Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Wednesday 20 January 2016

"Posthumous Stories" by David Rose (Salt, 2013)

My poetry pamphlet began with "to smallpress editors and publishers everywhere". This book's begins "This collection is dedicated to the editors of literary magazines everywhere". He's been published in the Literary Review, London Magazine, Warwick review, etc. His note on p.xiii about the composition of 2 of the stories is useful. Don't be alarmed by his mention of Oulipo practises - it's Oulipo-lite.

In "Dedication" a BBC R3-ish interviewer intellectualizes many of the answers of the interviewee (a person with little music ability whose parents befriended a composer who dedicated a work to her when she was a child). Then there's a stream-of-consciousness section. "A Nice Bucket" describes the day of a team of workers who are creating speed-bumps, one of whom (3rd-person privileged) is somewhat detached. It ends "And he finds himself wondering what difference the loss of two toes would make. Not to his balance but just in general. To life, like". In "Private view" a non-artistic son of a late artist is asked to comment on a retrospective which includes a replica of the studio. In "Flora" a restrained man is kind to a female art student, though he knows little about Art. She leaves a hidden message.

I like all the stories so far.

"The Fall" is 40 pages long. A member of a religious sect creates situationist pieces with the sleath of secret service missions. He's promoted to an inner sect which does more GreenPeacey things. But he's an aesthete. And his girl has abandoned him. There's a fall from aesthetics (music and poetry) to eco-politics to the fragmentary language at the end, when he's fled the city.

In the beginning, the Word.
But I am falling. Out of the hands of the living God. Into my self. The fall into silence ... I've never paid for sex before. I find I prefer it. It's silent commerce (for talk they charge extra). She hands you a condom, assumes a position. You hammer away, lost in yourself.
And after the death there was a sound, far away, like something in Chekhov.

"The Fifth Beatle" wasn't as good; as with "Dedication" its non-linearity seems contrived.

To enjoy "Viyborg - A Novel" you may need to like (or be amused by) art-crit and maybe lit-crit too. The piece is an essay about a novel, with extended quotes.

The chapter ends with him sitting reflectively, then making notes on the back of a letter. Are we to infer from this that he is no longer in the room? Or that he is, but has no notebooks or tape recorder? Clarification would have been welcome (p.84)
Another intermezzo, again in the National Gallery. The painting that preoccupies him this time is one of the scientific scenes by Joseph Wright of Derby: Experiment With An Airpump (in point of fact this is in the Tate). Cursory remarks on the chiaroscuro and formal group composition are followed by a detailed description of the subject - the mixed group, attentive or relaxed, the apparatus lit to form the focal point, the bird in the sealed glass bowl, the two girls, one of whom is weeping, the moon-laced clouds through the window. And something which is not depicted or detectible (sic) in the painting - a stone-throwing mob outside, trying to smash the window (p.86)
Our point of view changes and with it comes a time lapse. Mention is made of a split second of velvet dark that lasts for infinity, although it is now mid-morning, the sun hot and the sky blue (cerulean!). Another man - we assume - walks over a railway bridge and along a footpath. He is wearing blue corduroy trousers and a red check shirt a little too bright for his age. (p.94)

"Clean" is more mysterious - a person under cover can sometimes see the future? "Rectilinear" comprises memories of a childhood with a violin-playing father ("He struggled hardest over the Second Partita, with its arduously long Chaconne ... Chaconne à son goût", p.105) and Slade-trained mother. This time the prevailing subject's Architecture - Loos in particular. A couple design their house to out-Loos Loos. At the end, after the divorce, the text becomes centred. "Evening in soft light" does nothing for me, nor "Shuffle" (about a book-lover) that includes "this is the sort of pretentious drivel only theorists would bother with, only Borges could make interesting" (p.123). The main character in "Lector" does public speaking for a job in a world where orators are paid. He freelances in the park. For 5 pounds he'll read out 30 pages of a thriller, 8 pages of Henry James, or 1 of Pinter - "You're paying for the pauses". Interest in the technique of reading eventually interferes with his professionalism. Typo on p.124 - "beating time with with his slippered foot".

I wasn't keen on "Tragos" where a cornered, armed man is talking on a mobile to a negotiator. He gives himself up. "Zimmerman" is another account of a novel - "The story begins with a man - we assume him to be Zimmerman - loading an accordian onto a cart ... There is a lyrical description of the effect of the sunlight on the snow-covered pines, the scent of wet needles in the still-sharp air from where the snow has shrunk and the earth is discovered" (p.142). The final paragraph is "But in an expanding universe nothing is lost. Even now the sound of his playing, the burst of applause are lapping out into infinity, mingling forever with Brahms and Mozart and the silent cry of wounded creatures". In the end I wasn't convinced. "House" has non-PC jokes with an edge, and a hint that purposely inadequate language may have benefits.

"The Castle" is a novella, beginning with an allusion to Beckett to overlay Kafka. Then Rilke's Elegies take over. Like the other pieces, this one contains passages that in themselves make the journey worthwhile - "Behind me the warm walls of the Castle bulked up black against the dark, the lights from the slot windows like a virgin's wink" (p.159); "Etymology is an odd business. Like lifting a paving stone to reveal a dead frog." (p.167); "My fingers ran over the Braille of the granite and along the scars on my wrists. My mind wandered over the valleys of memory, grazing on the years since. Those years, gentle slopes of monotony, featureless. Borrowed time. But then, most of my life feels borrowed; that feeling of living another's life, of being in the wrong novel." (p.190). At the end I expected the "smallish men" from the start to re-appear, for the main character to be a sleeper, a royal assassinator.

On the back cover the prose is described as elegant, 'sinewy and spare', 'crisp, succinct and finely wrought'. I know what they mean. That control permeates the content too - undercover ops, assignations - and the characters who are mostly male, reticent, Pure O. And there's lots of interpreted culture, of non-artists in an artistic setting.


Other reviews

  • M John Harrison (Guardian) (one of the more hidden treasures of the British short story ... At greater length, they can prove tiring)
  • Goodreads
  • Bookbag (The first thing you'll notice about David's style is that it's too diverse to put your finger on. ... Not all the stories are deep though)
  • Rebecca Burns (The collection offers up a mix of tales, threaded together by an array of characters (often unnamed) who share feelings of detachment and isolation in their distinct and differing lives ... it seems that Rose plays with the concept of over-emphasising aspects of art and culture)
  • Vanessa Gebbie (it’s a treasure box in which strange obsessive narrators look up as you pass from their usually left-brained and controlling occupations)
  • Quadrapheme
  • Christena Appleyard (Daily Mail) (Maybe it’s because David Rose spent his youth working in a real job with real people for the Post Office instead of posturing on creative writing courses that the characters he invents have such compelling, authentic voices.)

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