Archive for September, 2011

A Review of “The Life of Polycrates & Other Stories for Antiquated Children” by Brendan Connell

Friday, September 16th, 2011

Jessica Maybury

As a reader, I’m sure you know that feeling you stumble across sometimes where you click absolutely with the text in hand. I’m sure you know that feeling very well. I’m sure that small snik of recognition is why some people continue reading as much as they do, whether they’re aware of it or not.

Connell’s The Life of Polycrates has proved to be one such experience.

The name is off-putting, I know. It paints pictures of dreary schoolroom afternoons and Homer, the endless list of ships.

It begins with a novella, the title piece. It reminded me of Homer, not as I read him in my younger years but in my later, when studying Ulysses, The Odyssey was suggested to be read alongside. Like with those initially off-putting tomes of ancient lands, when I began reading I found myself submerged in a strange, angular world where the names were half-familiar and the scenes mimicked films we’ve seen of late—or is it the other way around?

But it’s not until after The Life of Polycrates that you get into the heart of the matter.

Connell has been described as a Master of the Weird. There’s that irritating saying about books and covers, and I confess to list that special form of judgement among my many sins. With this collection you would be expecting something completely different to what you’re getting, as far as externals are concerned—your eyes are only fully opened when you’re deep in the belly of the beast.

It’s almost as if Connell wanted the novella and the cover and the title, the whole shebang, to be perfect as far as cunning traps can ever be perfect. The reader stumbles out of the ancient names and nouns of Polycrates and into such extraordinary, ghastly rooms and scenes (Collapsing Claude, The Dancing Billionaire) that the confusion is almost comical.

This is a form of story that is not often encountered. Having finished anything Lovecraftian, Poe-ish or even Goremenghastian and entered the 21st century in despair that such oddity would be experienced again: The Life of Polycrates is a delight.

Aside from the gentlemen and the text above, the only other works I can relate this with are those of Dickens. If you’re thinking The Muppet Christmas Carol, think again. I’m talking about the spontaneous combustion; endless, awkward corridors and corners of cities and palaces that go nowhere; bizarre caricatures of characters that seem to be all nose or all hunchback; dirt, slime, vice, greed.

This is the filth and grotesque of literature in its entire unabashed and hideous phantasmagoria. It is a collection to haunt the corners of the mind, with stories that will be thumbed over again and again, for lifetimes.

Official Brendan Connell Web Site
Official Chômu Press Web Site

A Review of “Kissy Killy” by Vox Anon

Friday, September 16th, 2011

Jessica Maybury

I like books that come with add-ons. Sometimes review books do. They’ll come with a press release statement, or sometimes they’ll be signed. My copy of Kissy Killy included

  • The author’s signature
  • Three postcards of strange sketches
  • An A4 page of lipstick kisses
  • A letter
  • Some unpublished poetry that the author is currently working on

Good show. The add-ons occupied me for hours. I would like to suggest to any authors out there reading this that they include stickers when they send their books out.

Then I turned away from the swag and focused on the content of the collection.

Vox Anon described this collection himself as a “diary-type collection of poems composed in experimental, voyeuristic, & confessional modes.” We are told that the main themes are, “kissing games, metaphysical love, & gross anatomy.”

As a reader, I am always gratified when an author describes what a collection of poetry is supposed to be about, or what themes/issues it is tied together by. It gives the reader a framework to hold in their mind as they go in to read. Some people would disagree, arguing that a work should be explored without prior knowledge/influences, and obviously this is their choice. Perhaps only Structuralists would agree with me.

I was halfway through the collection before I read the letter and the description of themes, and this summing up elevated the poetry to a status that I had demoted it from on first reading.

On first reading, you see, Kissy Killy smacks of adolescent angst and general emo-ness. I pitied the man in his 40s who would be driven to write such juvenilia. It brought to mind the books of Judy Blume, whose explorations of the body and beginning awareness of sexuality so edified me as a teenager.


Then came the letter. A little flash of understanding came into my head, an aha moment where what the author was trying to achieve came together. Perhaps it just goes to show how little I understand art that I would need the over-arcing messages to be spelled out, but perhaps I would represent the majority of people who aren’t artists.

In speaking about the reactions of a reader to certain subjects, I wonder if the response says more about the reader than the subject. My immediate rejection of a work that deals with physical love probably reveals more about me than about how ‘bad’ or ‘good’ a work of art might be, if such value judgements can still be applied.

With that in mind, once the initial knee-jerk reaction is dealt with, Vox Anon does address some issues that are lacking in an awful lot of literature. By this I refer to the reality of the body, or the feelings that people don’t admit to themselves that they have, the twisted, ugly desires and needs that many people and works of literature like to pretend don’t exist. I exclude Nabokov’s works in general from this, of course, Jean Genet in entirety, and, finally, Ulysses.

Perhaps such works deal so extensively with masturbation and disturbing sexual fantasy that other texts feel they don’t need to cover the same ground.

Kissy Killy moves from genital mutilation to the expelling of the ovum during menstruation, to the feel and taste of the inside of a woman’s most secret places. These are only three examples.

We live in an age of distance from the body, of immersion in virtual reality, of transformation and scientific advances as regards cosmetic and bionic bodily ‘upgrades’. Kissy Killy brings the reader back to the simple actuality of the corporeal fundamentals that they’ve forgotten—the body they already possess. Like Erlend Loe’s magnificent Naïve. Super, Kissy Killy should be required reading for the new generation—of which I am a member—who exist on social networks such as Facebook and Twitter as well as through blogging and text messaging. We need to be reminded of who we are in the first place.

Finally, the style and techniques of the writing itself.

The poetry is abstract in the extreme. There are little quirks that I found endearing. God is never mentioned aloud, for instance, and is always represented as G-d. As a taste of everything I’ve been discussing here, and everything that Kissy Killy is offering to the reader, I leave you with an extract from ‘Every Time I’:

the way you stare i could never
be your camera or ocean mirror
captive in your bird
cage my dear when
darkness feels like home
the eye of the calm appears
a storm palace swarming
alarming whirlpooling wisps
shipwrecks set sail i try
tangled in your tentacles sheer
childhood tears will never tear
the seventh veil i am

Official Vox Anon Web Site

A Review of “Airplane Novel” by Paul A. Toth

Saturday, September 10th, 2011

Jessica Maybury

Toth has been described as a “notable force in contemporary fiction” and a “literary wizard.” Other reviews of the novel say that it’s a “wonderful cubist and surreal tale of truth through fiction.”

What is it, anyway?

THE 9/11 novel, apparently.

I wasn’t aware that there were others. The idea of there being others is slightly distasteful to me. Yes, there are novels about other dreadful happenings. The Holocaust, for example. The good books about it were only written decades later, when the writers had escaped a devastated Europe for a cleaner America. Or they’ve been starting to appear now,  when everyone who could remember what living in Berlin (for example) in 1941 was like.

Is Airplane Novel too soon?

Oddly, no. 9/11 was a strangely 21st century atrocity. Everyone feels they were there; it’s over familiar; it’s imprinted on our minds like movie reels when we close our eyes. It was bombarded at us from TV screens everywhere across the globe for months. Years later there are tales of dust settling, lungs clogging—memories of where we were, who we were with, the people we were at that time and place. The weather of that day is forever cordoned off in the mind.

In this respect, Airplane Novel is almost about something that didn’t happen.

To clarify:

The event has been so twisted and ballooned out of proportion, and blasted in our faces for so long, that a certain sense of desensitisation has crept in.


Correct me if I’m wrong, and I do of course mean no offence. I write from a country far away from America, from a viewpoint removed. When all you know of something is what you see on television, after a while it becomes almost like a story you’re watching on-stage, acted out by real people, yes, while remaining fundamentally unreal.

Reading Airplane Novel as a European, I read it without the visceral emotional investment that I know some of my American friends would have done. I read it, really, as a piece of fiction. A life and death of a building, the South Tower of the World Trade Centre.

As a literary work, the piece is tiresomely self-reflexive. I know that post-modernism is avant-garde in some other decade, but I do hope that we’re moving along a little now.

I got Toth’s point, though:

9/11, as broadcast on every station in the world, was a narrative, and as a narrative of this narrative, it’s therefore apparently imperative that we’re reminded it’s a narrative. The table of contents, for example, being the first thing we meet, is laid out in the arc of a novel’s perfect action: Exposition, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, Denouement.

Airplane Novel is not unlike a Quentin Tarantino film: brilliant beginning and end…and the most boring tosh in the middle that you’ve ever had to chew through. By this I mean pages upon pages of pointless extrapolation that reads as if it’s been put there to fill up time, as though Toth was being paid by the word.

As for the plot itself:

We are provided with an autobiography of sorts of the tower, and then sympathetic characters so that we can connect with the story, and finally, of course, the day itself.

My favourite character was George, the chronic masturbator, and his ex-wife Muriel, with her telescope. The characters are very vivid, moving through the mind’s eye as though they’d spontaneously come into being there. Not very many writers achieve such fluidity without reams of Dickensian description.

In summary:

Eminently quotable—the man can certainly write a damn good sentence—and with endearing, terribly ‘real’ characters, Airplane Novel, nevertheless, feels wishy-washy. The bombing, when it finally does come, is anti-climactic, but perhaps that was Toth’s point all along. Violence means nothing to us anymore.

Official Paul A. Toth Web Site
Official  Raw Dog Screaming Press Web Site