Tuesday, 28 July 2015

"The Sweet Smell of Psychosis" - Will Self. "The Passion of New Eve" - Angela Carter. "At The Mountains of Madness" - H.P. Lovecraft



A word to the wise with reference to Will Self. When you dip an exploratory toe into said Will's waters it is best to be prepared. Those waters are often chilled with  experimental tendencies or, as in this case, not water at all but acid. 

This book, novella as it happens, is typical of the man even though it is not his oft created unconventional stuff but a sharply observed narrative that focuses on the darker traits of society.

The plot is riddled with Self's vitriolic wit. His influences may number Burroughs, Ballard, and Camus but also include the Oxford dictionary. His choice of words, a barrage really, litter the page with quicksilver quirkiness. Think Dylan Thomas with a Stanley knife.

A sense of wicked wordplay is never far away but one which never collides or impacts on the story. It, in fact, adds to the enjoyment. His eye for detail, for the disagreeable elements found in humans,  for perverse characterisation is painfully accurate. He is much like a Fletcher who sharpens his arrows to pinpoint accuracy before firing them at the target with unerring aim.

Richard Hermes, with a fondness for kneeling at the altar of the white porcelain, for snorting ludicrous amounts of cocaine, has an eye firmly fixed on the scholarly journalist Ursula. Trapped in the seedy, corrupt society of magazine publishing, Richard, overcome with lust for Ms. Bentley, engages with the sinister man known only as Bell.

To read Will Self one must have a love of the English language and of caustic storytelling. With this book, only 86 pages long, we get a short, sharp story, a virtual polypropylene bag filled with phenol wherein floats a delectable vitreous humour. 
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Angela Carter, wrote in a manner both beguiling and terrifying. Her talent was enormous as this worthy novel demonstrates. She fires her prose with uncanny accuracy into the head of the reader and the heart of the tale. There is nothing average or undemanding about her work. It truncates reality and fiction into a faultless blend of social commentary hard boiled, fired in a kiln, narrative. 
Such a sad day her untimely death at only fifty-one. Without her input and impact, one wonders  where would the likes of Jeanette Winterson have found purchase to write the stuff they do? 


Evelyn, a man, like that famed author Evelyn Waugh, an Englishman living in some futuristic New York who bears a lustful yearning for reclusive actress Trstessa, takes a black girlfriend, sleeps with her, makes love again and again with her until she falls pregnant. Fearful of the outcome, of being a father when he has no such desire to be such, he leaves his young lover after she has had an illegal abortion. 


Evelyn flees the scene seeking to find something other, something different. He goes to the desert where he is found, captured and bound by a large pack of females. They take him back to Mother who, with loving diligence turns Evelyn the man into Eve the woman. The intention is to then impregnate this new woman with the seed of the new but Eve runs away again. The concepts of identity and of gender, of sexuality, in general, are all satirised.

This is an awesome feat of imagination. Few could have accomplished it. Part Kafka, part running free poetry. Recommended. 
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Five-star weird. Steven King declared H.P. Lovecraft as being the man who inspired him to write horror. I found this darker than Hades and far more scary than meeting Satan in an alleyway in Wapping.

From this very short novella comes the platform from which such other great works of fiction, film, and literature, have sprung: Alien, The Day of The Triffids and countless others.

"The things once rearing and dwelling in this frightful masonry in the age of dinosaurs were not indeed dinosaurs, but far worse. Mere dinosaurs were new and almost brainless objects - but the builders of the city were wise and old, and had left certain traces in rocks even then laid down well nigh a thousand million years - rocks laid down before the true life of earth had advanced beyond plastic groups of cells - rocks laid down before the true life of earth had existed at all. They were the makers and enslavers of that life, and above all doubt the originals of the fiendish elder myths which things like the Pnakotic Manuscripts and the Necronomicon affrightedly hint about. They were the great "Old Ones" that had filtered down from the stars when earth was young - the beings whose substance an alien evolution had shaped, and whose powers were such as this planet had never bred. And to think that only the day before Danforth and I had actually looked upon fragments of their millennially fossilized substance - and that poor Lake and his party had seen their complete outlines - It is of course impossible for me to relate in proper order the stages by which we picked up what we know of that monstrous chapter of prehuman life. After the first shock of the certain revelation, we had to pause a while to recuperate, and it was fully three o’clock before we got started on our actual tour of systematic research. The sculptures in the building we entered were of relatively late date - perhaps two million years ago-as checked up by geological, biological, and astronomical features - and embodied an art which would be called decadent in comparison with that of specimens we found in older buildings after crossing bridges under the glacial sheet. One edifice hewn from the solid rock seemed to go back forty or possibly even fifty million years - to the lower Eocene or upper Cretaceous - and contained bas-reliefs of an artistry surpassing anything else, with one tremendous exception, that we encountered. That was, we have since agreed, the oldest domestic structure we traversed."

With his star ever in the ascent even if posthumously, and with the Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows "Providence" comic (more on that soon) making waves, it seems a good time to re-visit Lovecraft, an odd man it would seem, one who was both racist and atheist. 

This is a highly creative, incredibly conceived but deeply disturbed feat of imagination. It is a work of fiction that has lasted and continues to exert incredible influence even if its literary merits are questionable in some readers eyes.
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Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.

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