Shaken Out of The Ruts

Various things – carelessness, happiness and falling leaves among them – ensured that September wasn’t the busiest month at this blog. However, like an industrious dormouse storing up fat for the winter, I have been holding some words back in readiness for the cold months to come. Before I invite you all to share in this glorious feast of ideas (and feast it is) here are some words from Mr Aldous Huxley, a dead English writer:

To be shaken out of the ruts of ordinary perception, to be shown for a few timeless hours the outer and the inner world, not as they appear to an animal obsessed with words and notions, but as they are apprehended, directly and unconditionally, by Mind at Large – this is an experience of inestimable value to everyone and especially to the intellectual (Doors of Perception 1954)


You wait weeks for a ‘dinosaurs in contemporary european literature’ story and then two come along at once. Not that it’s news to anyone that Fjona Uu’s third novel will be called The Brontesaurus Sisters (I announced it here back in May) but its impending publication (put back several months on account of something someone is calling a ‘recession’) is nonetheless worth celebrating.

Early reports suggested that the novel would feature ‘graverobbing, talking magpies and a small boy who believes he is the reincarnation of all three Brontë sisters’. Since then I have heard talk of ‘time-travel, recipes for soup and a hilarious new take on Heathcliff’. All in all, this sounds like somewhat of a lark, which should be a good thing, so long as Uu doesn’t get carried away. The strength of her early work, after all, was its grounding in a sincere moral standpoint. It was, as P. S. Einhart might say: ‘lunacy tethered’ – which isn’t as bad as it sounds, unless you’re of the Dorwindovitch persuasion, in which case this is all a rotten compromise, and Uu ought to be wearing her watered-down Marxist sympathies on her (say it softly) cashmere sleeve.

Still, with any luck I’ll be able to get my hands on the novel soon enough, at which point I will report back to you, taking care to note the differences between Uu’s approach to sexual relationships between prehistoric creatures and those of Ciambhal O’Droningham. It should prove to be a fascinating comparison.

More on Fjona Uu here, here and even here. In fact, all over the place.

Clerical Ribaldry and Dinosaur Sex

We all know with what speed a risky subject can evolve into something quite tame and predictable. Remember the fuss over Ingemar Glozon’s A Thousand Men? What shocked the reading public about Glozon’s epic narrative about the Catholic church was not the fact that it was packed with scurrilous and scatalogical subplots. No, the sensation was that it wasn’t crammed with such stuff: that he went so far as to praise the church: to back the institution up. We’d all been so used to stories about perverse priests and mischievous monks, the idea that the church might be doing a smidgen of good came as a bit of a surprise. Not a naughty nun in sight: oh my.

Clerical ribaldry may have become a bit of an old chestnut these days, but that’s not to say that some people don’t do it well, or keep it relevant. Ciambhal O’Droningham is the obvious, much-mentioned, example. His series of ero-sci-fi-philosophical-murder-mysteries (the best of which remains The Dead Priest) set a standard that few can match. Some of the jokes may have lost their punch over the years (that’s enough about candlesticks now, Ciambhal) but on the whole he keeps things fresh.

Was it always so? Not necessarily. Before stumbling upon the formula that cemented his literary career, O’Droningham struggled to make his particular brand of shocking-with-a-subtle-twist fiction work. Perhaps it was his refusal to accept that he needed to put religion, the focus of his life, at the centre of his work. Or perhaps it was just his unhealthy fixation with dinosaur sex.

I’m not sure whether you could call it a taboo as such. But then it’s not something we like to talk about all that much either – for good or revealing reasons. Personally speaking the realm of the dinosaurs is associated with my childhood, whereas the mechanics of a sexual encounter between two large lizards is, well, something else entirely. Mixing the two seems both peculiar and unnecessary. Is there even a market for this sort of thing?

If there is, it wasn’t a market O’Droningham was able to exploit, probably on account of his poor prose, and feeble grasp of prehistoric issues. All of which goes to say that these early tales – Rapt or Obsessed and Call me Rex – are not worth revisiting, now or ever. This is one of those risky subjects that doesn’t require full disclosure.

Stinkhorns, Mongrels and A Way with Words

As Domino has pointed out, with typical grace, the writer George Forthwith-James was, to all intents and purposes, ‘as slimy as a stinkhorn’. As I have countered, however, had she ever received a personal message from said scribe, she would have eaten her words pronto. For Forthwith-James had the rare gift of phenomenal charm: a magnetism that no logic could ever overcome. Face to face he was no great shakes – but when words began to spill from his pen there was no stopping him. He had a way with words – and god knows that this, much like a pretty face, makes up for all sorts of deficiencies. As waves re-sort the sand, so words strip the sinning beach clean.

Speaking of bastards, a month or so ago I devoted half a dozen posts to a loose review of Boris Yasmilye’s new novel The Bastard. The title, of course, does not refer to George Forthwith-James, or any sort of man: the bastard in question is the book itself, a bastard in the original sense (The Mongrel might have been a better translation of the title, but we’ll let it stand).

Having said this, The Bastard does deal with themes particular to Forthwith-James. Its main concern, after all, is the art of letter writing: our man’s favourite medium. And what it says about this appears to confirm the problem at the heart of this matter – that words written from one person to another have a power greater than words written to a general audience. Or should I say: words that appear to have been written from one person to another. For is this not what the best fiction does – it gives the appearance that the author has written it for us alone; that the novel is in fact a letter from them to us: a direct, personal appeal from one soul to another?

Intimacy shouldn’t be something one can ape – and yet Forthwith-James, like many a good writer, was painfully adept at doing just this. He used words to make connections; frequently false connections, or connections based on shaky foundations. But connections nonetheless…

Rediscovered Doors

Speaking of pineapple juice (as I was somewhere below), you may be interested to hear that I have just recovered an old notebook, once thought to have been lost forever. Not, alas, this one, but another, more recently misplaced book, in which I had taken notes for and completed the first draft of an article I had hoped to publish at Underneath the Bunker sometime last year. The title of the article is The Doors of Pineappleception, and it concerns the findings of a vaguely dangerous cultural experiment involving one middle-aged man (also known as ‘myself’) and rather a lot of pineapple juice.

Though I always find it hard to return to projects months after the original inspiration has lost its fierce grip on my ever-wandering mind, I think you will agree that such an essay hardly deserves to languish within the pages of an old notebook. I will therefore make every attempt to dust it off, clear away a cobweb or two and make it in some way palatable to the present day reader, either here on the blog, or over at the main site.

Meanwhile, I recommend that all my readers drink pineapple juice responsibly.