Sacrum Regnum II by Daniel Corrick
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
After being entirely blown away by Sacrum Regnum I, I was excited, but a touch guarded, when approaching this second volume in the series. While I saw a lot of names that I normally love, I was wary of the sequel, worried that it would either fall flat or "jump the shark".
My fears were completely unfounded. This second volume absolutely lives up to the promise of the first. My only disappointment is that a volume three was never compiled.
But why focus on what might have been, when we can focus on what is? And this volume is absolutely brilliant! By that, I don't mean bright and shiny, oh no, this volume is dark, in places very dark. I mean smart, intelligent, dignified, and, dare I say it: literary? It is, with the first volume, a Symbolist master stroke, and a worthy bow to the Symbolist and Decadent literature of the past, without being enslaved to it.
My praise for Sacrum Regnum II does not, however, mean that I felt entirely comfortable with it. Not by a long shot.
For example, I feel, as the kids say these days, "seen" after reading John Howard's tale of a slightly neurotic numismatist, "Into An Empire". Yes, I saw myself in the protagonist on several levels. John, how did you get into my head? This hits too close to home for this mildly neurotic wannabe numismatist. I even restrict myself to pre-1776 Germanic state silver coins in a similar manner to the story's main character, Payton. Seriously, I feel naked before your pen. That is to say, I could completely immerse myself in Payton.
Next, "The Human Cosmos" is Charles Wilkinson at his best. Strong echoes of Italo Calvino ring throughout, and that is some of the highest praise I can give a story. An ambiguous story (in the best way possible) of fabulism that ends poised on the knifes' edge of dark and light. I am reminded of my favorite quote by Calvino: I am a Saturn who dreams of being a Mercury, and everything I write reflects these two impulses. Wilkinson hits both sides of that balance at the same time.
Colin Insole's "Dreams from the Apple Orchards" (which I have read before) is an excellent example of psychogeography, where the landscape itself pulses with the negative energy of those who lived their before. The setting is the character, the setting that has seen so much of corruption and baleful intent. A thin veneer separates the trappings of civilization from the base layer of chaos beneath.
I had wanted to read Thomas Strømsholt's fiction before, but this was my first chance to do so. "Szépassony-völgy" packs an unexpected gut punch. Strømsholt layers a seed of utterly mindless random brutality under a veneer of mythic legend and romantic nostalgia and longing for past love. The contrast is striking and invokes a strong existential response in the reader, leaving one's head reeling. Powerful.
An entire section about author Quentin S. Crisp, replete with an interview with the author and a piece of short fiction, entitled Crispiana opens a window into the brain of the author, at least what he's willing and able to share about his brain. An interesting peek at an author whose work I quite like. As with the first volume of Sacrum Regnum, I love the collection of fiction, non-fiction, poetics, and reviews. An eclectic selection, but with it's own firm voice.
The Poetics section in this volume contains work by Mark Valentine, Loha Connell, and Bethany van Rijswijk, along with a translation of Stefan Grabinski's "Red Magda".
Ah, kids. Can't live with them, can't bury a fire hatchet in their forehead when they are possessed by fiery arson demons without feeling some degree of guilt. Watcha gonna do with "Red Magna"? This brilliant (pardon the pun) translation will lodge itself in your brain, just like an axe. The effect is no less painful. I did warn that some of these works go to very dark places.
Mark Valentine turns his always-keen critical eye on novelist Claude Houghton in his article "The Stranger Who Opens the Door - The Novels of Claude Houghton". As is usual, the reader is sent off scurrying to find the work of another forgotten author. Valentine is an archaeologist of literary treasures that need to again see the light of day. This essay is no exception!
Martin Echter's essay on the aesthetic principles espoused and practiced by Hanns Heinz Ewers is an exemplary examination of not only the writer's oeuvre, but of the undergirding philosophy that drove Ewers' work. A marvelous examination of an incredibly underrated author.
I had read, with interest, Mark Valentine's essay on Mary Butts from his collection Haunted by Books, whom I had not heard of to that point, with interest. Now, with Nigel Jackson's essay "Obscene Ikons: Desacralization & Counter-Tradition in the Work of Mary Butts," I have felt compelled to add her complete short fiction to my To-Be-Read list. For those who know me well, you know I don't add things to my TBR list lightly. I curate it a great deal (and am often chided for how few books I have on my TBR list on Goodreads). So, yes, I expect something special from Mary Butts' work.
. . . and the review of Georg Trakl's The Last Gold of Expired Stars in the book review section cements my decision to buy that book, as well. Thankfully, it was already on my TBR list.
There is some high praise for The Ten Dictates of Alfred Tessler by D.P. Watt. But isn't Watt always deserving of high praise? Yes. Absolutely.
A critically-constructive eye is placed upon Alex Miles' debut weird fiction collection The Glory and the Splendour. I haven't read said collection, but the assessment here seems fair, yet firm: there's potential here, but it needs work. It's strangely refreshing to see a review that is measured and doesn't overstate the work being reviewed, but sees raw potential.
Another balanced, insightful review, this time of Quentin S. Crisp's All God's Angels, Beware! clearly explains what it is that makes Crisp's work tick. I have yet to see a clearer explanation of how he does what he does when he writes. It is unique, quirky, weird, and charming at the same time. It has heart and this essay shows how and why this is done. An important essay on Crisp's fiction, to say the least!
When I read through the list of forthcoming books here, I am reminded of how good of a year 2013 was for literary fiction of the sort that I love. Halcyon days, to be sure. Hopefully, they'll return. In some small way that's happening, but we need an updated equivalent to Sacrum Regnum or an outright resurrection of the same to really seal the deal, as far as I'm concerned. Where is our Sacrum Regnum? And here I go again, pining for the past by longing for the future. I'm tempted to try to make it happen myself. It's been a while since I've edited . . . hmm . . .
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