Please picture a room in a mansion located behind a secure, ornate
gate. It is the kind of place where the
rich go to let their lives marinate, knowing that they have many fine years
ahead of them to eat, drink and create a fortress of their homes. Where the recording angels (if there are such things) have no jurisdiction to document the words that are spoken.
are some who say that houses are like bodies and their occupants are like
souls. If that is the case, then the body, at least, is thriving here. And the conscience of the guest burns, like a blush, for the deeds he is about to do.
In this particular property picture a dining room with a roaring
fire in an inglenook fireplace. It is dusk and the fire is like a third
occupant within the room. If the flames could speak they would say,‘We are here to live, dance and
die, that is our purpose’.But
flames cannot speak and houses are not bodies.
There is a long marble-topped table covered by a white tablecloth.
One wall is a window which is now obscured by the eyelid of a closed velvet
curtain. The dominant colours within the room are white and red, like the
colours of a coral snake. Colours which say‘Danger’.
Colours which say‘Keep away’.
The only noise in the room comes from the crackle of the fire. Strangely, the
room smells fusty, like some forgotten church.
Picture the host, the owner of the mansion, his hair as white as
this room’s walls, but for a slight yellowy tinge. His fingers are stained with
tobacco. He sits at one end of the table and seems relaxed.
A young guest sits at the far end of the table. The room itself
seems to sing to them, a sweet lullaby which comforts them as much as the
bottle of expensive cognac they are sharing.
The host lights up a cigar and leans back into his chair.
“It so happened,” says the host, “That your father began to take
an interest in the occult…”
The young guest seems agitated, afraid even, like a man waiting in
line for judgment day. “Let me stop you right there Sir, my father was not a
man who believed in anything supernatural.”
“Ah, I beg to differ. Your father held a secret fascination for
all things occult. Your father’s true fascination was power and the occult was
said to be a means to an end.”
The host pauses to blow out a long stream of smoke. “As a young
man it seemed to your father that life trundled on as it always did. There was
no likelihood of any great change in the future. It seemed to him that this
world and this life were all that existed and that a person should adapt and change
and enjoy the life he had. But it also seemed to him that there was a way of
doing so much better.”
The young guest shakes his head and looks into the dancing flames,
so deeply red – he wonders how flames could ever be so red.
The host sighs and continues, “Your father was a great reader and
he liked to read his esoteric literature. If you don’t believe me, find access
to his kindle reading list, if examined by anyone now it would raise many
eyebrows in the department. As a young man your father was interested in occult
knowledge, Aleister Crowley, Theosophy, channelling, psychic predictions - all
kinds of things like this. And his interest, over the years, grew darker and
darker. He was consistently drawn to the more obscure texts and the stranger
ideas when it came to esoteric writing. He found his way through esoteric apocrypha the likes of which would make an ordinary man or woman weep. The
strangest stories. The strangest writings. This is what your father grew to
love and was the other hobby alongside his politics. Because both were a hobby
and not work. Your father, from his reading grew to be convinced that he could
attain power through making a Faustian pact with the devil.”
The rich young guest splutters mid-sip at this.
“That’s ridiculous,” he says. “That is not my father.”
“We all fall into cliché in the end, the only irony is that so
many of us avoid it in our words and live it in our lives. Now it so happened
that your father also knew that the devil gets a somewhat strange press. The
devil, obviously controls the press, but we will leave that for another talk.
Your father knew a lot about the devil. Not only did he know all about the
traditional scriptural references to the devil, the Book of Job and the
passages of Isaiah said to refer to this character, but he also knew the
Islamic scriptures and texts concerning the devil. The two versions differed
slightly, one devil had a withered arm and a blind eye, the other had vast
power but was trumped by God in the same way that a game of top trumps would
have one card which beat another card. So your father knew, from this
traditional literature that the devil was not to be trusted when it came to
making deals. Some have it that the devil is a liar too and that all of his temptations
and promises amount to nothing. Your father also researched the devil in
folklore and here he found a different devil to the devil of the scriptures –
he found a devil who could be outwitted, who could be used to progress in life.
He found a devil who could be used to get what he wanted and tricked into not
receiving his soul at the end of the whole process. It was this devil in which
your father began to believe… began to worship…”
“Hold on, I’m sorry, I have to stop you right there, my father
simply wouldn’t believe in the devil. He was his own man.”
“He worked in Government, of course he believed in the devil… and
no man is their own, however they may feel. Your father’s devil differed from
the devil in the Bible in that he was a far less powerful principality. The
devil of folklore which he came to believe in was merely a misunderstood
character who could grant wishes. Kind of like a genie. Your father also
researched the devil of urban myth and pop culture. It seemed to him that this
devil, the one featured in horror films and horror stories was, like the
scriptural devil, a caricature of the being he believed in. Once again this
devil held huge power, the kind of power which was almost equal to that of God.
It seemed to him that this urban myth devil was as fake as the devil of the
bible. As I say, your father believed in a folklore devil…. at least at first.”
The guest drinks from his glass of port, at a loss for words. The
host gives a wry smile. “It
seemed to your father that the devil did have a kind of army of fallen angels
at his disposal though. He felt sure that although the devil himself knew
nothing of your father that there was a kind of hierarchy in the kingdom of
darkness. There were more powerful demons who understood irony and satire,
there were less powerful demons who only understood how to provoke violence and
who lived in strange dark places like motorway underpasses. These demons, he
came to understand had simple agendas. Your father’s reading caused him to
understand that both the devil and his army had the agenda of getting humans to
either hurt each other or hurt themselves. They provoked fights and incited all
kinds of prejudice and violence. They actively caused people to do evil things.
But not only did they cause suffering, they also tempted. And your father,
through occult reading understood that the language used by the devil was
indeed the language of the lie, but that behind all this, behind all the angel
in disguise beauty of evil there was also an element of truth. As a candidate
for election he understood that the best lies had an element of truth. It
wasn’t the devil who had taught him this, it was the MPs. So he discovered that
the devils did hold treasures and power of a kind and that they were able to grant
wishes. So he decided that he wished for power so that he could progress in his
career and gain election. He also wished for money. So, obviously your father
needed some kind of summoning power. The trouble is that for anyone who wants
to do a deal with the devil they find themselves somewhat stuck at some point –
usually at the point of asking for the thing that they want. Some say that the
devil cannot read thoughts but that he can have a good guess at what humans are
thinking as he has been muddling around them for a few thousand years. So your
father, because he believed in a folklore devil, decided that he would summon
up Lucifer himself. To cut a long, infernal, story short, your father read a
lot of the strangest, most esoteric, most occult, most obscure literature he
could find and he compiled his findings into this notebook.”
Suddenly the host holds, as if by some conjuring trick, an old red
notebook in his hand. On the front of the notebook, written in faded gold are
the words ‘Nobiscum Deus’. The host places it on the table.
“His findings, written in this notebook would enable him to summon
the devil to do his bidding in exchange for something he had. So he performed
the necessary rituals in his home, he drew the usual pentagrams and protected
himself from the evil eye of the devil through eye-shaped charms. He protected
himself with all kinds of black magic and he went through the summoning
procedure. I will not go into the ingredients of such a ritual as I do not want
to give you any ideas and some of the ingredients were gory. Blood, skin,
bones, various liquids, an innocent, you know the kind of thing. It’s all in
the notebook. So the ritualistic words were said and then your father waited,
hoping for an appearance from the devil.
But nothing happened.
No devil appeared and, depressed, your father went to bed. This
was all 50 years ago, before his success began, apart from the scandal and the
events that followed. And he fell asleep and the devil appeared to your father
in a dream. Dreams are supposed to be the royal road to the unconscious and
generations past believed that they often came from outside of ourselves too.
That this unconscious could be by-passed by angel or demon or God or devil and
that messages could be passed which by-passed the machinations of this society
in which we live. And although a dream is like life insomuch as a person can
take little from it when he or she awakes, the dream could involve agreements
and relationships in the same way that a life can contain relationships and
agreements even if nothing else can be taken beyond death. So it was with your
father. When the devil approached your father in the dream he knew immediately
that it was the devil. He appeared to him as the folklore devil he was
expecting, cloven hooves, a man of the world, eyes which danced with a strange
red fire within them. It is said that the devil is mad because he cannot hope
to overcome God but still believes that he can do so. That he is like some kind
of feral animal in his hunger to survive. That this is the madness shared by
all devils, so they can hope to overcome the very God who created them. A
delusion they are subject to like the delusions they create. And this is true
enough because when your father looked into the eyes of the devil he knew he
was looking into the eyes of a psychopath. He wrote this of the discourse…”
At this point the host picks up the notebook and begins to read.
‘Greetings’ said the devil to me, whistling to himself in the
‘Hello Sir’ I replied full of a deferential respect I would not
give to any man.
‘And what can I do for you today? I believe you called me?’
I was irritated that the devil was English but had no more than
thought this thought when he spoke again, ‘I appear in whatever necessary form
I need to appear. I assure you that I spend a lot of time in England.’
‘I wondered if you would do me a favour kind Sir and give me
power and money?’
‘Quid pro quo good fellow, quid pro quo, what will you do for me
‘What do you want?’
‘What do I want? What do I want? I have never told a mortal what I
want. When someone knows what you want they have power over you. Do you expect
me to break the habit of a lifetime? Ask instead, what do I need?’
‘What do you need?’ asked your father.
‘I am so sorry to fall into fiction and stereotype like this,
goodness knows they demonise me enough already but I’m afraid I will require
your eternal soul.’
‘Is this so you can torture me forever in hell’?
‘Not at all, if we go to hell we will both be in unendurable
torture (oh how that makes me so angry), what can I possibly do with your soul
in hell? I am afraid I will require your soul in this lifetime, after that you
can have it back. There are certain things which I would like you to accomplish
on this earth. And you must not listen to all those who say that my only agenda
is to destroy and for you to harm others and yourself. And you must not listen
to those who say I can only speak the lie and that the lie is the only language
that I know. Because we all know that every lie contains a kernel of truth in
it or else it would not be a successful lie. And if I said that I know a lot
about lies would I be telling the truth anyway? There are all kinds of
narratives there really are dear friend. Dear, dear, precious man, there is so
much that I could tell you and yet I really don’t think that your beautiful
mind could comprehend all that I know. ’
It was most disturbing.
‘And if I let you have my soul in my lifetime you will give me
power and money?’
‘Yes. Or no. Maybe.’
‘How can I be sure you won’t lie to me?’
‘If I build you a bridge then I require something in return. It
may not be so much about lying as whose story you believe. Don’t believe the
rumours about me,’ replied the devil.
The host places the notebook back on the table.
“Now anyone with any kind of sense would realize that the devil’s
word is probably not going to be something which has a very great commitment to
it. Anyone who is anyone realizes that the devil is going to lie whatever he
says and that in many ways your father was not going to come out of this whole
survival situation which we call life very well. However, there was no
accounting for your father’s folly when it came to be blinded by riches and
power. He wanted those things so badly that he was prepared to believe that he
would receive them because the devil had given his word. Besides which, he had
done his reading and realized that the devil could probably be tricked in some
way by sending a dog over a metaphorical bridge or something like that at some
point. So your father agreed and in the moment of his agreeing in thought he
woke up in bed to find blood on the sheets. And that was how the deal was made.
It’s all in the notebook.
You know most of the rest. I can tell you
that your father did attain power. It was strange to him as he had only
believed in a relatively powerless folk devil - that the devil should have such
influence in Government. That MP’s and Lords, even the Prime Minister should
suddenly look on him with new eyes and seem to offer him such deferential
treatment and such opportunities for progression that within a year he was at
the top of his game and, through a portfolio of new shares, earning more than
he had ever earned. So the devil was true to his side of his bargain, your
father became both powerful and rich. He was also a little worried about what
the devil would ask of him, knowing how these kind of things tend to go in the
popular mind, among the hoi-polloi. So he began to plan. As he planned he
discovered that his folk-lore devil was inaccurate. He realized that a lot of
the literature about the devil was incorrect. He began to realize that there
were likely going to be only two ways to trick this devil since he discovered
that the true devil was closer to the urban myth devil of vast power. These
were his two options:
One. He could escape the devil’s clutches by submitting to a
higher power. The trouble with praying to God, which he found was the required
action, was that he would probably be called to give up his power and position,
something which was a bit of a deal-breaker for your father. So he ruled that
But there was one other option. Through careful reading of the
Book of Job and further reading of folklore stories he discovered one element
which was common in defeating the devil. Endurance.
Sure there were stories of people outwitting the devil by giving
some animal in exchange for their own soul, sure there were stories of the
devil being outwitted by a clever scheme, but your father, through careful
study of Job realized that Job only outwitted the devil through endurance. Job
resisted the devil and this was the way in which he escaped. So your father
determined to do the same.
When the devil appeared to him again once more in a dream he
demanded that your father begin to serve him as a slave. He demanded that your
father begin to harm other people, to bring about those laws which would cause
the most suffering. Because this is what the devil does.
So your father summoned up all his resistance and said:
‘No. I’m not going to do it.’
‘What did you say?’ asked the tyrant the devil.
‘I said no. I utterly resist you like Job did.’
‘Ahhh. The one time I was defeated by a mortal, or am I lying? But
you will understand what the allegorical Job had to go through a lot before he
And so it was that when your father woke up he was covered in
sores. The sores were so painful and suddenly there was a phone call from the
Prime Minister to say that the great scandal you know about had occurred and
that he must fall on his sword and resign. And suddenly family and friends
began to die. And suddenly his house burned down, as you know, and his
portfolio of risky shares became almost worthless. Even his bank claimed he had
never had an account with them in the first place. His reputation was lost. And
suddenly your father had nothing apart from his diseases. He was like Job
except he was homeless.
And the devil appeared to him during his torture in another dream
when your father was sleeping homeless on the streets of London.
‘Changed your mind yet?’
‘Yes sir’ said your father.
And that was how your father got better. That was how he regained
his wealth and power and how he got a new home. He regained his riches, his
portfolio of shares and a whole new family. He was more blessed than he had
been before his downfall. He went back to serving the devil and he was a good
servant and nothing else went wrong for him in his life, before he died the
natural death last week, full of years and the happiness of a life lived in the
service of Government.”
The young guest seems to be thinking about all this. “Do you
believe in the devil?” he asks finally.
“Doesn’t life experience say it is intellectually insulting to do
otherwise?” replies the host.
“But that is deeply disturbing,”
“There are more angels than demons.”
“You’re not the devil are you?”
“Don’t be ridiculous, you know I’m simply an old friend of your
late father. The devil is not flesh and blood. I am merely telling you the true
story of your father’s success, a fine man, a great man. I hear that they will
be building a statue of him. But tell me, how long is it until the by-election
The guest sighs as if remembering his anguish. “Two days, but I’m
unlikely to win. The other candidate can’t seem to put a foot wrong. I don’t
know what to do to win it.”
Then the host sips the last of his glass of cognac, stands and
leaves the room. The young guest is alone. There is only the sound of the
dancing fire which seems to say‘Take
up and read, take up and read’, the feverish lullaby of a hall and a marble
table with an old red notebook on it emblazoned with the words ‘Nobiscum Deus’.
This is the trailer for my new short story to be published on 31st October on this blog.
I feel a slight concern that I am neglecting my enigmatic readers, so I will attempt to address this in the coming days. Interestingly, if, for some reason, halloween destroys us all in some kind of strange ghostly Brexit or Donald Trump induced apocalypse, this short story will still be published by the power of the interweb (and scheduled blog posts). It probably won't help much in an end of the world scenario, but, neither will a self-confessional post. So stay alive and try to think happy thoughts.
The annual halloween short story is written and will be published on this blog on October 31st. It has become a kind of tradition (or, at least, I'm making it so). It has gained some kind of cult following among my handful of elite, discerning and enigmatic readers. And after all, it is free and what else is there to do on halloween (apart from cast spells (if you are into that sort of thing) or turn down parties)?
I don't think I've written poetry for a long time. I have about 80 poems which vary in quality. I read a lot of good poetry and I've come to the conclusion that most of my poems need work and I would need to learn a lot more to improve significantly. I am not in the league of poets like Plath.
My first book was a poetry anthology titled 'Compliance is Futile'. These poems were largely written to express things which could not be expressed in any other way at the time - to express experiences which were either mountaintop or valley experiences (where even the valley has a crevasse). Or, if you prefer, they were written after metaphorical storms had taken place.
I may return to poetry (when the storms or valleys come (and they will, for most of us)), but for now my focus is on fiction and non-fiction.
At the moment I am working on a non-fiction book and have reached the third draft. I find myself unable to talk about work while I'm engaged with it. All I can say, for now, is that it is original and I hope it will be available by the end of this year.
I also have another novel-length piece of fiction but that is only at first draft. Beyond that I have one novella length non-fiction account or essay and one other ongoing novel-length project.
Basically I do have a lot of work in reserve and I have more ideas than I could shake a spoon at.
I have changed the cover to Compliance is Futile. The original cover showed an altered picture of a statue of Joan of Arc from The Louvre, but I have learned Photoshop since then and the cover badly needed updating.
Obviously I have supplies for another ten years or so here,
so I’m only asking out of curiosity.
From my luxury cabin I observed Captain Cameron’s
resignation speech. It turned out that all this time he really did love the
country. He said as much. He finally revealed that despite his austerity agenda
and nasty policies he was really rather misunderstood. The truth will out and
But I don’t know. Sometimes I think there is a discrepancy
between the things people say and the things people do.
I too love this country – and if I love it from my
multi-million pound survival cabin on the good ship Britain, is that so
Sometimes I think this country is resembling William Goldings
‘Lord of the Flies’. And it is always the wrong people who have the conch shell
which gives them the right to speak. Surrounded, always, by the sea and the
threat of monsters.
It was interesting to see the metaphors David Cameron used
in his recent speech. He talked about being the captain of a ship. It seems we
are now all heading for unchartered waters. Here be dragons. Here be huge sea
monsters with writhing tentacles which are threatening to steal away the
vulnerable and minority groups. To whom I would say – don’t fear the suckers.
I will, no doubt, hear more screams from my luxury cabin,
but it will be a simple thing to stop listening and block up all the portholes.
Sometimes I think listening is such a bad idea – it leads to all kinds of
Not that I need to care for anyone down here in the belly of
what remains of the good ship Britain. I have everything I need after all. I
don’t so much have needs as preferences. And yet I can’t help wondering if we
are not so much on a ship as on a shipwreck. After all, everyone seems to be
affected one way or the other.
People with the conch shell keep telling me that I should
reconcile elements of this fractured country. That I should somehow set about
working to assuage the vitriol that is filling social media. That I should
promote unity and be positive.
But how can someone who has no inner unity promote unity
outside himself? How can anyone come up with positive solutions when in
So here’s my advice to all you brave people on deck, fighting off the monsters:
Stay alive. Try not to hurt anyone (including yourselves).
And if you are seasick – then wait as best you can for this godawful storm to
Politics and nationalism are a powerful concoction. They have
driven ordinary people to insanity. So if you sprinkle a bit of religion into
the cauldron, you can be making a potent and sometimes poisonous brew.
I’m going to try to avoid doing that in this blog entry (although
the insanity is a given). But I wanted to write about Brexit and the spiritual
aspect of the referendum.
The politically enlightened know that politics influences
everything. The spiritually enlightened know that even politics is influenced
by the spiritual.
To put things into context, Britannia has been a little
under the weather recently. Her helmet has slipped and her shield has rusted in
the salty sea wind. And as for her trident – well, it’s pointless and
expensive. Some people think she needs to get up out of that throne and make a
stand (idle shirker that she is). In fact, to all appearances, Britannia has
seemed a little sickly of late.
And with a referendum coming up, the theory is that Britannia
now has to decide which side she wants to be on – or to be misled in the
No fear tactics there then. ‘No-one’s misleading no-one’. ‘Don’t
personify a country which does not even have the luxury to claim a soul’.
‘Speak sense man’.
To add some context to Brexit and the way in which it
relates to Christianity, you may need to look into a Christian conspiracy
theory or two. Namely, the idea that the EU is the revived Roman Empire which,
in the future will be led by evil personified. This particular conspiracy
theory draws from classic books such as Hal Lindsey’s ‘The Late, Great Planet Earth’ and originates from the biblical books
of Daniel and Revelation. You can probably see the whole theory elsewhere if
you are minded to do so. It is eschatology, the study of the end times, and it
is all up for debate anyway. Better still, if you haven’t already, read
Revelation (but don’t read it at night as it has the same contrast of beauty
and ugliness as Macbeth).
Now, throw into our concoction a few drops of freedom and
you have a heady mix which smells as sweet as Britannia’s new makeover from the
Royal Mint. Because freedom is what Brexit is all about for some eurosceptics –
it is not necessarily about there being too many people here, or national sovereignty
or immigration. For some of us it is not about immigration at all. Immigrants
suffer enough and have been one of the few things which have kept Christianity
going in the UK. I would rather Farage had the courage to acknowledge the good
that immigrants do. It is not Christian to be racist or prejudiced.
There are other issues. Sometimes it is just about freedom. Not
necessarily the freedom to retain sovereignty and make our own laws, but about
feeling free. How can any side promise freedom? The concoction starts to smell
bad again and maybe there is death in this particular national pot. The last
refuge of the scoundrel.
I’d like to suggest that this feeling of a lack of freedom which
fuels so much in life is being projected outwards. We can easily blame all our
ills on another country, people or system - or terrorist group (why do the
Government’s enemies have to be my enemies?). And why does it all come down to
one vote (which too many are excluded from anyway)? Will the exercising of that
vote bring freedom? Will it bring the hope which seems so scarce to so many?
But I’m over-spiritualising.
Christ seemed to over-spiritualise the occupation of Israel
during his time on earth. Many of his people wanted to be free of the Roman Empire
– but Christ would say frustratingly little about politics. He focused people’s
attention on the things that enslaved them from within. Things like sin (which
Christ, very liberally, called a ‘sickness’). As it happened, the Jewish uprising
against the Roman occupying force came after Christ had been murdered, but it
was violent and bloody too. The Roman Empire eventually declined and seemed to
die and maybe it really did rise again in the EU. At least it is imaginative to
theorise in that way. But Caesar, or any head of the EU is always going to be
an outsider to all kinds of miracles.
The disciples were made up of patriots and those who were
considered traitors, those who supported and thrived under the Roman Empire’s
rules and those who longed for national freedom. They had to muddle along
together under a cause which wasn’t about freedom from occupation or the
maintenance of the status quo. Their cause became Christ. And this was (and
still is) the cause of causes. The cause for which many live and die.
Today's disciples are also made up of eurosceptics and europhiles.
Churches don’t usually take a party line on Brexit simply because they will
alienate half of their audience (which I believe I may have the monopoly on). It
is left as a matter of conscience.
But Christ was in a country far away and long ago and such
stories and histories are either believed or dismissed. Or else we put our
fingers in our ears saying we are free and we will ‘never, never, never’ be
slaves. Of course, there are those who say that being a Christian somehow makes
you less British. That believing in the only legitimate creator and protector of
nations makes you somehow less loyal to your own country. Go figure.
Most of us still think freedoms matter, both the internal
and external kind (because they relate to each other). Freedom from pain.
Freedom from suffering. Freedom of expression and thought and conscience which
are (perhaps ironically for some) enshrined in the European Convention on Human
Rights. Freedom to write obscure blog entries which don’t make sense. The
freedom to be as eccentric in our beliefs as Britannia herself (as she sits
stroking her pet lion ‘Tiberius’ (‘Tibby’ for short)).
So stir all this up in our cauldron and what do we get?
Apart from mixing metaphors and personifications? We still have Britannia, sick and needing the
freedom to heal and grow, with her rusty helmet and pointless trident. Still
wondering who is misleading her.
Because when it all comes down to it – only Christ, who is
more revived than any Roman Empire ever will be, can give any of us the
freedoms we so long for. And unlike the Government or the EU, he will actually
listen to anyone. Including the soul of Britannia.
Okay irony lovers. Here we are. Hope you like this satirical piece: it is a written caricature, hence the archaic rambling. It may be an acquired taste as it was written during a spell of ennui.
Life – A Review
(by Pastor L. J. Darkside)
When I first heard that Life was coming out I was as excited
as any critic and Christian leader of my calibre. We all know that the seminal
and now iconic release of Love was the most inimitable, original and popular of
all. As an unabashed fan of the Author, I was expecting great things in this
new work, which I have been studying for some time now.
I am happy to say I was not disappointed in the slightest. I
have to say, that from my first reading of Life, I was a ready convert. Having
heard some complaint from other critics on other publications, I didn’t know
quite what to expect. The other critics had stated that Life was not compelling
enough, that it lacked all consistency and was quite arbitrary in its dealings
with readers. These other critics, whose reputations are as dubious as their
opinions, stated that after studying Life for some time readers would often go
on to worship the text - as if it were some kind of god.
What an insult to the intelligence of the reader. What a sad
and pitiful view of the human condition, itself covered within the text of this
unparalleled work. Did those reviewers not realise that Life encompasses both
this dour outlook and their entire worldview? What Philistines those critics
are to state that Life is in any way less than the masterpiece that it clearly is.
And as for readers ending up worshipping Life – well, my point is that a reader
will only worship that which is wonderful, original, exciting and popular.
As for the hoi-polloi who even go so far as to crudely
describe Life as a ‘bitch’ – what a miserable conclusion to reach. Do they
honestly expect the intelligent men, the academics, the scribes, the scholars,
to share their deranged, base and vulgar opinion?
They even go on to describe Life as some kind of horror
story. What rubbish! Life is clearly a love story of the best kind. Or an
adventure story. There are those who see no elements of story within the text,
no beginning, middle or end. And that is the genius of this work, that it is an
adventure, not a battle, that the story-arc progresses to what can only be a
wonderful end. What a journey. But they sometimes describe it as a prison or as
a courtroom complete with witnesses, judges, and testimonies. Waiting around
for Life to happen to them. Refusing to engage with the text to any great
degree. Of course Life treats them badly! Not so with this critic I can assure
And even if Life is contrary and arbitrary, as they
insinuate – even if Life is as fickle as they and their demagogues opine, have
they not entirely misunderstood the true nature of this work? Have they not
heard the calls of the intelligent, of the wise? That Life is good, that Life
is sweet, that Life is fair and that Life is wonderful? What? They site chapters
of grief as evidence for Life’s fickle character. Do they not know that Life
encompasses even death? That the very depths of the valleys and the heights of
the mountaintops are the content of this beautiful work? It is an irony which bypasses
them in their crude, base speculation, their personal bitterness towards both
the text and to the Author. What a tired and jaded viewpoint they have.
But they are right in one thing when they do describe Life
as a ‘bitch’. In that she is clearly female. The Greeks got it right when they called
their goddess 'life'. For she is such a wonderful, wild siren that even
the most jaded critic must appreciate her many faces, her differing aspects.
She is like a diamond which all men fail to praise at their peril. And perhaps
it is this lack of compliment which causes Life to reject such readers who do
not pay her credence, who do not show her the respect she deserves. What an
irony that is. What a tragic irony – that the critics of this marvellous work
should be treated as they are by Life herself. It is, in effect, their own
They go on to say that suffering somehow negates the
positive attributes of Life, that it makes it so much more difficult to love
Life. And do you know what I say? Poppycock! I know many people who suffer on a
frequent basis and their love of Life is not diminished. It simply goes to
prove that whether Life deals her readers with kisses and blessings or with
thorns and suffering, we should all love her. And as one who has been very,
very blessed, is it any wonder than I am among Life’s greatest fans? And even
if I were to suffer, I would still praise her.
I even heard one deranged man say: “Life would be
intolerable if it were not tempered by Love.”
What folly. Didn’t he realise that Life is the strongest
work? Didn’t Maya Angelou herself tell the story of how her own mother would
not hear a word said against Life because Christ had said ‘I am the way, the
truth and the Life’? What a nurturing, faultless mother she must have been to
teach the young Maya so well.
But for those of us less ignorant, those of us who
appreciate true skill and true beauty, we know that Life is magical and that
she rewards those who give her the praises that she is so worthily deserving of.
The other critics call us mealy-mouthed. They say that our
reviews of Life are like the archaic ramblings of mad, old men and women. That
we somehow sound old-fashioned as we whistle our merry tunes. How sad. How very
sad. That they cannot see past our instinctive praises, the perspicacity with
which we express our admiration of the benevolence of Life in all her abundance.
It is quite clear that the critics don’t understand Life at
all. The vast array of content, the sheer exultation that is involved in this
work has no contemporary equal. They say that Death is Life and that Life is
Death. What fools. What loons.
As I have attempted to make clear throughout this review,
defensive of Life as it is (and Life, like her Author, needs her protectors),
there is no greater work on this planet. That those who criticise Life prefer
Love is a further irony. They should not despise one and cling to the other.
Love is encompassed within the pages of Life. And they say that Life is within
Love. How they misunderstand. What wretches they are. Fools.
And so, it only leaves this reviewer, this eminent critic to
say his last words about this text. Life has no equal. It is the greatest work
I have ever read and has treated me kindly, like a mirror. What a paradox – the
ugly see ugliness, the beautiful see beauty. And how beautiful she is. How
lovely in every chapter. How I long to sample her most intimate delights.
The unworthy illiterate masses can call her a ‘bitch’ as
much they want. But Life will find no greater fan than I.
Life holds pride of place among my book collection. I
believe I may have a signed first edition and obviously I have locked this work
in my cabinet, to be handled, studied and caressed when I am in a vacant or pensive
I've started my first petition ever. I've signed a lot a petitions (usually the 'black and white' rather than 'grey area' ones), but the reason for this one is simply because I think it deserves to be in the news agenda. A lot of agenda-setting is fairly arbitrary and based on whatever news editors think is relevant. When I've spoken to editors they always say: "You just get a feel for the news." It really is arbitrary.
And that is always it. Our popular news tends to be down to the instincts and hunches of a few people who decide what the news should be. If I ruled the world, the news agenda would not be the way it is - but I don't and that is probably just as well.
So, I wanted to sign a petition against ECT - Popularly known as electro-shock therapy. The reasons for this were not because I have experienced ECT myself, but I have encountered people who have and from what they have said, it has largely been a very negative experience. They have described it as invasive and life-changing (in a bad way).
I couldn't find many petitions against it, so I've made my own. I've resisted doing so before now because I'm not a leader. But someone has to do it.
As Sondheim says in his lyrics: 'If you have no expectations, you will never have a disappointment'. And I'm not really expected any great results from this. Call it an experiment - in the same way as ECT is simply an experiment - because no-one knows what it does. And it really is barbaric and shouldn't happen.
The only other time I've gone all-out on a petition was when I took a petition against the Iraq war (just before it started) around.
Please don't send me to 'chokey' just for hoping that the pen is mightier than the electricity.
Here's the text of the petition and the link:
'Ban ECT - electroconvulsive / electroshock therapy in the UK
Electroconvulsive therapy remains highly controversial. It is also largely ineffective - it damages the human brain. It doesn't work. Those who experience ECT often talk about how it feels like a kind of torture or punishment. Many people with mental health problems feel compelled to undergo ECT as a last resort and yet they often come away from the experience feeling worse than they were before. They can also experience significant brain damage.
It is like playing Russian roulette with the human brain and is even used as a threat in some instances and contexts. It is a barbaric and ineffective treatment for mental health problems.
Academic studies which defend ECT are often influenced by those with a vested interest in the treatment. But it is the vulnerable who suffer as a result. Government is complicit in this procedure and there are many other less invasive options for those who suffer mental health problems.
Destiny and Dynasty is Nick White’s first novel. There are a couple
of books by established authors which I must confess I have not had the patience
to read through to the end. White’s debut is a literary gem any serious writer
would dream of starting their career with.
A good book tells
an interesting story; a great book makes you feel the story is written for you.
I initially came across the latter type of storytelling some thirty years ago
when as a student in Cairo I discovered D. H. Lawrence, James Joyce, James
Baldwin and Joyce Cary. What I admired most about their first literary attempts
as novelists was their courage and talent to turn some of their own life experiences
into art. I was equally impressed by the attention they paid to their early formative
years thus showing that there is method in the Wordsworthian maxim ‘The Child
is the father of the Man’.
This is not to
say that White’s novel is semi/auto-biographical. Nor is the book’s main character
Michael Sumner a doppelganger of
sorts for some of the early heroes – Paul Morel, Stephen Dedalus, John Grimes
or Evelyn Corner – penned by the above-mentioned writers. Rather, he has a life
and originality of his own which explains why he is such an unusual and yet
entirely believable character.
Michael emerges from the
start as someone who stands out, even as a child. He has more than his fair
share of misfortunes since he is twelve. This is not
what makes him unusual or special, though. Misfortunes do not make those who
are at the receiving end interesting figures per se. In life, as in fiction, many suffer but few overcome the
harsh trials and tribulations of capricious fate that often defies logic.
vulnerable, Michael is fundamentally a survivor. And he chooses to survive not
by following the easy options in life. On the contrary, he takes risks even
when it is almost certain that he will be hurt, at times seriously.
thing about Michael is that he can easily lead the people he associates with and
cares about as much
as the reader to believe that he is an easily manipulated character. White
never makes a statement that his main hero is on a
quest. The reader is expected, and rightly so, to realise this for himself.
What makes this realisation rather difficult at times as well as an entertaining
challenge is the fact that Michael himself does not seem to have a clearly
stated goal in mind. He is haunted constantly by something although we do not
know what exactly from. He wants to go somewhere but we are none the wiser at
any stage in the novel about his ultimate destiny. He does not want to run a
church like his love interest Naomi; nor is he tempted to run away from civilisation
and be a hermit like Ian. On the contrary, ne never wants to be in control and
is eager to remain in touch with people even when it is clear that this more
often than not will bring him trouble and sorrow rather than satisfaction
It is clear that
Michael tries hard to make sense of the senseless waste of life, which he
experiences first hand with the sudden loss of his family. Nothing could have
prepared him for this; not even the fateful meeting with Madame Indigo, the
fortune teller, whose words, in hindsight, take a complete new and sinister
meaning for this indigo child.
Michael an intriguing psychological character is that he speaks through his
silence. White spares
us tedious psychological monologues that a less scrupulous stylist could have
been tempted to employ at the detriment of the
inferred aesthetic reticence.
After the family
tragedy, Michael is haunted by the nightmare of falling. His challenge from
then onwards is to
clutch at something, anything, in the hope that his life would assume some semblance
of normalcy. This never happens, but he tries constantly
intriguing about Michael, a sensitive soul as he is, is that although he
creates the impression that he is impressionable and can be easily manipulated, he is always
his own enigmatic self. This is apparent at various stages in the novel, even
when he leaves the impression that he is under someone else’s thumb. One such case is when, against his Aunt’s expressive advice, he
follows Elizabeth Ravenscroft’s counsel to get rid of his mother’s diary and
his brother’s teddy bear. This more than anything else indicates that he will
not be held hostage by the memory of the departed loved ones, at least not to
the extent to prevent himself from enjoying
life or at least keep trying. Even his infatuation with Naomi makes more sense
if it is seen in this light. Rather than apparently being besotted with Naomi,
Michael is in love with the idea of being in love.
obviously craves to connect, the tragedy is that he can find no trustworthy
people or institutions worthy of connecting with. His manager is a heartless creature
and he is not the only cruel employer in the novel. Even a religious
institution like the Triumphant Life Church (TLC) is void of true feelings and
solidarity. The church lacks soul. Rather than a place of worship, the TLC is
in essence a business venture that was started by a crook and inherited by a
knave, and which most likely will end up in the hands of an equally
unscrupulous fake shepherdess. The vivid depiction of the state the TLC is in,
how it operates, and how it manipulates its flock, is a heartfelt condemnation
not so much of religion per se as a
courageous effort to highlight the failure of institutions to fulfil their
responsibility, bring people together, and forge social cohesion at a time when
we continue to leave an increasingly fragmented existence.
the head of the TLC, is a religious hypocrite and a misogynist. He is the
reason why his daughter has turned into such a troubled soul, almost a Heathcliff-like
to understand from the first encounter with Naomi that something is
fundamentally wrong with her. The fact that he is drawn to her to the end,
however, as mentioned earlier, does not mean that he is an emotional dupe.
Likewise, partly because of his own observations and partly because of the
nature of the three tasks Naomi asks him to perform for her in exchange of wining
his affection, it is clear that Michael is under no illusion as to what kind of
church the TLC is. The fact that he falls in love with and follows doggedly a
girl he knows is incapable of loving him back, and starts attending a church
that is anything but a pious spiritual centre makes him sound at times like someone
who does not know what he is after.
Michael makes, however, odd as some of them obviously they are, are indicative of
something crucial about him, something that is beyond corruptibility. He may
have not found for the time being a girl who can reciprocate his love or a
church where he can find solace for his troubled soul, but he will never
apparently turn into a manipulative and killing misanthrope of the James and
Naomi type. Nor will he apparently end up being a runner like Ian whose failure
as a spouse and a father as well as the disappointment he experiences with
James turn him into a quitter who escapes into the Welsh wilderness only to
return back to the fold of civilisation to confront evil unsuccessfully and die
an anonymous death.
Michael’s importance as the main protagonist, the novel is a gallery of several
memorable charters. This is mainly as a result of the original way the novelist
employs the narrative which is economical and rich in its suggestiveness. The
author is an astute observer of humans, nature and their interaction. This is a
literary work as much as a sophisticated study on how complex, vile and lofty
human beings can be. The narrative is often peppered with witty observations
and humorous asides which make the novel enjoyable to read even when describing
awkward moments in the characters’ lives.
Nick White has
not made it easy on himself by writing such a delightful first novel.