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-HarÄ«rÄ«? 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.




21 comments on “The Path Less Trodden Part Deux”

  1. Roger says:

    “I still haven’t got around to Don Quixote, and never will.”

    You can always look at Gustav Doré’s pictures anyway.

  2. Granny says:

    Off point here, Christopher, (tho I will check out Bradbury sometime) but your list of Bryant and May books has not been updated. The Lonely Hour (2019) England’s Finest (2019) and Oranges and Lemons (2020) are not listed. My bestie has just given (well, lent, under with strick condition of not reading any in the bath) the last few books and I wanted to check the order I should indulge myself with them – anyways, have sorted this out now. Keep well, we all (her hubby included) love your books and they have given us much joy in our retirement. Keep well
    Regarding Sufi – I always enjoyed the Idris Shah snippets, did also have a go at Rumi and Rabi’a but “The way of the Sufi” was a heap more accessible to me.
    The bath reference is in relation to a book I bought her for her birthday, ofc I read it before passing it on but unfortunatly dropped it in the bath so it was somewhat bulging. She has never forgotten and enjoys reminding me whenever she lends me any book … humph!

  3. Jo W says:

    ” I’m busy reading Lady Don’t Fall Backwards.”
    Would that be the biography of Joan Hancock or the original by Darcy Sarto? 😉
    P.s. I would appreciate some kind of warning signal for remarks of this kind so that I won’t snort builders down my nose. Not nice at breakfast!

  4. Andrew Holme says:

    I have read the first part of Don Quixote and struggled with it. Things to admire about the book include the trick that the book is a translation from an Arabic source, and the character of Quixote. Yes, he seems a deranged fantasist, but the Cervantes notion that an individual can be right when the world is wrong, remains a powerful one. A major problem, for me, was not having the frame of reference as regard Chivalric Romances to enable me to understand the satire. The same reason why I struggle with the jokes in Gulliver’s Travels. What the hell is Swift on about? I’ve started that book numerous times, yet to finish it.

  5. admin says:

    I knew someone would get the ‘Lady Don’t Fall Backwards’ joke.
    The later parts of Gulliver’s Travels are unreadable. As, for me, is the turgid prose style of ‘Moby Dick’.

  6. Liz Thompson says:

    I really agree on Moby Dick, though my daughter says she now knows lots about whaling. I finished the complete Gulliver. Once. I had more stamina (tolerance?) in those days.

  7. Brooke says:

    Why so snippy about Iain Sinclair? He’s a staunch advocate for forgotten London–people first! In an interview with Stewart Lee discussing The Last London, Sinclair describes writing while taking care of his elderly parents, working to support his family, etc. He would have been in his late 60s, early 70s then. Not bad at all; example for us all..

  8. Paul C says:

    Thanks for pointing out the new Bradbury collection which I’ve ordered. Agree that he can be very saccharine and sentimental at times but I love his work as much now as I did when I was 12 – not many writers stay with you that

    I find short stories preferable to his novels : The Illustrated Man, Silver Locusts, October Country are fabulous books. Dipping in at random he describes a train arriving with ‘a dragon glide’ and gold ‘winking like spiders eyes in the sun’.

    As for Aleister Crowley, he’s great fun to read about – ‘A Magick Life’ by Martin Booth is a disturbing and hilarious
    biography. In our age of nine to five conformity at least he did whatever he liked.

    My unclimbable peak is Proust – after 500 pages (out of 3,000) nothing seemed to have happened yet. Not a chance……

  9. Brooke says:

    The Path Less Trodden: For those who desire real magic and the super natural as well as natural, the Royal Society announced its 2020 book prize. Excellent engaging writing is a major selection criteria for selection. Dr. Pang’s Explaining Humans took first prize. But there is such good stuff this year, with 5 of 6 short listed books about human systems and follies. These are not 1000 page books (at most 300+), no 3-page fictional footnotes and by the end, you actually know something.

  10. admin says:

    Thanks for the heads-up, Brooke. I thought their contenders tended to be about quantum mechanics, but I’ll take a look.
    Iain Sinclair is too close-minded for me. He doesn’t seem to like people. I’ve met him a couple of times and it didn’t go well.

  11. Dave Young says:

    A Tad cruel to Hastings Chris. What it (and St Leonards) offers is something more akin to Hackney circa 1980/90 . Rough around the edges – and the middle – not yet yupped to the detriment of locals and above all an opportunity to participate in a myriad of community groups. In short a lot of creative people who realise the town’s salvation can only come from the bottom up, something you’ll struggle to find “up that London” these days.

  12. admin says:

    That’s a fantastic thing. You’re right, there’s not a lot of creativity around here at the moment (except young indie restaurants finding ways to get food out).

  13. Peter T says:

    And what’s wrong with quantum mechanics? If you want to do some real magic, take one mobile phone and two polaroid lenses. Set up with suitable style, you may even convince the impressionable that your sunglasses provide X-ray vision.

  14. Helen Martin says:

    What constitutes “suitable style” in that demonstration, Peter?

  15. Peter T says:

    Helen, the showmanship stuff and the minimal sleight of hand that the great stage magicians always display.

    The basic (no showmanship) experiment is:
    Take one smartphone and two polaroid lenses (two pairs of sunglasses or one broken). Nicely line up the mobile phone screen and one polaroid lens. Rotate the lens until it no longer allows light from the screen to pass. Place a second lens between the phone and the first. Rotate until the mobile screen becomes visible through the two lenses. Remove and replace the second lens a few times to convince yourself of what you’re observing. That’s the quantum magic.

    The X-ray vision bit – that’s where showmanship comes in. I don’t know how to do that.

  16. snowy says:

    oooh… oooh… SCIENCE!

    [well any port in a storm]

    “That’s the quantum magic”

    Try the experiment, but instead of interposing the second ‘lens’, gather at random a variety of transparent plastic items: the ‘window’ from an envelope, a soda bottle – full or empty, the plastic binder from a pack of beers, plastic food lids or even a glass of beer, [not Guinness – and you have to be more careful about how far you can rotate it obviously].

    To wildly misquote one of the more ligneous thespians: “It’s not quantum… Baby”.


    Cheap 3D glasses from a cinema are ideal
    Best tried in a dark room
    Rotate the plastic ‘film’ to obtain the best effect


    Recalled from memory.

    I mean, can I find a single bloody polarised lens in the entire place?

    Of course not! Tinted – tick, Tinted – tick again, Tinted and partially mirrored with leather flaps – well of course – why ever would you think not?

  17. Liz Thompson says:

    Thanks Snowy. That post made me laugh out loud!

  18. Helen Martin says:

    Come on, Snowy, don’t you have a real camera? With a polascreen filter? Of course I do, but I don’t have a smart phone. Can we pair up – can others pair with us? This just sounds like too much fun.

  19. snowy says:

    Camera I have but it’s a compact, so no handy lens filters!

    Without a smartphone you may be able to obtain the correct light source from a Knidle/iPad.

    To test it: Open an all white document, turn up the Brightness if necessary, [on tablets without a Flash the Torch function does both].

    Take one polarising lens and look at the screen through it.

    If all is well, as you turn the lens through 360° the image will have 4 distinct ‘peaks’ – dark, light, dark, light – 90° apart.

  20. Helen Martin says:

    I assume you then put the second lens in there and proceed as above. My husband nods but is not prepared to go searching the cupboard for the filters we both had.

  21. Lauren C says:

    Am I the only person who found Moby Dick to be funny? Not the interstitial chapters on whaling, of course.

    I adored Ray Bradbury when I was a tween/teen, and now find his sci-fi unreadable. It made me so sad to try to revisit The Martian Chronicles and having to abandon the effort.

    Yes, the further one gets into Gulliver, the more of a slog it is. But there were some oddly touching scenes among the Houyhnhnms. Emphasis on “odd”.

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