Posts Tagged ‘Fiction’

Love, Nina, by Nina Stibbe. Published by Penguin Books, 2013.
ISBN 9780241965092

This is the type of book I do not usually take to.
Ah, but then, it is a clever book, it juggles with the questions this ‘type’ of book prompts.

The book is usually classed as non-fiction. It is presented as edited letters home – from a nanny new to London, in the 1980’s.
But the book was published in 2013. And in between? A career in publishing, family, children. In between, then, were years gaining skills in ‘the literary world’, the social and political ‘worlds’ of London, work, motherhood. A honing of skills, purpose, sense of self, awareness of the world.
There is almost a Bridget Jones aspect here, but Nina does not do the knowing semi-metropolitan sophisticat.

She wished, Nina Stibbe said in an interview of the time of publication, that she had made… (a certain character – see below)… more funny. But she saw him at the time as just a middle-aged man. Made?
And also in this comment are clues to the workings of the book.

The book plays with the genre of epistolary novels, with the innocent abroad, with the ingénue.
It is a book of two parts: 1982 -84 working as a nanny in London; 1984-87 as full time student at Thames Polytechnic.
In both parts she lived in the same small part of London: Gloucester Crescent/Regent Park Terrace,  within range of the morning waking sounds of London zoo.

As a student she admitted to having pangs for the life her fellow students lived. She was fully aware by then of the cocooned and sheltered life she lived there. It cherished her abilities, and widened her life skills and knowledge, despite that.

Across the Crescent lived the writer Alan Bennett, a frequent supper visitor to their house (the middle-aged man, above). Next door was Claire Tomalin, critic and writer. Across the Crescent further down was novelist Deborah Moggach, and Jonathon Miller. Also on the Crescent was the widow of composer Ralph Vaughan-Williams (‘A composer called Ralph?’).
Alan Bennett’s driveway was always occupied – a passing comment. We only need to think of his The Lady In The Van, to see the significance of this.
Nina was nanny to MK, deputy editor of the London Review of Books, and her two young sons.
Who’s George Melly?’ she wrote her sister, Vic, back in Leicester. ‘I’m in his bedroom.

With this set-up the character of the book must needs weave her ingénue path through influences and influencers, whilst retaining that innocence the reader identifies with. This requires very delicate balancing tricks.
And this is where the two-part structure of the book works. The ingénue nanny cannot remain uninfluenced by her environment. It would lose the reader’s trust, and the character’s credibility.
The nanny, Nina, began to study A Levels, in the vague hope of gaining more education. This is where the delicate balancing really comes to the fore. She could either come across as an unliterate boor and bore, blocking all attempts at knowledge, in order to retain the ingénue state. Or  change.
The book would be amusing, but limited, one-dimensional, if she had chosen the first path.

Scraping through her A Levels she gained admission to a degree course. But lived still in the same small cocoon. And here we see her grow: she loved the course, and her subjects – especially American drama and fiction. Instead of maintaining the suffocating and provincial self that she began with, the character-self was allowed to grow and develop.

One episode has the tutor take her students to a dress rehearsal; a Samuel Beckett play. It had Billie Whitelaw as actor.
Whilst watching the rehearsal the author was distracted by someone muttering behind them. Turning round she recognised Samuel Beckett himself; he’d come for Billie Whitelaw’s acting, of course.
She was the only one of the group saw him. Afterwards she had the task of persuading them it really had been him. The clincher was her description: Handsome but very old… symmetrical, upright, still, slight second-glass occlusion of the jaw’ (she had been a dental assistant at one point) ‘… a well-groomed fisherman.’
This, of course, is the classic photograph of Samuel Beckett, in – is it a pea jacket? – roll-neck seaman’s sweater.

Where do truth and fiction meet?
That is the question the book juggles with throughout. Her favourite course at Thames, was Autobiography and Fiction. Was there such a course? Or is this pure fiction, introducing us, the reader, to the inner dynamics of this book?
She ruminates on the balancing acts between autobiography and the requirements of fiction in the book. This is the biggest clue to the craft and skill she is employing here.
… writing truthfully is very hard…’ she writes…‘In the end the writing wins and you have you assume  it was the way it seems in the writing of it.’
‘Which is why you might be less than truthful… :to tell the truth you have to lie a bit.’
Lying is a major theme throughout the book: the little lies, the white lies, the inadvertent lies, the face-saving ones, the life-giving ones, and the whopping big ones.
‘Who threw newspaper all over your bed and floor? they ask young Sam in hospital.
‘Frank Bruno.He asked me how I was; I told him to f-off. He got annoyed and threw it all about’.

 

I have been wondering what connect there could be between a sophisticated L-R-Books deputy editor, and a nanny from the provinces with no higher education?
The big one was, of course, the children. The Nina-character went out of her way constantly to support and tend to them.
But there was also the ‘man’ issue. Nina came from a one-parent background, into another one.
This is one of the book’s big strengths, the taking down of men off their pedestal. God knows why and how they got up there to begin with.
Men are always presented as peculiar, ‘other’, strange. Hang on, isn’t that how some men see women? Still?
One of these peculiar creatures is the boyfriend who ‘must always masturbate before he can sleep’.
Yes, but he’s not being literal: a slave to his physiology. No, it’s code for him wanting a ‘hands-on’ girlfriend. How many have tried this one!
And Alan Bennett, unthreatening, homely, safe – yet he constantly surprises everyone, himself included, with his extensive and real knowledge of how household appliances work.
The oddness of others is a constant theme of shared discussion throughout the book.
And also I suspect – and here you have to know some of the Nina Stibbe backstory – the two women looked after and looked out for each other. MK looked after Nina the nanny, a young woman with much potential she had not been able to realise through the neglect that was the role of women in that period, that society.

One of my favourite episodes in the book occurs when she notices young Sam looking at his hands. ‘He does that a lot.’ says William, his brother. Are you looking at something? Or are you thinking?
Yes. No. Sometimes. Both.

So she tries it, it brings out in her a meditative mood. Up that point we have seen her quirky, hands-on, and impatient, even brusque, with abstraction, with the theory part of her degree course.
She discussed this eloquently with MK, her employer.
MK listened, then instantly turned to practical things, her mother’s recipe, for instance.

How do you read this? That is the key to the book – how you ‘read’ it. So much is suggested, by tone of voice, clipping of self-response, that the reader is drawn in to engage, fill in the gaps, the backgrounds, from clues given.

So, why do I not usually take to this type of book?
Well, look at the time and place: London, the 1980s.
What was going on in the bigger world? IRA bombings; Chernobyl in 1986 – I still hold that the need to be open about this disaster was the crucial factor behind Gorbochov’s later Glasnost and Perestroika programmes, and, well, the collapse of 1989.
Then there are the first instances of the AIDS disaster.
And what we get is a cocoon of closed-off lives.
An elite, living in their own shut-off world.
Except it isn’t, Alan Bennett had just published his book on Philby in Russia, An Englishman Abroad; he introduced current TV people into the little circle. The children were avid newspaper readers; their regular TV shows Coronation Street, The Young Ones, football: soaps, satire, and sport.

On a smaller scale we have the burgeoning 1980s music scene – apart from Prince’s Red Corvette, little makes any impact.
What we do get are the fashions in new foods going through London at the time: new menus and recipes. And we get make-up styles appearing, clothes styles, hair styles.
On the bigger scale there’s mention of someone wearing a checkered scarf, called an Arafat scarf.
This is the Labour and Socialist influence: both big supporters of the Palestinian cause. They always supported the underdog. In this case the Israeli State was the big aggressor, and the Palestinians the victims.
There are still repercussions of this in the current schisms in the UK Labour Party, now solidified into anti-Zionist tendencies.

It is this disparity between the small in the large, the small circle within the huge major City, gives the book some of its dynamic.

 

This little world set-up, impervious to the ‘moments’ of time and history, usually leaves me either cold or uninterested.
So why does this one get through? Because of its warmth, humour, and wry sideways glances at our usually hidden and discrete intellectual and cultural circles and elites.
For one.
And it is genuinely funny. It takes the tired, old ‘crazy things kids say’ to another level, adding pathos, and sheer brilliance. And, did I say, it is really very funny?

 

A TV series was attempted of the book, with Helena Bonham-Carter as MK. Many names were changed and characters omitted. It had a mixed reception.
That’s the trouble with TV adaptations, they are from one medium into another, and it is not always that easy.
With TV we have visual predominance, whereas with the book all is filtered through the perceptions of the main character. It is only visual further down the scale of perceptions. Initially we perceive from within character, what we see is already altered, re-coloured, re-balanced. The predominant engagement is language, the main character talking is to us.

 

See also: her follow-up ‘fiction’ books:
Man at the Helm, published by Viking/Penguin Books, 2014
Paradise Lodge, published by Viking/Penguin Books, 2016

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from Gone South

It happens as soon as you step off the train. Everyone savours it, a look of pleasure lighting up chinks of harried business faces, care-worn mothers trawling lines of squabbling children. Gil couldn’t make it out. That smell. What on earth…? He topped the road outside the train station and was hit by a gleaming brightness; it shifted, twinkled, blinded.
The sea.
He had often heard about it. This was the smell.
The sea.
It drew him on, hungry as he was, drew him down those extra miles, to its gleaming wonder. He stood on the promenade holding the rail in the cooling inshore wind. He breathed deeply.
It was high tide, and crested waves lapped and licked at the sea wall a yard below him. He stood, mesmerised.

He clutched the steel rail tightly, but still the suck and surge below him pulled; it was as though the solid concrete of the promenade was almost liquid.
He looked at the green of the sea; it shone like a lizard’s back. But the smell that came from it, when it belched on the sea wall – something ancient and beyond musty, beyond rotten, something older than any of it.
The City and its concerns were not even a dot in its memory.

He looked into it, and it looked back, into him, found a kinship there somewhere.
Then it released him.
He was doused in a cold sweat, mouth and throat dry as sand, muscles taut. It released him, and he sagged, still holding the rail.
He could turn away at last; he turned and never came back again.

This was Eridu, city by the sea.

Opening of first chapter of my new unpublished novel, Gil

FLYING LESSON

FIRST THINGS 

‘First thing they did. I mean I was already pretty freaked by then,’ he was saying. It was a warm, calm night in The City, and they were sat on the old river wall, a part not closed off, a part not structurally unsafe. ‘They took me up the Tower. You know…’ he nodded towards it in the distance, black on black in the night, its two upper floors dimly lit; watchful.

‘I’d been running wild, getting into bother, just the usual sort of things. You’d know. Only, I kept getting told, I always took it too far. Then the Men in Suits called round. It was at my ma’s. I was trying to squeeze home nosh out of her, ok, but I was in. Knock at the door. Shapes outside the back door too. I was ready for shinning up the loft ladder, skylight onto the roof, and over. I had this all planned out. Just in case. Then a lamp post and down. And I had on my Angry Antonys; I was good. It was quite a jump; not sure I’d make it.’ He looked down at the river, watching slick after foamy slick coasting past.

‘The daft… opens the door. And they were in. One grabbed my ankle on the loft ladder. He was a strong monkey, that one; built like an office block too. Yanked me clean off to his manly bosom.’ He paused, grinned, his teeth a sudden flash in the dim light from the street lamp below. ‘What was the point in struggling? Let him hold me.’

‘Boss wanted me.’ He looked across at his friend, his cheek, the line of his jaw, the slightly crooked nose,

‘They gave my ma a funny look – and she stared them out.’

‘Let him see the lad.’ she said. ‘Then he’ll believe.’

‘What the…? What was all that about? I was thinking.’ He laughed.

 

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Queen-City-Michael-Murray-ebook/dp

 

Tipitia was standing in deep thought by a window on the sixth floor of the university tower, it was by the Archeology Department elevator. She did not notice a shadow behind her, then a gentle voice said,

‘I do believe you have discovered one of my little secrets.’ It was Professor Farnum. The view from the window was across the city, and from their position on the university campus to the south of the centre the view was stunning, especially in sunlight: the white buildings shone in the light. Smoke rose from last night’s fires around the city centre.

‘The queen of the city.’ she murmured.

‘I always come here when I need reminding why we are doing this.’

‘Why? Professor?’

‘All the sacrifices. I have a theory,’ he said as they walked into the department, ‘that there are seven challenges in our profession.’

‘Challenges? Professor?’ she was gradually tuning into the conversation, and away from her private thoughts.

‘Some are just simple, basic things, like just getting through the undergraduate course. It isn’t the workload, not the intellectual struggle, No, that comes later; at undergraduate level it is just the challenge of sticking at it. Of not giving in and… well, you know the drop-out rate at this university as well as I.’

‘You always have seemed so…’ she looked for the word with the right shadings,

‘Committed?’ he offered. No, that was not quite the one.

‘Have you wondered why I do not do field work any more? Surely there have been rumours?’

‘I had thought it was the volume of administration, running a department in these times.’

‘And you have indeed shouldered your part of that,’ he said. ‘I call that challenge number five. No, it isn’t all because of that.’ He was ushering her into his office; the view was into the university quadrangle and the anonymous concrete admin section over the way.

‘You must have heard of the Sudan debacle?’

‘Yes, sir; well, as much as was needed.’

‘It was the tenth day, and we were struggling to fulfill our obligations; findings were few, and low quality. I had co-opted local children who were hanging around, getting in our way, you know the sort of thing. They were carrying baskets of diggings away from the sorting table, when one little girl, she must only have been nine or ten, suddenly collapsed. She died on the spot.’

He was silent for a good while; Tipitia sat quietly.

‘Apparently,’ he continued, ‘she had been up from before dawn, traipsing three miles, with a big… plastic container, to the spring, and then returned with it full and strapped to her back. Another three miles. Every morning. The boys, of course… it was the girl’s job. And our transport standing idle. Our own water supplies….’

He was silent again. ‘Tim Johnson was with us… you’ve heard me talk of Tim, our best field worker. He quit. Didn’t finish the dig, I… don’t know if he blamed me….. I heard about him some years later, he had been working with an Aid company. He had been kidnapped by rebels. They found him, what was left, a month or so later. That was my last dig, too.

They sat for a while avoiding each other’s eyes.

 

‘You never married, sir.’ she said. The tension eased a little.

‘Ah, no. Came near it once; very near. Anthropology research student at St Columb’s. Ah yes.’ He opened a drawer in his desk, brought out a framed photograph. Tipitia caught the colours of an academic gown with Masters cap and collar. Black hair… she peered closer.

‘That’s Professor Hernandez!’ she said. ‘She has always been my role model.’

‘Janis, yes,’ he said, and a surprisingly intimate light came into his face.

‘Challenge number four.’ he said.

‘Why a challenge, sir?’

‘Who knows if either of us would be where we are now, if…’

‘You gave up your marriage.’

‘It may not have come to that.’

‘But she is married now, sir.’

‘I know,’ he said quietly. ‘But her husband is not an academic; there is no… conflict.’

 

from my ebook Queen of the City
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Queen-City-Michael-Murray-ebook/dp

 

‘What do you mean?’ asked Carmichael. His alertness was topping the scale, but he fought to remain calm, unperturbed. He felt his fellow travellers struggling inside.

‘Come on, now. This is First-Home stuff. You must know this.’

A lot was going on inside Carmichael, and he fought for an even demeanor.

Ok,’ he said. ‘Well, just play along a moment; why don’t we… run through the story again — memory got a little scrambled in transport.’

‘Well, it’s the Seven Worlds’ Quest.’

‘Of course it is. And?’

‘First world — you know, our first home of course.’

‘Then the second is… here?’

‘Obviously.’

‘Third?’

‘Well, they’re still working on that. It should be that place, there,’ he pointed with a hand not divided into fingers, at screen in the wall, and the Earth came up. ‘I suppose that is where you were due to go. Supposed to be continents and… but they keep shifting around, they can’t get them to hold still long enough, you know. They seem to be having trouble getting the time scale to settle down, I think. Then there’s all that, ugh, water. Most of it is, really. Pretty yucky. And there are those, you know, plants, and stuff. Not very inviting.’

‘Earth.’

‘Earth, you say. Seems more…’ he shuddered again, ‘water. Well the one after that will be that red one there.’

‘Mars.’

‘That what you call it. You are making this up.’

‘No, no. Go on.’

‘Then the biggy.’

‘Jupiter.’

‘Ju… ter.’

‘Then Saturn, er, rings?’

‘Yeh, yeh. Next though… you will not guess what that is. Go on, guess.’

‘Uranus.’

‘U-a-sus — means nothing to me. No. Guess. You can’t. Because you can’t see it, that’s why. That one is it, the ultimate mystery of all life.’

‘Ok, we’ve… I’ve got all that. It’s just, well…’

‘That’s the Quest.’

‘There are more than seven.’

‘M…more than….’ It was the nearest he got to a question.

‘Well, yes, there’s Neptune and Pluto, even, maybe, it is debated, though the arguments against are…’

‘Another….  More than seven?’

‘Well, yes.’

‘Someone always gets it wrong. Don’t they. We’re brought up on this stuff. Our Noble Quest. And now you say… there’s more than seven. They spoon-feed us this great noble quest. They purposely give the wrong information. They really want us to fail, behind all the big ideals.’

‘Look…’

‘I feel ill.’ he said. His colours were all swirling, churning.

‘Give him a few minutes.’ a voice said inside Carmichael.

‘He needs a nice cup of tea.’ said the tea voice.

‘We need to know…’ a soft voice began, and 

‘… how to get home.’ another voice butted in.

‘Tell us, tell me, about world, er, three.’

‘They’re still working on it,’ he said, faintly. ‘Can’t quite get it right, yet. Sort of thing.’

‘Oh? Who is?’

‘The Mariners. Still hunting out the warm clothes, you might say. Going to be pretty cold, and, er, wet. Very wet. Ugh.’

‘Hm.’

‘They’d better hurry up though.’

‘Oh, and why is that, then?’ his sense of irony was piqued.

‘Well, you can see. Look.’ he gestured all around. The walls were briefly transparent: they looked at a featureless landscape.

How did he do that? Carmichael was intrigued.

‘We’ve ruined this place. Like we did the first one. They used this place as a dump for waste, spoil; then it turned out we had to live here because the first had become worse. It’s even worse there, now though. I went back summer hols before last. Visit the old place. Never again. All the heavyside’s gone now. Freezing and I mean freezing, on the dark side, the poles, that sort of thing.’

‘Can you just.’ the sober voice whispered, ‘ask him how he got there?’

‘Yes, ahem, how did you get there? You know, old home?’

‘Oh, the shuttle. The vacuum shuttle.”         ‘

‘And can you use it to number, what is it, three?’

‘No. Well, they’ve talked about it. And, well, no one knows what’s there. We could just plonk down into… anything. Might be big scary monsters.’

‘Hmm.’

‘I’m not supposed to say this, but, well, they did try it. Made a bit of a mess of the place.’

‘What… sort of a mess?’

‘Oh, you know… mass extinction kind. Ahem.’

‘When… when was this?’

‘Ages ago. About six. So far.’

‘And after the first two or three… mass extinctions. They kept on trying it?’

‘Well, you know, little loss, really. Boiling seas, acid seas, frozen seas, no seas. It’s only water. Ugh. What’s water anyway.’

‘Yes, er, quite.’

The Great God Pan, was published by Arthur Machen in 1895, London.
Arthur Machen was the son of a Welsh clergyman, and was born in 1863, near Caerleon, in Monmouth, Wales. He died in 1947.

Arthur Machen is one of those interesting people on the sidelines. And yet he had his own moments in the spotlight. In 1895 he published his ground-breaking novella The Great God Pan.
Even today the novella has its admirers – Stephen King reckons it one of the best horror stories in the language.
His roll was brought to a halt in the moral backlash brought about by the Oscar Wilde court case. Arthur Machen’s stories had already raised hackles by his themes of lust, unpleasantness, in fact for being ‘decadent.’ After that court case decadence was to be swept away by moral outrage, the re-imposition of sound Victorian values.

It was only later, about 1899, he was invited to join the Golden Dawn through his friendship with A E Waite. It has to be admitted, for all the themes of his writing: the deciphering of lost texts, diabolism etc, he was not particularly enamoured by the Order, and contributed little to nothing.

What is it about, The Great God Pan, then?
It is a story that is pieced together from fragments, inching its way to a clearer picture. What obscures the picture? It is the outraged morals and also the lack of clues, information, of the observers and narrators.
It is a story whose power and impact are created by the breaking apart of the atoms of Victorian morality.
Ok, I am using metaphors from a later time. But on purpose: Arthur Machen was fully engaged with Darwinian theory, with contemporary medicine, with the dualities of perception of his age.
Without the moral high ground of the detractors to decadence, a stance that all ‘right-thinking’ Victorians were supposed to have some measure of a share in, without that high position, the story’s depiction of a fall to the ‘depths of depravity’ that was the supposed mind-set of savages, the story makes no sense.
Wikki writes:
Historian Harold Perkin wrote:

Between 1780 and 1850 the English ceased to be one of the most aggressive, brutal, rowdy, outspoken, riotous, cruel and bloodthirsty nations in the world and became one of the most inhibited, polite, orderly, tender-minded, prudish and hypocritical.

 

The story opens with the narration of ‘just a little medical procedure’, recorded by the ‘dry man’ Mr Clarke. The outcome of this operation on the brain of a young and trusting young woman (one of the lower classes, naturally), reverberates throughout the story. We piece together the incidents, connect the dots, while the well-meaning but at times a little too slow, a little too ‘upright’, characters in the story try to make sense of a series of suicides of eminent and honourable young Victorian men.

It is this slow procedure, and also the puzzle-solving, that actively engages the reader, and creates atmosphere, the feeling of impending horror.
It could well be, also, this active engagement of the reader in such a morally deplorable tale, that upset the authorities: to become unwitting participants in immoral activities.

One theme that returns again in another story, The Novel of the White Powder, is that of the human body, through an outside agency, reverting to its protozoan origins before ones eyes.

This may lack impact to us now, we who have seen regularly such ‘special effects.’ But when one’s sole vision-viewer was one’s own imagination, apart from the early cinematograph, and the first picture newspapers  like the Daily Graphic, black and white illustrations pre-Beardsley, then the intent of the author would be more readily apparent. The author is in reality introducing such ideas and scenes into one’s mind.

That, and the Darwinian challenge to the hammered-home Christian view, of the body as sacred, a temple of chastity, to be strictly curbed, disciplined.
You can also see here perhaps, the development through borrowing the concept for corporal discipline, for abuse of the body and soul.

The Great God Pan is described as the experiencing of the world in its original state, when lusts ran free, and keeping to the classical archetypes, bachanites actually tore men to pieces.
The ethical and moral concepts of human progress from savage times to modern man, provide the scaffolding to the story.
It is extremely doubtfull such savagery as was envisioned ever existed. Even as the early hominids emerged they carried with them respect for the dead, disciplines, and rites. Sea pirates had their own codes, honourable behaviour – wooden ships were extremely disciplined communities, they had to be.
The Christian stance created such moral distances as the depth of the fall into depravity. ‘The Old Adam,’ was the phrase used to euphemistically describe unbridled lusts.

The story has many enlivening details. There is described at one point how, walking home in  the early hours of a London morning to Holborn, the streets were silent, empty, but for the occasional horse-drawn Hackney cab over cobbles. And how the  horses’ shoes struck ‘fire’, in the night.
Is a hellish image implied? It is certainly one of surprising clarity, maybe a little unsettling, but also lively because of that.
The suicides are by hanging, mostly from bedposts. It may well be that auto-eroticism is being implied here.
Behind the seeming prosperous and morally upright, ‘advanced civilisation’ of late Empire London, lurk the old terrors waiting their time.

They had their prelude, of course, in the Boer War, shortly to erupt.

Out Damned Spot, William Shakespeare Crime-Scene Cleaner , by F J McQueen. Published by Urbane Publications, 2016

https://urbanepublications.com/our-books/
https://urbanepublications.com/authors/?s=F+J+McQueen&book-authors=&order=

This is the most extraordinary work of fiction that I have read in a long, long time.

1

We expect fiction to be set in our known world, where responses to environment are known, our own experience, and as ordinary. In a fantasy work the same applies: they are all recognisable people in recognisable situations, it is the details that are different.
But what if one’s responses to the environment became other than the known? What if the environment became other than our experienced world?

The shift, here, is in cognition: something is different, something is ‘other’, and nothing becomes accessible to the ‘predictive text’ of our inner narration.

The story centres around the nodes of Shakespeare’s main plays. We navigate a world that opens, like the Shakespearean world discovering its America.
Will Shakespeare is on the last day of his work as a hospital doctor. What had gone wrong? We presume that something had. And why was he woken once more at midnight with that terrible sound? One that no one else could hear?
The ordinary of that world, though, was not our ordinary.
He set up next day as a Crime-Scene cleaner. The crimes? The plays are littered with the wrongfully dead.
His cleaning fluid – and here we enter a world truly chilling – is mysteriously provided for him by nine seriously unsettling people. Or are they all emanations of one? And their price? A meal of oneself.

2

There is a short story by Leonora Carrington, Cast Down By Sorrow, where the narrator meets the elderly but coquettish Arabelle Pegase. She speaks of her clothes, and mentions a dress she has that is made from cat’s heads,
What was your reaction to that? Horrified, like mine? And yet I think that her intention with this image is something else – it is a changed aesthetic, even a changed system of ethics, that she is describing.
It is used as an artistic, painter’s, image, visual and tactile, rather than humanistic.
And similarly here, the images in this book have their own wholeness, inner logic, that is not literary in the narrow sense that it is being used more and more at the present time.

There is an incident where a soil boat appears – or is it a grave? It takes you places; it takes you to the river of time where golems struggle to hold back a certain day. Made of clay they crumble constantly as they strain and struggle to keep hold against the flow of time. As they crumble new ones take their place, a constant renewing. But you sense the struggle, the need.
These are not literary images, but visual images – they could work as graphic images in a graphic novel. The visual, this is where the where the book’s Venn-structure overlaps the most.
But, some might say, golems do not appear in The Plays. No, but they are part of the sensibility of the period, of the wider environment of the time. And also of our time.
This is one of the many aspects of the book I especially like, it’s willingness to not stay harnessed to ploughing the narrow furrow of what we now take to be The Plays.

Take MacBeth’s three witches, they make their appearance early on in the tale, transposed as oracles, in a hospital cupboard. And they prophesy… impossible things. But the impossibles become increasingly possible as the tale deepens into itself.

How does it work? One crack in the world-self narrative we spin for ourselves – one crack, and a different take on reality becomes possible.
It is a cognitive shift.

In another’s hand the story could become whimsy – but that does not happen. The images are impactful, the writing of a very high standard, and the overall imagining quite devastating in its range and implications.