Further Adventures of The Marmalade Jar

The last we heard of Eva Holubk’s missing book, The Marmalade Jar, it had been seen in Fiji, Mexico City and Gloucestershire. Then, for a couple months, nothing. Until last week, when I received, in a light blue envelope, a missive claiming to have encountered the latest work by Estonia’s favourite female poet in a hotel room in Texas, tucked within the pages of the customary Bible. This was followed, last night, by an e-mail which weaved its way through various electronic channels with the news that three copies of Holubk’s collection have turned up at a bookshop in Durban, South Africa, priced at 12 rand each. I am awaiting photographic proof.

What does this tell us? A lot, which doesn’t amount to very much in particular. The story of this book is not an easy one to follow, though the possibility of someone having a grand old giggle at our expense is, I am afraid to say, increasingly likely.

In other news, a ghost has taken up residence in my computer and spooked out all the common sense. Until the latter can be persuaded to return, I will be writing less.

More on less later.

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In the Air

I’ve never been partial to them myself, but there’s no denying the popular appeal of a murder mystery story. For those who find the genre a little too clinical, however, allow me to suggest an alternative: Absurder Mystery.

It was R. G. Spendock who coined the phrase, back in 1957. Tired of stories that ‘present a mystery, in all its glorious strangeness, and then go on to solve it, with cold aplomb’, he sought instead tales which only ever set up situations. ‘I will never condescend to a solution’, he once wrote. And so it was. His stories were all incredibly open-ended; rife with gossip, swimming with potentials: possibilities perpetually lording it over probabilities. Everything was left in the air. Even the penguins.

Though he struggled to reach a wide audience with these fantastically aggravating narratives, he did succeed in placing a few of them in some of the leading literary journals of the day. It has taken fifty years or so, nonetheless, for someone to collect them all into one volume. We must give thanks, therefore, for the efforts of Spendock’s grandson, Nicholas, without whom Just No Stories: The Collected Prose of R. G. Spendock would not have been possible.

No word on the publishing date just yet, but I’ll keep you posted.

A Few New Works

As noted earlier in the year, 2009 always looked as if it would be a good one for contemporary European literature. At least half a dozen of the authors who featured on my 2005 list promised us new titles, from Hamish Wishart (whose short story collection, Sore Chasm, was published at the beginning of April) to Dinos Tierotis (whose second novel, The Golden Bomber Jacket, hit the bookshelves, albeit lightly, in May). If I have failed to mention these two works before now, it is not because I haven’t given them any attention; merely that other books (Turgidovsky’s Delicious Air, for instance) have taken precedence. What is more, as you will know, I am not one to be rushed into thrusting forth my critical opinion. One takes the cake out of the oven only when it is cooked. Then one consumes the cake. Thus is one becrumbed (which is an entirely different matter, to be considered on another day).

The summer, meanwhile, was set to provide a fitting climax to the literary riches of the spring, symbolised by the possible appearance of the long-awaited Poppies: Book Two, by Jaymer Veers. Ah, what more could a fan of obscure European literature ask for than the sequel to Poppies: Book One? Does not the very thought of it make your earlobes tingle and small toes twitch?

Forgive me, then, for dumping on your eager shoulders the dank and despondent news that Poppies: Book Two will not, in fact, be published this summer – nor, indeed, this year. Why? It’s a mystery. Some argue that there are ‘small teething problems’, whilst others claim that there is ‘no book at all’. Veers himself has been conspicuously quiet.
More on this later, perhaps.

In the meantime I am pleased, nay relieved, to be able to counter this saddening announcement with the information that Boris Yashmilye’s new novel is due at the end of July. There is a tendency amongst many of the writers I admire, as you may have noticed, to toss out books at the rate of one or two a decade, if that. Yashmilye is a blessed exception. His last novel, Out, Damned, was only published a couple of years ago (though it never found an English publisher, translations are readily available – or you may choose to read it in the original Bulgarian if you so desire). Hot on the heels of this, now, comes The Bastard, which, if the the frantic wasp of rumour is to be believed, is set to confirm Yashmilye’s triumphant return to form (his second and third novels, you may recall, were largely disappointing).

More on this when more there is.

Beware the Giant Goldfinch

Talk of Hieronymous Bosch has, as hinted in a post below, dominated my kitchen table of late, due in the main to a recent trip to Madrid, where many of the great Netherlandish painter’s works may be seen. It was there, indeed, that my wife decided she would turn away from her beautifully oblique verse and ape the efforts of the much maligned story-spinner, Dan Brown, whose trite art historical thrillers loom large, like elephant turds, in the cesspit of popular literary culture.

Surely, you scream, someone has already tried to pour Bosch’s rich imagination through the sad plastic funnel of a please-film-me page-turner? No doubt they have, but I’ve yet to hear about it. Nor has my wife, which explains her desire to do this dirty task herself.

Which is not to say that her book won’t have a handful of good ideas hidden within its lurid covers. Even the very worst books contain a sprinkling of originality, after all. And her theory that Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights is all about syphilis has definite qualities. Definite qualities. This is more than I can say, unfortunately, for some of the subplots. Still, if I can get her to accept my own belief that the key to the painting lies in the relationship between Eve and the giraffe, contentment will be my cuddling-companion (even though we both know, at heart, that Hieronymous Bosch and the Holy Bottom Conspiracy will never actually be written).

Those who know the painting in question will know that one of its most interesting features is the presence of several oversized animals. These include, in the central panel: a mallard, a couple of types of fish, a green woodpecker, several types of owl, a kingfisher, a jay, a butterfly, a hoopoe and a goldfinch.

What these bring to your mind, I cannot say. Perhaps you’re already thinking back to that bird-themed fancy-dress party you went to in 1997. My mind, meanwhile, finds itself flying in a different direction – to the only modern European novel I know to feature an oversized goldfinch. I refer, of course, to Pierre Manniac’s Death: A Way of Life – not my favourite semi-fictional blood-splattered memoir of the last two decades, but a good stab at what is, all things considered, a tough genre in which to make a killing. You may read a review of the work here. I don’t think it mentions the goldfinch, but there’s plenty to hold the interest nonetheless.

Life in the Swamp

It causes me much regret to say so, but posts may be slightly thin on the ground for the next few weeks or so, as I find myself swamped by a not-so-heavenly host of pug-faced problems, ranging from computer crises to work-related worries.

You will recall, no doubt, that I have been working on a publication which combines, at long last, the complete writings of Yevgeny Nonik with a selection of academic essays exploring his life and work (first mentioned here). You may also recall that some poor fools had the cheek to doubt that this book would, as promised, be made available for public consumption before the end of the year (see here). One may be tempted to ask – is there, at this point in time, any fear of failure? To which, in reply, I offer a resounding ‘no!’ As things stand, the book will appear before the end of the year, though this very space may suffer as a result.

In light of this I think I ought to remind readers of the purpose of this blog. It was not designed, as some think, to replace Underneath the Bunker, but to serve as an alternative space: a place to wander whilst the other website underwent a few changes. Though I have no intention of radically altering the current set-up, the golden goo of truth oozing out of the project at present informs me that a little more time needs to be spent ensuring that the aforementioned changes are made; and a little less time spent hanging out here. Whether this will become a reality remains to be seen. In any case, don’t expect me to disappear for too long. And remember that, if I ever do, there is more than plenty to be read in the meantime, both here and at the main site.

May the treacle of culture continue to drop upon your noble faces.

Not Narrow Enough

Coincidences can be pleasing. Or not, as the case may be. An allusion, likewise, can give one a frisson – though just as often one wishes it wasn’t there. A landscape can be beautiful enough without people creeping into it. Stupid people.

On a not completly unrelated subject, a Russian newspaper has published yet another of the aforementioned teenage poetry of our dear old hateful friend, Mr. Pyetr Turgidovsky. This one comes with a brief note from its translator, in which he tries and fails to explain his decision to translate the title as My Way.

‘It is extremely unlikely that Turgidovsky had any intention of referring to Frank Sinatra,’ writes the hapless word-fixer, ‘mostly because his title is not the same as the Russian title of that song, but also because Turgidovsky seems to have had very little contact with popular culture of that sort’.

Fair enough. But why, Mr. Translator, have you insisted on going with this title all the same? This is a question he declines to answer, leaving us with the possibility that a.) he is an idiot, b.) he is a Frank Sinatra loving idiot or c.) he has perfectly good reasons which he is keeping to himself, making him somewhat of an idiot.

As for the poem itself, it’s pretty standard teenage Turgidovsky stuff, of the relatively mild and middling sort. Not as brilliant as Side of the Road, by any means, but nonetheless equipped with a moment or two of miserable brilliance.

Having heard from a religious man that there is a wide and narrow way, the youthful Turgidovsky reacts with typically cynical insolence, announcing that there, is in fact, a third way: his own true way. ‘The way between/your two worn paths/a route that only brambles tred/a path-less road you pay by blood’. And so on and so forth.

The majority of the poem is given over to a description of this non-path and of the various difficulties the traveller will have in taking it, mixed in with a bit of Messianic self-identification (‘call me the lord of crows, the son/of everything that you run from’) and the usual no-holds-barred approach to human unhappiness. Not the best poem to turn to on a sunny afternoon, perhaps, but I’d recommend it to all you Turgidovsky fans. Just so long as you are able to get beyond the fact that it’s been given the title My Way (my own suggestion for an alternative can be found at the head of this post).

In other Turgidovsky news, I ought to state, for the good of Truth and all its fluffy angels, that he was not, as hinted by yours truly, responsible for Symptoms of the End. The editor of a small Russian literary magazine has been prosecuted.

Art / Donkey Poo

‘Some people think that artists feel more than other people. Donkey poo. Artists merely indulge in the ordinary feelings that all of us get. The only thing special about an artist is their presumption that they are special’ (Elmer Rautchberg)