Holleston and Non-Novels (3)

The time has come to say a word about Ingemar Hölleston. Not about his parrot boxes – though it’s true, he did have some. Actually, I take that back. He designed them and killed parrots in order to make them, though evidence suggests that his hands were never responsible for the construction of a completed parrot box. It seems that the women in his life (of which there were many, all nicknamed after Dutch paintings) were keen either to stifle his parrot-murdering tendencies altogether – or at the very least prevent him from fashioning boxes out of their feathery corpses.

As I wrote, however, the main aim of today’s post is to not to linger on the subject of parrot boxes, but to push the critical trowel a little deeper into the Hölleston flower-bed: a very worthy task at any time, but especially relevant when set along recent investigations into the concept of the non-novel.  After all, Hölleston is for many people the archetypal non-novelist. Here is a writer who thrives in the shadowy corners; a shape-shifting spirit: a marvellous snowman, bound to melt under the burning sun of critical scrutiny.

Shouldn’t I, thus, hold off the hounds, call off the search and put down the gilded pen? Should I not let the non-novelist be, safe in his nowhere land of diaphanous forms, uncaged by careless catagories?

Perhaps I should. Before I do, yet, I will toss a handful of sand across the slate, or fling a block of damp wood into the quietly burning fire. I will, perchance, risk another paragraph or so.

Some will shiver, shake, and quite possibly quiver at the reverent attitude I hold towards Hölleston. Such has been the case from the very beginning. For some he was and is the Danish Da Vinci; for others no more than a moneyed crackpot. Even Hölleston himself wasn’t too sure. A self-confessed idler and layabout, he thought that he was both  ‘boring’ and yet ‘quite frankly the most interesting person I have ever come across’. ‘Layabout’ was probably about right, though one has to remember that he lay about in great style. As always, he brought to the task (or non-task, as the case may be) an original vision: a new angle, a fresh perspective, a distinct divination.

‘I never edit,’ he once wrote – and it’s not as if we needed to know. The thing about Holleston was that he wrote. That was all. He wrote things down. Where they were going he didn’t know. Some bits were long, other bits short. Some bits were accompanied by pictures, others by diagrams, others by nonsensical scrawls. Prose slipped into poetry mid-sentence, then back into prose. Stories began, then disappeared, then reappeared, then left again, never to return. In the midst of all this there were flashes of wisdom. Too many flashes, perhaps. One was – and is – often blinded by Hölleston. He points a searchlight at your soul. His words, at best, are what strobe lighting is to an epilectic. At his most medicore, he is but a candle in a cathedral, steadily melting our waxen hearts.

Hölleston was full of great ideas, though he was never afraid, nor ashamed, to keep them in embryo form. Some call this his weakness – I think it his strength. In working up ideas into novels, many writers lose what it was that got them going in the first place. The foundation stone is crushed by the great galumphing building constructed on top of it. Readers, those soft-hearted fools, will lose their way in the margins, falling for this or that character, all the while ignoring the essence of the thing: the spark that started the fire. Hölleston, however, never got round to creating a fire. He lit the match and blew it out, time after time.

How does one read him? I’ve never been sure. Bits of his work have been published, haphazardly, by various houses, though they remain far from readily available to the potential masses. The rest lingers, meanwhile, in Danish libraries: a page here, another page there. It seems that no one has ever had a hold on Hölleston. But that’s the beauty of the man. He ain’t the type to be tamed.


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