek out again and again through each feminine cycle of existence, an existence that is actually created by means of the thing that such existences originally incubated (a thing that in this story is also seen to be unwelcome and invasive depending on context or consent), a thing that the woman here also brings into being by desperately (mindlessly?) unravelling a man's belt (compare and contrast the almost autonomous phallus in the first story). Just inferring. A great story, even without such inferences. Cycles of passion, as well as cycles of finance, set against the eternity of myth. Boom and big bang. (25 Apr 12 - 2.35 pm bst) ]]
      NB: “And she will herself be turned to stone, no doubt, rooted to the earth’s core: potentially becoming her own myth:”

    4. The Lucky Ones by John Llewellyn Probert
      “…glinting in the unforgiving glare of a harsh mid-morning October sun. Monoliths to ruthlessness and ambition, they dominated the skyline.”
      This plain story contains what this book would ostensibly decry, i.e. ruthlessness, sexual exploitation, disregard for health and safety, endless business-meetings syndrome, back-stabbing as well as real stabbing for sexual pleasure, here-today-gone-tomorrow financial f**kbubbles and heists, working class exploitation, the fast marketing of a new Deal or No Deal TV game incorporating a version of these ethics of ethos… But I deem that this story is satirical or ironic rather than a story for its hedonistic own sake. You see, the earlier Lane story has an ironically spurned one-to-one plea for help at its end, and this Probert story, by being part of the book’s gestalt, takes on a consequently very similar cast to its remarkably parallel one-to-one ending. Thus, a conte cruel with a moral. No mean feat.

    5. The Sun Trap by Stephen Hampton
      “Compound interest is the most powerful force in the universe.”
      This is an absorbing, page-turning, poignant story about someone roughly my age taking a deserved retirement in his sun trap of a garden with enough hard-earned, well-invested money for he and his wife to go to Spain frequently for more sun. (I wish I had such desires to take a backseat in my retirement but I can’t exist without goals like this real-time reviewing!) But this character reaches, literally, his own Son Trap, amid what turns out to be the credit crunch, toxic debt crisis, fiscal cliff, financial f**kbubble, youthful greed, call it what you will. Life is unique. Uniquely vulnerable, too, as this story proves. Life: Never Again.
      The sun is the most powerful force in our backyard of a universe?

    6. Only Bleeding by Gary McMahon
      “…we want that little bit more time and time again, until it becomes to seem like a form of forever.”
      Starting with signs of a distant warehouse fire, this story is the most powerful one I have ever read by this author, and that’s saying a helluva lot! It seems to be a short apotheosis of our time, the death of what we always thought we were – nothing lasts and never is again and again. This seems at first to be a version of the previous story’s Son Trap, as I called it. But a trap, here, where, the filter works both ways, where parents give blood and then take it… Wasn’t there a song by Bob Dylan called “It’s alright, Ma, I’m only bleeding”? Yes, of course, it has long been my favourite Dylan song.
      This is a story not to be missed. Buy this book even if for this story alone.

    7. The Lemmy/Trump Test by Anna Taborska
      “…accused her of having ‘borrowed a child’, to gain sympathy…”
      …or to gain something else, as in the McMahon story just read?
      Meanwhile, the Taborska story has rather an extreme irony (similar to the irony I inferred about the Probert story) as it interweaves a club to treat food-bank ‘scroungers’ rather as if they are bait in a fox hunt, and the hunted ones themselves. I was left shrugging.
      The litmus test itself regarding whom your potential friends are friends with as a guide to whether you should have them as friends, too…well, one could say the same about what books people read! Would you put your trust in anyone, say, on a train who’s reading this book with such a front cover?

    8. Falling into Stone by John Howard
      “I thought he loved that stone. He shouts each word as he brings the hammer down, smash, crash.”
      This is an involving tale of unrequited love, where austerity is both a reason for these characters to become lock-easy outlaws like grown-up kids from a sub-titled film making their jokey or scary marks when rambling uninvited in rich houses – and where austerity is stylish minimalism in architecture, give or take the odd Art Deco balcony, I guess. The story also complements the Bestwick story, quite unintentionally, I assume, with stone and a hammer playing a large part in the metaphor of the credit crunch, crunch being the operative word. Marble, too, as a scryable vision of what pattern a stone may contain as well as the person it becomes … flecks on the surface only give away some of what deep emotions reside below, emotions that eventually go cold as stone itself when envy and a sense of unfairness outweigh one’s human nature. But I’m rambling now…
      A truly superb story.
      “Our name was my idea.”

    9. Ptichka by Laura Mauro (or Laura Lauro in the contents)
      “‘We get so many Polish girls in here,’ the nurse says. ‘They get themselves knocked up by British men –‘” …as if the uneasy stand-off of unrequited love in the previous Howard story brings such a glibly moral and financial plight of migrant girls in Britain today into stark relief, where love is only in the painful result of the sex not in the sex itself – a love born from pain, borne upon pain, a love of a creature that the sex itself created, albeit nothing more or nothing less than a shut window’s version of roadkill. Joel Lane’s stories often spoke of us as angels with or without wings. This Mauro story speaks of something similar, reminding us strikingly that we are all complicit in whither or whence each of our own eventual migrations do head after the heart’s first or last faint beat. A birdkill that fiction’s now opened window failed to squash. Freed-up frontiers for the rootless, not the ruthless.

    10. The Devil’s Only Friend by Stephen Bacon
      “He smelt vaguely of stale, enclosed rooms, like the interior of caravans or a musty attic; nothing too unpleasant, but, somehow infinitely sad.”
      A perfect portrait of a seedy and rundown seaside resort seen as a palimpsest of six years ago and today – dislocated with new street line shop patterns, added Aldi supermarket et al. A well-characterised arsonist who has done his due time returns to his haunts and loves here – and to face his demons and to make meagre amends. That palimpsest seemed to me to indent further the story’s ‘widening gulf’ metaphor: an apotheosis of Exodus. And this seems to sit tellingly with this book’s earlier ‘stone and hammer’ syndrome, those chunked out gaps to escape from as unwelcome gaps in themselves and, paradoxically, to use as welcome gaps that become the very means of escape–
      “There was just a rocky slope leading away, tongues of black seaweed carpeting the ground."
  • The Procedure by David Williamson – but the book’s contents list has already started amputating this author’s name!
    A lightly satirical, take-it-or-leave-it, treatment of the serious concept depicted by the book’s cover. Meanwhile, I was rather proud that, against the odds, I got the song reference at the end.
    Pieces of Ourselves by Rosanne Rabinowitz
    “His gaze settles on a stone box on the top shelf. It’s made of smooth grey stone, inlaid with patterns…”
    This is a substantive exquisition: stemming from a believably experienced cuts demo and its resultant police ‘kettle': serendipitously blending, inter alia, Bestwick’s earthstone holes with flesh as bodies and Williamson’s every cut is another bodily destructuring toward whole-‘sale’ vanishment, but here Rabinowitz’s work — of accretively obsessive, self-harming shavings and skeins of skin from the male protagonist’s body and the memento stone box where he collects them — becomes a highly sensitised vision of something beyond the cuts, a vision that rationalises the demos and fights against the cuts as part of a pattern of his past life, austerity further pared, his exes, his travels, his thwarted ambitions, the patchwork people, his “Feeling bolder”, a sometimes clear, sometimes confused vision that enticingly is the potential core of the horror uncut ‘book bloc’. For me, the Platonic Form of Library. Or a shimmering Mauro wing. Flecks on marble.
    • This story is referenced here an hour or so later. From my experience, if anyone enjoys the fiction work of either Rosanne Rabinowitz or Ursula Pflug, they are sure to enjoy the work of the other.
      And I’m also reading at the moment “J” by Howard Jacobson, an SF novel that was short-listed this year for the Man Booker prize, and this serendipitously is another essence of Pflug and Rabinowitz.
    A Simple Matter of Space by John Forth
    Scene: Housing Department office safety screens, behind which housing officers sit. An elderly Leibniz complains to one of them about the bedroom tax, the empty space left by the elapsing of his wife… a loss that not only leaves a void in his life but also in his pocket, in his house, in his universe. There ensues a very effective cataclysmic Baconite Exodus-gulf blood-and-guts scene when Leibniz returns the space to the Housing office, space that implodes and explodes no doubt in accordance with the philosophy of physics of his famous namesake. This constructively contrasts with the equally powerful subtlety of the Rabinowitz story that is directly contiguous with it…
    It is not the satire or irony of Probert, Taborska and others. It is a full-blooded defiance ad absurdum, ad infinitum, and all the healthier for it.
    The Privilege Card by David Turnbull (David Turnbell in contents list) – but Tom Riley is more of a turncoat, I guess, against his own father’s socialist ideals, when he accepts a rewards card for snooping and culling on behalf of the authorities for his own benefit. This is a satirical Horror SF concept with a Ghost Story aspect where the father comes back to haunt Tom’s conscience, complete with the ‘tumour leeches’ that killed him. Not sure how these leeches fit in with this fable’s moral at the end. Had his father been a filthy Capitalist on the quiet? I am afraid that none of the horror, ghost and satire aspects worked for me. The SF concept was quite intriguing, though.
    The Ghost at the Feast by Alison Littlewood
    “Coleman’s real name wasn’t Coleman. It seemed to be the fashion these days for MPs to adopt a name to match their principles, or to mask them,…”
    A beautifully written SF type extrapolation to match the earlier Privilege Card and the Leibniz bedroom-tax ‘space’, here the Square Footage Tax, where footsteps are measured out in despair or hollowness. A successful ghost story, too, truly haunting, and taking Forth Leibniz’s ad absurdum, ad infinitum defiance, but here toward an apocalyptic but delicately inscrutable, even apolitically didactic, finale.
    “Despite the haze across his eyes he could see that the stone was mellow and beautiful in the afternoon sun,…”
    The Opaque District by Andrew Hook
    Another inscrutably beautiful treat to follow that of Littlewood, the two stories’ endings perfectly complementing each other. This one is a classic of our downtrod times, with its living prehensile queues (negatively symbiotic queues queuing queues) along rejigged shopping parades mentioned earlier in this review, all pared – like Rabinowitz’s skeins of skin – ‘back to basics’. Yet there is the metaphor beyond the graffiti mural, one that resonates with the impermeable stone of this book’s gestalt but also with its Exodus gulf, with the initial promise of light and freedom from the ‘shuffling’ and the “threadbare ‘bag for life'”. Whether or not a false promise, it is for you to decide if this protagonist ever left the queue.
    A graffiti mural I photographed in the opaque ukipness of Clactonia a week or so ago:
    No History of Violence by Thana Niveau
    “Most people took their sanity for granted, never knowing how awful it could be to have to fight for it, gaining ground inch by torturous inch.”
    …like those measured steps of Littlewood, upon the stony ground that is existence. I started this story with some trepidation, wondering if it might disrupt the mood built up by the previous two stories, but, as it turned out, this is the perfect coda, where I shall mention Ligottianism and Anti-Natalism surprisingly for the first time in this review. And its ending is powerful and cruel, so much so it even lends hope that, if the parasites are real not imaginary, then they can be killed. That cry for help now answered?
    The book is a whole experience, one that is an unmissable landmark, I believe, in a certain form of ostensibly didactic literature that actually works beyond its own didacticism. I shall now read the book’s Afterword by Tom Johnstone that may give me more food for thought but, as ever, I only review fiction.