The Path Less Trodden Part Deux
I’ll read anything really esoteric so long as Aleister Crowley’s not in it.
Andy Sharp’s ‘The English Heretic Collection’ seems to have avoided that ridiculous old fraud so far, and it’s a real curate’s egg. It provides an alternative mythology for Britain, zooming about between Druids, B movies, magickal wars and old psychedelia while inevitably taking in the usual suspects, Dennis Wheatley, JG Ballard and Iain Sinclair. What’s more disturbing is how Sharp has blurred fiction and reality, as if he sees no real difference between them.
But all this is really just an excuse, as most such books are, for exploring the author’s interests, which apart from the odd sideways glance at say, aircraft wreckage, aren’t that surprising at all. In fact, they’re regularly mined by almost every proponent of countercultural history. Are De Sade and Polanski here? Yup. Any women? Not really. It’s all good fun though, and a refreshing reminder that there’s a parallel set of norms out there which are just as conformist as any others.
Speaking of La Sinclair, he’s back, potentially for the final time, in ‘The Last London’. The old psychogeographer’s prose is filled with the usual linguistic tics and epic wall-to-wall sneering, but even so it’s his best book in years because the subject – ‘London was, but is no more’ suits his mildewed purview. The picaresque narrative involves plenty of psychomadooberie as he walks through the invisible ley-lines of London, now with a less breathless and more jaundiced view of the city he plans to leave behind in a fit of schadenfreude. It starts in Hastings and if he’s planning to move there he’ll find it a lot less appealing than Hackney. If you get through the frankly knackering first chapter, which is either an acidulous corrective to sentimental thinking or the whining of a pensioner with a liver complaint who prefers things how they used to be, you’ll probably enjoy the rest. I did to a point, but then I’m staying here.
Anyone say Hardcore Esoteric Fiction? How about ‘Impostures’ by al-Harīrī? It’s based on ‘The Maqāmāt’, an untranslatable, shapeshifting millennium-old Arabic text. ‘Fifty rogue’s tales translated fifty ways’ reads the sub-head. To make it readable now, a prismatic approach has been adopted using every linguistic style imaginable, in the same way that Sufi philosophy was modernised in fables during the 1960s. To be honest I was sold by the jacket. ‘To translate a work that has been called untranslatable for a thousand years requires (…) wit, creativity and an ocean-deep reservoir of knowledge of history and literature and humanity’. The 12th century classic is the erudite Everest of world literature and no, I haven’t tackled it yet, I’m busy reading ‘Lady, Don’t Fall Backwards.’ But I’m going to. Every one should own one literary mountain, although I still haven’t got around to Don Quixote, and never will.
Ray Bradbury, a writer whom I have periodically written off in the past for his sentimental trips down Nostalgia Lane and then come back to for his astoundingly atmospheric prose, has surprised us one last time, and what a killer edition this is. Not all readers are aware that along with his forays into pulp, SF and fantasy Bradbury wrote crime stories. ‘Killer, Come Back to Me’ is a selection of the very best in this, his centennial year, chosen with a discerning eye and gathered together from all parts of his long career.
‘The Small Assassin’ is here, which is cheating a bit, but it’s a great story and only one in twenty fine tales that bravely take fantastical elements as given in order to make telling points. In the opening story, ‘A Touch of Petulance’, never previously republished, a man is confronted with his future self, who arrives with a warning that he will kill his (their) wife. What stays with you is not the time travel element but the reason for murder, only hinted at.
Perhaps it’s wrong to subdivide writers’ works into categories and we should consider Bradbury simply as a writer, but this volume certainly makes collecting easier – except that now I want the collections from which these tales were culled. A good writer’s style can be identified in a page, and so it proves with Bradbury every time.