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



Prince Aziz – Mark Valentine

“By this he meant Mauritania, not France. That country had been dreamt up by Europeans, and drawn on the map with straight lines, less than a hundred years ago, except where it met the sea. There, the lines were allowed to follow the coast.”

Ferdinand Clair, a first person singular Mauritanian, a White Moor, effectively has his own ‘reeded’ currrency exchanged into the name of Prince Aziz, thus effectively recolonised to appear – as a novelty or gigolo? – at the Exposition Internationale in Paris, near the Eiffel Tower (in the 1930s, I guess) – eventually to see himself in the third person. A time of pre-Second World War machinations, now, I guess, still weaving through this book’s secret tapestry. Secret, because few will ever read it.  Prince Aziz has the gift of scrying the iris of the eye as if it is an astrological chart: (I have suffered all my life with some recurrency from the severe illness of the eye called iritis while, quite unconnectedly, my mother’s name is Iris): a scrying gift that he will exchange for further currencies financial or sensuous. And Weighell’s ‘black lyre‘ statues or sculptures appear from or permeate into this Markian Meditation, at least in my mind’s iritic eye, as backdrop to the Exposition and to this as yet barely read book that I’m so far reviewing diligently. Real-time reviewing – my own way to uncolonise myself at life’s exposition. (5 Mar 12 – another three hours later)

The Hunting Castle – John Howard

“The causeway from Straslund was recently repaired and strengthened – but even your organization could not fully check on all of the workers.”

A dialogue between two madmen in a mere Hunting Lodge, not a castle at all, madmen who fortuitously hit upon approximations about which to argue regarding a real alternate world following the Reich’s residual existence beyond Hitler’s ‘assassination’ and Speer’s diverging vision for his earlier vision of post-war Berlin now as a seaside resort elsewhere, perhaps realler than what we see as the root reality from whch all alternaties otherwise radiate.  I shall argue about this with the author, given the chance, despite him setting up intriguing extrapolations of historic figures and other “puppet leaders“. “Ha, I wouldn’t have believed Stalin were dead even if he had told me so himself!”  You see, I’m not sure if the freehold author’s inferred leasehold dialogue-writer (playwright) is not mad, too.  Him and his “white cities” again! No more balconies, only an “eyrie”? I’ll seek him out there. Readers like me need our own weapons to change history if not literature itself. And what about the freehold’s end-freeholder-publisher himself for allowing such madness to reach print, albeit secret print! (5 Mar 12 – another 4 hours later)

The Atelier in Iaşi – Mark Valentine

“…why thank you you sir, though I wasn’t looking for no remuneration you understand, sometimes even the very shapes of the streets.”

This is one of the two reprints in ‘Secret Europe’, but well worth re-reading for itself alone and in the new context: becoming one of my all-time favourite stories, the nearest I expect that this book gets to a compelling page-turner while still retaining its magic and texture! Here is what I said about it in a previous real-time review of August 2010 upon its first publication.  Since then I have read ‘Details‘ by China Miéville (that I real-time reviewed here last Novemberwhich mutually synergises with this old Markian friend and adds food for thought: as well as ‘Secret Europe’ itself now causing me to see the ‘H Gazetteer’  as a friend in turn of this book’s erstwhile Baltersan and Lyall; the artist without name also seems now even more a friend of Nemonymous: both in its philosophy and its world’s first blank story: and the concept of ‘quantitative easing’ in a literary or “installation” sense, while history’s “trading partners” seem now more relevant in hindsight having re-read this story with a healthy nod towards double bluff retrocausality. (6 Mar 12 – 1.45 pm gmt)


In 2008, I saw this painting by Christian Krohg (1852 -1925) inside the Oslo National Gallery. I wished her better.

A Minor Official – Mark Valentine

There are some men, I know, who like the wasted beauty of sickly pale creatures: yet — even so. At least, it seems he did not put the portrait in his book. Perhaps it was to be a private pleasure. The point is that a minor official does not indulge his  morbid fancies: he resolves to find out how the sickness was caused, how it might be prevented, or at least assuaged.” 
“A Minor Official” is a minor classic. 
It had me in tears by the end. Someone so conscientious about his official duties as a water inspector in Herzegovina.  A simple good man who has instinctive brainstorming thoughts about ’emotional’ geography (cf the aural geomancy earlier — here more mood-mapping) as well as his humble-important position or task in optimising the  water supply for other simple folk he meets … and the tears came to my eyes when he expressed unqualified confidence in the equal conscientiousness of the postal workers (other minor officials) in ensuring delivery of his letter enclosing a copy of the ‘Hydrologer’s Manual’ he had earlier promised to honest people whom he had met during the course of his water duties: despite not knowing the correct address but drawing a map on the envelope instead.  I then brainstormed myself. I’m a minor writer, of course. An official of real-time reviewing. I speculated on the mood-mapping of our current Euro debt and currency crises, knowing, as I do, the importance of emotions: the confidence (or lack of confidence) in somehow determining the direction of the markets etc. Not a horoscope of tidal currents, but a conscientious cartography of currencies.  A major consideration from a minor pen regarding a Sad Europe? (6 Mar 12 – five hours later)
The Way of the Sun – John Howard
A balcony on the Mediterranean: it had become almost an obsession with him.”
[I had no idea this story was coming up when I chose ‘The Last Balcony’ page of my website to house this part of my review. Also, the author’s own off-piste comment at the bottom of ‘The Defeat of Grief’ review page here takes on a new significance!] — And after my reference to ‘Sad Europe’ (as opposed to ‘Secret Europe’) at the end of my previous entry about ‘A Minor Official’, things seemed ripe for this story of a sunshine trip, in quest of the balcony, threaded with lucid dreaming.  A Defeat of Grief indeed. ‘Mediterranean’ itself – literally – reminds me also of seeking the Earth’s Core of the Nemonymous Night as well as the ultimate balcony, adding a perfectly offsetting tone of oblique dark-lightness,,, yet, we have the Mike Leigh-type (?) married couple, all mouth and trousers, bugging our protagonist, ever turning up with ‘good intentions’ and pointless chatter….not the minor official’s ’emotional’ map as such but a downhill pest-piste. In many ways, I resented them as much as the protagonist did!  A story that can swing in this way is surely a masterpiece.  [A world without a Bill and Joan would be like a world without the gloom under the aegis of which I collect art gallery painting cards by Munch, Bosch et al.] Or am I swayed by the story’s own insistent bugging obessions as well as by my own? No, it is an exquisitely-styled story, with or without any such connections. Surely set to become an all-time favourite story from the viewpoint of the Lewis head.  (7 Mar 12 – 9.20 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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