SECRET EUROPE by John Howard and Mark Valentine (EXPOSITION INTERNATIONALE: Bucharest: MMXII).



The Girl with the Violin – Mark Valentine

The coins, he said, would be too heavy in your pocket (not a complaint he ever suffered from), the banknotes would have to be rolled out in front of you like ceremonial carpet as you walked, and the stamps would make you so dry with licking them…”

We are now truly nearer a Balkan than a Baltic locality, and I feel less guilty about my earlier mistakes about history and geography, especially when the people, in this story attending the picture show, seem equally confused about history – and explicitly so! I’m pleased the authors have deemed it fit to allow this exculpation for me. This story, meanwhile, is an entrancing meditation upon the girl who plays the violin along with the silent films. But she wants to try for greater things than background music. Sibelius’ Violin Concerto I suggest. There’s even a place, I think, for her friend the tambourine-player eccentrically to fulfil the often protrusively percussive beats of a drum at the start of Sibelius’ last movement. You see, I am adding to MV’s meditation here with my own autonomous extrapolation. “I expect it was Ludovic who started the rumour himself. He could be fanciful.” (3 Mar 12 – eleven hours later)

The Goat-Eyed – Mark Valentine

A delightful, eventually foreboding, Markian Meditation upon the four gates to the ancient city and these gates’ well-characterised gatekeepers who “also suffered themselves to be photographed, usually for the exchange of a minor coin, and acted as a waypointer to the various sights of the city.”  There is a fear of impingement to the closed circle of the city’s integrity (cf my earlier mention of ‘contagion’ in this review): an impingement by those who are goat-eyed (gate-eyed?).  There is much food for thought here. [Obliquely, I would like to share an old work of mine: ‘The Tallest King‘ – for no other reason than it came to mind for no reason when I read ‘The Goat-Eyed’. I recall ‘The Tallest King’ was highly praised (as quoted here) by another Mark during the 1980s (the great weird fiction writer Mark Samuels)] (4 Mar 12 – 9.45 am gmt) 

The Lion of Chaldea – Mark Valentine

A “burnt orange and molasses” Meditation upon Cadiz towards where Mark’s leased narrator is tasked with a written history of the global-‘waypointer’ compactness of dual Iberia and he meets a scholar in Cadiz, a city that “he liked to write in its original Moorish form, Qādis, though he also said there was a more ancient name still, which was, for the time being, lost.”  Cadizian connections with the mixed cultures and civilizations, including I sense that of this book’s erstwhile “Secret Byzantium”, and the city’s configured geography as a lion: leading to another, here symbolic ‘white city’ in synergy with the lore of Astrology, as well as inferences of this place as the hub of commerce where lurked, presumably, a germ of future contagion of the sought “treasures” from the city as well as the Mansions of the Horoscope: the Sun being the hub of that Astrological Mandala: and the Sun is Ruler of Leo (my latter observations not necessarily the story’s – and it is an open secret that I myself have been sporadically steeped since my youth in the complex lore of Astrology and its Planetary Harmonics)… (4 Mar 12 – two and half hours later)

Westenstrand – John Howard

“…with effort routes work themselves out.”

[More often than can be warranted by chance, I feel, when I am carrying out two or three real-time reviews simultaneously, as I am now, one story enlightens or synergises, across-books, with another story.  Here, remarkably, the tone and plot of ‘The Night of His Sister’s Engagement’ that I reviewed here this afternoon, just before reading ‘Westenstrand’, has now become even more highly wrought regarding a watery foolhardy challenge to oneself – and, dare I say, vice versa!] — ‘Westenrand’ itself is a wonderful account of an island off Denmark – subject to Hitler’s contemporary shenanigans, I sense, that also have bearing on the protagonist’s romance with a woman who frowns on his connections, albeit indirect, with that Dictator – an island (a bit like Mersea Island near where I live in Essex, if the latter is in a much smaller way and with shorter intervals) that is one minute an island, the next not an island, as subject to the sea’s effects on a causeway. A bit like history. And economics. In both of which disciplines, routes work themselves out, while human bail-outs often falter. (They often milled coins with ‘reeding’ to prevent shaving off their edges.) (4 Mar 12 – another 3 hours later) {Edit: changed ‘lengthier’ to ‘shorter’ – another hour later}

The Unrest at Aachen – Mark Valentine

I made my base in Aachen, where our Grand Dukes had three times been crowned as Holy Roman Emperors, in Charlemagne’s cathedral, on his marble throne. From here I could easily visit Liege, Maastricht, Cologne, Lorraine, to sense the temper of the times and discreetly elicit information.”

As the Sun is a hub, as Cadiz, as Aachen (or Aix-le-Chapelle), as this specific story (I sense) are all hubs in their own way: this further item of Markian Meditation becomes a Grand Duchy in itself or a panoply of reliquaries with histories moving within each other as well as giving motive force to some histories and withdrawing it from others: amid Proustian promenades, gossip or intrigues, by four-way post across 1906 Europe, as well as beneath parasols: a resplendent Markian style that is now in full literary overdrive, underpinning a marvellous creation-from-words of a procession hubbed by whom I see as a sort of troubadour (a Markian forebear?) — or a paracursive-Bayreuth or Boughtonian Glastonbury or AS Byatt masquerade or festival — and more! … featuring Charlemagne’s paladins – and all of this allows us, I feel, to glimpse more sense of the pre- Great War machinations than any history book could give us. ‘Secret Europe’ is not a history book but a book about history. There is a difference. “Listen, and mark what you hear: but do not appear to do so.” [Maastricht on 7 Feb 1992 effectively marked the future (temporary?) end of the Mark.] (5 Mar 12 – 10.35 am gmt)




One response to “*

  1. Secret Europe / Black Horse (Index)

    Two real-time reviews that I conducted together for no other reason than they were there to read:

    Here is the index-linking for each real-time review’s parts:

    SECRET EUROPE – by John Howard and Mark Valentine: OneTwoThreeFourFiveSix

    BLACK HORSE and Other Strange Stories – by Jason A. Wyckoff: OneTwoThreeFour

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