I, Georgy Riecke, will be away for the next two and a half weeks, fulfilling an important duty. I leave you, however, with plenty to read. Here on this site, there are well over four hundred posts to cast your eager eyes over, while over at Underneath the Bunker at least twenty longer articles await your careful inspection. This should be more than enough for you to be getting on with.

Meanwhile, may the treacle of culture continue to drip, steadily, upon all your noble faces…

Still More Lies

‘In my opinion the truth, so called, is a much overrated quantity. The trouble with it is that it is closed: when you tell the truth, that’s the end of it; lies, on the other hand, ramify in all sorts of unexpected directions; complicting things, knotting them up in themselves, thickening the texture of life… To lie is to create’ (John Banville, Ghosts)

Yet More Lies

‘Writers of fiction tend to take a peculiar stance when it comes to non-fiction, as if they were saying “here are lies, there is truth” when they should be saying “here are lies, there are yet more lies”. Fiction, for me, will always have the upper hand, for being the land, as it were, of the truthful lie.’ (Ik Nunn)

Club of Compromise

A few days ago I reported the fact that The South-Hungarian Over-80s Water-Polo Book Club have stopped reading books underwater since the death of their secretary Josef Volvidik. This would make them, it seems, The South-Hungarian Over-80s Water-Polo Club. But no: there is more. Not only have they given up on their noble Active Reading project; they have allowed themselves further compromises also. According to their new secretary, Max Hingermänn, the club is now open to ‘anyone over 58’.

Strange days these…

How We Got Here

Patrick Stendt has always been a sensitive writer. An overly sensitive writer. Creating fiction is, for him, a process that calls for painstaking precision. He approaches the world of fantasy as a historian approaches that of reality. No detail is too small; one cannot be too intensive in the pursuit of background information.

This explains why his novels, up to now, have struggled to get beyond background information. The story never seems to get off the ground; or at least, the story soon becomes something else: what comes before taking precedence over what could be happening now. There is no time for that. The back-story defeats the actual story every time.

His new work, Origins, is no exception. Stendt shows little or no signs of calming down. Here we find him indulging his weakness more than ever; picking at his scabs like a mindless child.

We start with a man and a woman having a conversation on a train. Six hundred pages later the same man and woman are on the train, having the same conversation. About two minutes have passed. That’s 1/5 second every page by my reckoning (slow moving, by anyone’s standards). Stendt, you see, has a real problem when it comes to moving forward. He simply can’t do it. Every small action has to be explained: one has to go back, way back, in order to go forward, slightly forward. We know plenty about the man’s great-great-grandparents, or the woman’s mother’s brother’s dog. But the man himself remains somewhat of a mystery. We know everything and yet nothing about him. The details are there, but the man is intangible – he has no living form. He is what he has been – not what he might become.

Stendt’s characters are explained; their past carefully – oh-so-carefully! – uncovered. But here they end. He can create them, but cannot seem to do anything with them. And so he goes back, again, into the past, to see what else he can recover from the wreckage. All we get (as he seems to have realised) are origins. We know where everything is coming from, but there is never any sense of anything going anywhere.

And so Stendt leaves us: just like that. His man and woman remain on their train, waiting for the sum of their pasts to propel them into some kind of future. Waiting for the back-stories to end, and the main story to begin. Which it never does, of course.

So-Called Heroes (Part One)

A few years ago I wrote a couple of articles called ‘Heroes of Active Reading’, both of which were recently re-published (here and here). In retrospect, many of my heroes have turned out to be a little less heroic than I gave them credit for – others more so. In the following posts I shall attempt, therefore, to cut these so-called heroes into a more sensible (and, one hopes truthful) shape.

I start with the South-Hungarian Over-80s Water-Polo Book Club. These noble souls, you will recall, chose (several years ago) to combine the curious sport of water-polo with the worthy practise of underwater Active Reading. Alas: no longer. Josef Volvidik, club secretary (and proud owner of the all-important laminator) has since died – and with him the spirit of the group. Underwater reading no longer takes place in any shape or form. The laminator was left to Volvidik’s nephew Jan, who donated it to a local school.

Matthias Blomquist (another exemplary Active Reader) has also thrown in the towel. After reading the entire works of Proust whilst hand-gliding, he outlined his intention to re-read the series ‘eating a madeleine after every three sentences and balancing on an inflatable beach ball’. He started this, in earnest, early this year, but pulled out half way through The Guermantes Way, complaining of ‘boredom, and a sore bottom’. Shame on you Monsieur…

On a more positive note, Serbian athelete Alexi Minchevic continues to run marathons whilst reading. She has now broken her nose eighteen times.