"an interplanetary fantasy by a Welsh squire; a timeslip into a mysterious England by a priest once called the original Dorian Gray; an avant-garde novel about a tea-party and the Holy Grail."
I mean, seriously, who could resist? At the same time, this book is also a fascinating collection of odd miscellany of rather out-there topics including the Sphinx Illusion performed in 1865 at the Egyptian Hall, a "strange head of myth speaking" to an audience "from out of a casket, uttering its omens and riddles;" an essay on what ghosts wear, and the game "Cat-at-the-Window" as recalled by Edward Marsh in his memoirs, which ends in speculation as to whether Algernon Blackwood's story "Ancient Sorceries" "may have been inspired by a too fevered indulgence in the cat game" (read the story, you'll understand) and the possibility of a more "pedestrian and peregrinatory version of the game" having been known to Arthur Machen, "the eminent historian of Dog and Duck, an old bowling game," and "admirer of cats." As a matter of fact (and unsurprisingly) many of these essays contain various literary roads leading to Machen, as well as various examples of one of my own newly-discovered reading passions, psychogeography (especially in "Apocalypse and Marrow Jam: Pilgrim from Paddington") which also happens to stem from my reading of Machen's Hill of Dreams last year.
|Colonel Stodare (with the Sphinx) as he appears in the book; this photo is from Travelanche|
Beginning and ending with treks through bookstores (never new books, by the way), in dreams and with writer John Howard, Sphinxes and Obelisks is another must-read collection for fellow travelers who are easily led down the rabbit hole to dally in the realm of the obscure. I have to say that Mark Valentine is one of the few writers whose fiction and nonfiction works consistently attain the level of near perfection; this book has the feel of listening to an old friend whose love of literature knows no bounds.
Very, very highly recommended; one of my favorite books so far this year.