Saturday, 1 May 2021

Mills Of Silence by Charles Wilkinson, Egaeus Press / Through A Looking Glass Darkly by Jake Fior, AliceLooking Books

A new Wilkinson collection is fast becoming something of an event. Again, in the avoidance of showing his roots, he doesn't disappoint in this, his third. 
  In 'The Immaterialists,' the enigmatic Mr Zym was a small publisher of unlogged poetry whose enigma has outlived his work. But, has his enigma outlived him? A literary student investigates, despite his dismissive tutor fearing Zym had "a bubble reputation, long since popped." The revenant figure of a bald-headed man, close to the former's rooms, appears portentous, unavoidably bringing immediacy to his research.
  Oftentimes, such territory is handled with a dryness that doesn't quite succeed in engaging, or displays a colloquial familiarity that too soon dispels the mystery. Wilkinson, however, strikes the perfect balance. The final line devastates.
  The trope of familial psychological breakdown links some of the following tales. 'A Coastal Quest' sees a woman leave behind her husband and children to go in search of a 'happier life.' The quest ultimately reveals her true whereabouts and true role as narrator; as unreliable to herself as to us. 'The Surrey Alterations' – an uncanny tale of State coercion, which has – with the best – meaning beneath it's surface. 'Beyond The Lace' harbours a near-impenetrable ambiguity, where the initial scenario of a stepfather caring for a fantasist stepdaughter in the wake of her mother's death in a car accident gradually shifts as his own perception proves unreliable. Typical of Wilkinson is his ability to implicate so much in so few pages.
  In 'These Words, Rising From Stone,' a male poet appears silently persecuted by the ghostly presence of a female rival and a curse he'd purposely overlooked. 'The Private Thinker' – The precocious godson of a High Court judge invites a related former school 'friend' to make an inventory of his late father's property. When the godson encounters the spirit of the Judge, he also discovers another spirit with what may be an ulterior motive. 'Evening at the Aubergine Cafe' sees a Godot-like scenario where two men – denied their past identities and trapped by absent memory in a prison-like edgeland – live reductive lives around the cafe of the title.
  SF territory redolent of 'A Clockwork Orange' predominate over the following two tales. 'To Sharpen, Spin' sees an abusive familial relationship the lesser of two evils in a society where personal identity is passe. 'Septs' continues this theme, where the featured boy has succumbed, squatting in properties already squatted in, towards a new pagan dawn.
The virtual life is the norm in the society drawn in 'The Migration of Memories.' An ingenious tale, with a domestic take on its legal and personal consequences. A male newly-retired, who finds his domestic life is anything but his own, forms the basis of 'The Horseshoe Homes,' with intimations of both The Prisoner and Animal Farm.
  'Mills of Silence' – a novella – ends the collection. A cloak-and-dagger tale set in Paris, involving missed appointments, a psychotic former philosopher and war reporter, rumblings in the next hotel room, the trail of an elusive walking 'wound,' and the production of miniature wooden guillotines. Derivative it is not. The ambiguous perceptions – Wilkinson's hallmark – pervade the narratives throughout. Speed-reading Wilkinson denies the disturbing effect only achievable through steady progression. The consequence of so doing reveals, in all positive ways, that he's done it again.

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Synchronicity is defined as 'the simultaneous occurrence of events which appear significantly related but have no discernible causal connection.' Whatever the genre, synchronicity is the guiding creative force for writers. More often than not, you must make your own opportunities to advance towards your goal; but, sometimes, fortune – disguised as chance - appears merely in wait for discovery. For Jake Fior – boutique proprietor of Alice Through The Looking Glass, 14, Cecil Court, London – this book grew out of his specialist field of interest:
  As a ruse to avoid her mother, having failed her Maths exam, Fior's Alice Liddell absconds to the High Street charity shops. The last she visits displays, amongst the bric-a-brac, a full-length, antique looking-glass. On getting it back to her room, she discovers a rear label, a former purchaser name, its owner's name of Bishop Berkeley, and its provenance from 'the Dodgson sale of 1898.' It is from here where fact and fiction merge as contemporary objet d'art related to Carroll find linkage to Fior.
  Through a Looking Glass Darkly – subtitled 'a reimagination' – draws upon real-life familial links between Carroll and The Golden Dawn. Interspersing Fior's version of Carroll's second 'Alice' text with darker parallel scenes featuring leadership rivals Aleister Crowley and Samual Mathers in a metaphorical battle to gain ascendency. (Again, based upon an alleged historical event).
  Fior tells me that, 'as an overview I'd estimate that I've retained about 35% of Carroll's original text and the bravura moments almost verbatim.' He adds: 'The text itself has some allusions that don't get explained in the afterword, but I wanted to leave some things ambiguous so that people can find their own meanings in them.' As a reader, I'd have welcomed an additional scene or two featuring Crowley and Mathers, those present being wonderfully evocative; however, as a writer, I understand how one can get sidetracked by scenes parallel to the prioritised body of text.
  This is, perhaps, more an art book than a conventional novel; more so than the original work, in content, while the dark presence of Crowley doesn't deprive the text of its appeal to older children. For any collector, it is certainly worth purchasing for the additions. There feature three entirely new Tenniel illustrations, newly coloured by Kate Hepburn and Fior himself. Images of demons – credited to E.A.P., 1847 - are augmented by a night sky vista from a photograph from the 1880s'. Fior himself re-drew Alice in the cover image of her emerging from the Looking-Glass, hand-coloured, rather than photo-shopped, heightening the contemporary feel.
  'It was quite a meticulous process. There's also been a lot of care in the design. The Mathers / Crowley sections that intersperse the central text have a different typeface headline to introduce them. This is a modern version of the typeface as used on the spine of the first edition of The Wind in the Willows (which is another reason I'm flattered to be included in The Pan Review).' From whichever field of interest you come to this book, the production alone will delight.
  I began by defining synchronicity. You'll note that the first tale of Charles Wilkinson's third collection is called 'The Immaterialists.' I'd never heard the term before and wondered about its definition. In the afterword, about six pages from the end of Fior's book - entirely different in subject matter and content to Wilkinson's - the author not only uses it, but tells me. His theme – eerily enough - is synchronicity.

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Albertine's Wooers
Steve Toase's first collection - To Drown In Dark Water – is out from Undertow; Paul Draper's slender volume of folk horror – Black Gate Tales – is out via Createspace; Sundial Press are about to release a paperback version of their out-of-print hardback classic, the Jamesian The Alabaster Handspeaking of which, Robert Lloyd Parry's Ghosts Of The Chit-Chat has also been re-released in paperback by Swan River Press; a selected 'best of' of Lisa Tuttle's work The Dead Hours Of Night – is out from Valancourt; Snuggly Tales Of Hashish And Opium gathers together more themed fin-de-siecle gems – many for the first time in English - by Baudelaire, Gautier, Schwob, Lorrain and others.