05 September 2016

Kaaron Warren's The Grief Hole is for all of us bloodsuckers

“I think it is very beautiful for the poor to accept their lot, to share it with the passion of Christ. I think the world is being much helped by the suffering of the poor people.”

Theresa thought she was beyond horror at human behaviour. She’d been submerged in it, surrounded by it, and risen above it, day by day, in her job. The contrast of THEM making her feel like a better person.
The Grief Hole

“Everyone’s a parasite”

-- Aunt Prudence in The Grief Hole

A band of angels couldn’t have conspired better to launch Kaaron Warren’s newest novel, The Grief Hole, upon the world at this theres-no- better time. 

This novel could have been so many things--a simplistic Avenger ripper, a Walmart-baroque peepshow into sadism and misogyny such as Game of Thrones, an unreadably dense but otherwise deeply thoughtful exploration of evil and do-gooding Nobel Prize for Literature winner.
But it is none and yet, all of these in parts.

The Grief Hole is, firstly, such a gripping and suspenseful read that its depths are only seen when looking back, for looking back is something your mind will do, regardless of your command. This page-turner does what literature should, explore without constrictions the unfathomed, the unseemly, and the avoided-at-all-cost—doing all this with no affectation in the telling, thereby making the impacts on anyone exposed to The Grief Hole unavoidable and irredeemable.

And as for the beauty of suffering, the artpieces intentional and otherwise, of unnatural death—the nuances of good and evil in this novel shine like the rainbow on rotting meat. The contrasts between people Prudence calls ‘monsters’ refuse to keep their clarity, undermining the very nature of ‘good’, though not with any of the usual faux-nihilism tosh. Both Theresa and the beloved international singing star Sol Evictus in The Grief Hole have much in common with Octave Mirbeau’s Clara in The Torture Garden (Le Jardin des Supplices) whose passion is, not a box seat at the Opera, but strolling participation at staged displays of exquisitely refined torture. 

Warren has a particular skill with characters, so lightly sketched they could be pencil-drawn instead of oil. Explicit three-dimensionality expressed in a simple line. Family members, the one true love, hired muscles, The Lacemaker, dogs, and of course, a host of ghosts. My favourite in this novel is the wise fool, Aunt Prudence. This isn’t the only work of Warren’s in which an aunt is a standout who I hope to meet again. Aunt Beryl (who, like Prudence, has astounding toenails) in Warren's short story Bridge of Fools is as outstanding as any aunt drawn by those other aunt-employers, Wodehouse and Saki.

The story itself is both fast-moving and, far from pitching us twists and horrors like fish to seals, seems to grow as organically as bread mould. The only aspect that I felt possibly contrived was the age of Theresa, who I reckon would be about 5 years older to have her experience in social work. However, I could be wrong. Perhaps what it took for her, was just that level of experience and naiveté. 

I thoroughly enjoyed the read, though as the saying goes, maybe ‘enjoy’ isn’t quite the word, especially about that all-too-visceral hole. One last terrific part, however, is a hint in the thrilling ending. It isn’t an ending at all. Prudence is incorrigible, and Theresa didn’t have to think twice to answer her own question, “Is that what I want?”

A rare book, this. I hope it flies out beyond genres and one language, to take its rightful, deeply unsettling place, in all good souls monsters and parasites.


The Grief Hole by Kaaron Warren
Cover & internal artwork by Keely Van Order
Published by IFWG Publishing Australia
GET IT.   

24 August 2016

Steve Aylett: A Critical Anthology -- What a surprise. These critical essays fail to turn you off the author.

Steve Aylett: A Critical Anthology is nothing short of an addict’s value-added fix. Usually critical essays make me feel sorry for the author, since critical essays tend to be like that bitter stuff put on a committed thumb-sucker’s digit.  But this exceptional collection made me want to reread and find more Aylett stuff, and it enhances with new insights, intriguing conundrums that even he can’t solve—and does all this with such wit and creativity that this critical anthology is a disgraceful disturbance to the calm, congealed status quo of critical works.
 edited by Bill Ectric and D. Harlan Wilson
published by Sein und Werden

The essayists, each marvelous writers in their own right, probably couldn’t write the kind of essays Aylett skewers in his unspelled-out And Your Point Is? Scorn and Meaning in Jeff Lint’s Fiction.

Steve Aylett: A Critical Anthology, though no hagiography, is written by people who not only appreciate Aylett as much as I do but are also SA evangelicals.

“If he could just stop the Tourett’s flood of original ideas, dilute the language so the reader only had to pause and shake the head in admiration every paragraph or so rather than every other line, this man could be a sales phenomenon, could be a franchise.... Read the book, first to yourself, then, unavoidably, aloud to friends until they’re sick of you.”
— Alan Moore, from his “Introduction to Fain the Sorcerer

There are many mind-scouring (often explosively funny) quotes from Aylett’s works and the man himself; and from Rachel Haywire, there’s a new interview. All the pieces, for the most part, speak in understandable tongues. ‘Diegetic’ was used only 5 times, four, in an extraordinary (tongue-in cheek?) work of scholarship by Iain Matheson; and Derrida barely gets a look-in. These essays, often with titles way too interesting for serious journals, are a mix of preoccupations and questions posed and plumbed, one of which is plot.

But plot, as Jim Matthews says, misses the point. He writes: “I’ll invite and deserve a lot of flak if I don’t at least briefly state that Aylett’s work goes a lot deeper than just first effects, and often no distinction can be made. The satirical element of his work is strung throughout like hi-tensile electric fence-wire and is, for him, paramount. He says, ‘People have lost touch with what real satire is...’ ”

They sure have. “[Shaun Micallef] refuses to spell out exactly what it means. The best satires ... are always very diligent in explaining their jokes.” — Ben Pobjie, “I blame Shaun Micallef for the horror of Australian politics", Sydney Morning Herald, July 7, 2016

Now, that is imo, a perfect piece of satire, showing why today’s true satirists are rare as standup comedians who don’t laugh at their jokes. But satire is always rooted in tragedy—so because Aylett is the real thing and is tragically, nowhere near as famous as he should be, and because his novel Lint should be always in print in say, a “Popular Penguin” edition but so far, isn’t — I hazarded trying this book.

The discussions of satire here—what it is, what Aylett thinks it is, great satirists, in the opinions of these essayists and Aylett himself—are both fascinating and desperately needed. I loved Andrew Wenaus’ “Satire, Anxiety, and Prospect in The Caterer” partly because I agree with Spencer Pate in thinking Aylett’s masterpieces to be Lint and And Your Point Is?, and I would add The Caterer comic.

Some other topics bemused me because I don’t understand them, though they are of great importance to so many readers, critics and editors. I don’t get speed at all. Okay, if it’s not Elmore Leonard or a Mac, isn’t one person’s fast consumable another’s slow, and why does speed matter unless something’s so slow that it’s fast because you can’t read it at all, like I can’t José Saramago’s suffocating single-paragraph novels? But speed obviously matters, since “It’s a fast read” is considered a plus in a review, while ‘fast food’ is its own damnation. So Robert Kiely’s statement “[Aylett’s] prose is uncompromisingly fast” in his essay “Speed, Originality and Déjà vu in Bigot Hall” reminded me of how even the most definitive statement in a critical essay is, undressed, a human POV. I find Aylett a slow read, which is why I enjoy him so much. He’s got so much on every page that to read it fast is to skim. I find Dr. Seuss a slow read too, and Joseph S. Pulver Sr., and Nesbit and Wodehouse, and Rikki Ducornet. They’re all slow reads because I love to loiter on the page. But Kiely’s essay, like this whole contrarian collection, sucked me in. It is both insightful and deeply thought out. Also, as with many of these essays, it introduced me to other authors and works I can’t wait to explore.

A wonderful conundrum asked and unsolved in this volume could be summed up by the statement “I know not what I do, unless I do and I don’t know”. Does Aylett mean to say what he does all the time, does he know what he means—and when is he taking the piss out of, uh, who? This mystery was great fun to read, and it certainly doesn’t seem as if Aylett is, like Dylan Thomas, famously laughing at us finding meaning when there isn’t. It’s good to know, when this reader isn’t sure, that he might not be either. Or maybe he was, and forgot. There’s so much in that head.

You will not only find gems you mightn't find for yourself in Aylett's works, but many other treasures--other authors' works, musicians' (Spencer Pate's "The Wonderful and Frightening Worlds of Mark E. Smith and Steve Aylett" is a personal favourite), and running back to Aylett, background, underpinnings, motivations, nuances. The essays themselves also give such vicarious pleasure as they transmit their joy in discovery. You will also find that spirit of mentorship/admiration/camaraderie/almost a salon, that is in the best spirit of brilliant creatives inspiring/encouraging each other instead of seeing each other as competitors. And I’ve left the editors and essayists Bill Ectric and D. Harlan Wilson to last. I particularly liked Bill Ectric’s lovely description of exploring Aylett’s treasures. He is one of those modest people who has so much under the surface, yet doesn’t let on about his erudition. This book is, I think, primarily his brainchild, but he and Wilson must have complemented each other to produce such a fine, and subversive outcome. 

Far from putting you off an author, this book of critical essays does what they all should—Enhance, entrance, intrigue, and make you want to get your mitts on, at the very least, every work by the unique Steve Aylett.

Heart of the Original by Steve AylettNote: Looking back, I noticed that I’ve written more posts about Aylett on this blog than I have about any other exceptional, even the quince. So if you haven’t tried Aylett, try these for starters:

Immerse yourself.

    04 August 2016

    Donald Trump Wall

    “We cannot put aside our memories of the day when 50 per cent of the people had a ‘favorable opinion’ of this bully and fraud and another 21 per cent had ‘no opinion’ of him... McCarthy offered a powerful challenge to freedom, and he showed us to be more vulnerable than many of us had guessed to a seditious demagogy—as well as less vulnerable than some of us had feared....

    “In the mirror, McCarthy must have seen and recognized a fraud...He lied with poise and spontaneity...No man was ever quicker than this super-Munchausen to call another a liar, generally with amplifying adjectives...If history had been cooperative—continuing or increasing the tensions and anxieties and misconceptions on which he thrived—changes in the country’s temper might have come to pass that would have made possible a successful bid for power. The truth is that lack of experience makes it difficult for us to judge the possibilities of a national demagogue.”
    — Richard H. Rovere, Senator Joe McCarthy, Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1959 

    The pictures are by me, and posted here for Creative Commons use.

    15 September 2015

    Against the skin: Hidden colouration

    Flaunt it

    This chiton, typical of these rather dowdy creepers, is camouflaged on the outside to look part of the shadowed black and brown rocks it feeds upon. So why does the inside of its exoskeleton (as well as many others who wear their bones as coats ) look as if it's dressed for a mating dance?

    BBC: Whoup are youp to cry coup?

    Bloody hell! The BBC should know better than to headline "Australia: Coup capital of the democratic world". Calling it a coup is only showing ignorance of the flexibility of the parliamentary system. Americans and the world were stuck with George Bush until the term was over, but this change in Australia is hardly a violent and sudden takeover but a "finally" moment in answer to the secular prayers of such a majority that the Tonygov would be clobbered come Saturday.

    So, Nick Bryant, though your description of the "bloodletting" is colourful, don't confuse your trade and its increasing propensity for covering politics/government as if they're gladiatorial contests that have rounds that can extend years before the final coup, with serious journalism and coverage of current affairs. By making all politics into drama about personalities and challengers, you have helped to reduce the complexity of democracy to gameshow, and to eliminate serious discussion let alone information about important issues.

    In the case of this "spill", politicians' wishes to save their skins were for once, in harmony with the electorates' lazy but increasingly stroppy thoughts of—"Who will rid me of this troublesome priest?"

    24 August 2015

    Strawberries, grown interesting

    Commercial strawberry producers have been pushed to grow ever more grossly enlarged monstrosities of shiny, deeply pitted red — as if we must all want to admire and devour drunkards' noses.

    But do buy a punnet and don't take any out, to see true beauty grow.

    a punnet of strawberry mould

    21 May 2015

    The brown bryozoan & the silk scarf

    Bugula neritina on fine silk jacquard

    The 'common fouling organism' Bugula neritina is a such a magnificent insignificant that it could be awarded a Magnificant Medal, but where would it wear it?
    Under the microscope a living specimen looks very different indeed from the picture presented to the naked eye. Each delicate frond consists of two or three rows of little compartments set ened to end, those of the different rows being not quite opposite to each other. The compartments are about 1 mm long and vary from one-quarter to one-fifth of that in width, and each has an aperture from which a small but very beautiful crown of tentacles may be extruded.
    In all probability the whole specimen will have arisen from one individual, the growth process being an extraordinarily extensive proliferation by budding . . .
    – W.J. Dakin's classic study: Australian Seashores, fully revised and illustrated by Isobel Bennett, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1987

    17 May 2015

    The underbelly of a fungus

    Hexagonia vesparia
    on a blown-down eucalypt branch
    Conjola forest, SE NSW, Australia