Friday, 30 October 2015
Anthony Adler has an intuitive feel for arousing his reader. How can sex be subtle yet explicit at the same time? In Berlin Exile we read about the dark world of bdsm; we learn about it too. A reader coming here after reading and loving 50 Shades will pretty soon realise the lack of authenticity in EL James’ book. I don’t know how far Anthony Adler has personally delved into the real world of bdsm; maybe he has dabbled, maybe he’s a sophisticated Master or maybe, like EL James, he’s read a few stories and researched the Internet, but his response is to give us a book that really is a magnificent turn on for the reader. We keep turning the pages and that is, after all, everything that a writer desires. Of course we’d love fame, even more so we’d love riches, but more than anything we want our reader’s attention. And that is exactly what Anthony Adler gets. His book is superbly crafted erotica.
Here’s our protagonist.
Jamie Stolts really only has himself to blame. His reputation lost, his high flying position in a prestigious public relations company gone…along with his enviable salary. He's just closed a brilliant deal with a company in Japan and he's feeling pretty pleased with himself. Jamie has just turned 30 and his 5 year plan of being a company director in the next couple of years is beginning to look like a reality.
Caught out, after a highly charged erotic thrill with the boss’ daughter and Jamie is out…high powered job gone…exclusive lifestyle shattered…all that's on offer is a dubious job in Berlin. It's not a question of go west young man...it's go east.
Berlin Exile is a story of a young man's personal, emotional and spiritual growth. I don't mean spiritual in terms of a religious belief…it's more about an introspection…Jamie thinks about his behaviour and the reader starts to see a real change.
Anthony Adler’s book has a resonance of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations. In the same way that we don't like Pip at the beginning of Great Expectations, so it is with Jamie in Berlin Exile. Okay, Jamie is fun, Anthony Adler presents him as a nice enough guy…a little superficial, a little promiscuous, he likes to be in control…but he's not without kindness. He just doesn't want to be tied down…and that's why he shuns any relationship that looks as if it's going to extend beyond one night. Told in the first person, we get to know Jamie quickly.
So, Berlin…there’s suddenly a lot going on in Jamie’s life; new people, new friends, a new love. Jamie’s work life in Berlin is refreshing to him. He feels a connection with his work; it’s not just a means to an end…he is working with good people, kind, talented people, people whom he likes and as their boss, he feels responsible for; it’s a complete contrast with what was his work life in London. The reader catches Jamie making comparisons; he thinks how unnecessary it all was to be overtly competitive, unkindly aggressive, where the reward was either a pay rise, or being noticed by “right” people.
Early in Berlin Exile Jamie talks about music, the music that to a great extent, has defined his life. He loves the great classic stuff; the Stones, the Beatles, the Who.His musical tastes are defined by nostalgia and nostalgia is always deceptive…we yearn for something to was never really there.
It's as if Jamie realized that new music was there, he just hasn't been open to it. He hasn't listened, not really. And just as Jamie is beginning to question his attitude to work and to women, he hears the music of Berlin. His musical tastes change into something profound; something esoteric. He is drawn to the enigmatic, charismatic band Null Eins Null and in an equal measure, he is drawn to the enigmatic, charismatic exotic Silke.
There’s a world of bdsm here and though it’s not for the faint hearted, Anthony Adler is never crude. I won’t say that Jamie embraces the lifestyle immediately, for Jamie it’s a slow unfolding…a learning about control. Who is in control? In his previous life, being in control was an imperative. Through Silke, Jamie learns about relinquishing control and finding peace; a profound harmony.
Anthony Adler is an impressive writer of erotica. He stands out, way above his peers. I look forward to hearing more from him. This book was a pleasure to read; Anthony Adler is a new, young writer who knows how to tell a cool story, he knows how to craft memorable characters, he knows how to maintain control of a narrative.
Berlin Exile will stay with me for a long time.
Berlin Exile is at Amazon UK And Amazon US
You can find Anthony Adler at Twitter @FickSchon
Friday, 23 October 2015
There’s something strangely alluring about the sight of a strong man in ropes and chains, struggling to be free of his bonds. Well, I think so, anyway. All that muscle, straining. His sweat making the bonds slippery, ever tighter. The struggle is hopeless; he sees defeat staring him in the face and still he is spirited enough to fight on.
You’ve only got to type in the word ’bondage’ into any search engine, to be overwhelmed with images, and stories, of men and women, bound and helpless. Mostly, it’s consensual, at least I hope it is. A little piece of BDSM, being acted out by adults involved in a highly charged erotic game.
But bondage is nothing new. The Internet generation cannot claim to have invented it. Neither can writers of porn and erotica. Bondage is in ancient art and old, old stories.
Laocoon and his sons are bound and helpless by fierce serpents. There’s a statue of Laocoon in his death throes, in the Vatican in Rome. Pliny attributes it to three Rhodian sculptures, Agesander, Athenodoros and Polydorus.
Laocoon and his sons are bound and helpless by fierce serpents. There’s a statue of Laocoon in his death throes, in the Vatican in Rome. Pliny attributes it to three Rhodian sculptures, Agesander, Athenodoros and Polydorus.
Laocoon’s exotic punishment is for committing a sacrilegious act; that of procreation in a place holy to the god, Poseidon.
Punishment through bondage, for a sin, real or imagined and often trivial, is the catalyst for many modern bondage stories. A slave forgets to collect his master’s dry cleaning, and is tied to a whipping bar; he is helpless and is whipped. The whipping is secondary; it is the fact that he is bound and helpless, that is the important part of the ritual. In another story, a submissive craves his punishment and will contrive to get it by inventing any misdemeanour. He visits his mistress in his lunch break and is forced to return to his office, wearing a cock cage beneath his pants. The cage is screwed tightly, pressing painfully against his balls, yet still his cock struggles valiantly for an erection that just cannot happen.
Strength and power are contained, controlled and relinquished.
The old stories are even in the Bible. Delilah contrives to discover the secret of Samson’s great strength. This is a man so strong and powerful, he has ripped a lion in two. Eventually, he tells her. His strength is because of his long hair. Delilah tells Samson’s secret to the Philistines, and Samson is shorn of his locks while he sleeps. His strength is gone and Samson is bound and chained. His eyes are put out and Delilah pockets the silver that the Philistines have paid her.Samson is punished through bondage and humiliation, for breaking his oath with God by cutting his hair.
Michelangelo’s REBELLIOUS SLAVE, can be seen in the Louvre, in Paris. The bondage is there for all to see. The slave is being punished. His hands are tied behind his back; he is engaged in an active struggle against his bonds. Michelangelo has left the marble raw and unpolished, emphasising the grittiness of the subject. The expression on the slave’s face is of agonized humanity. A rebel that has to be controlled.
I shall be posting a piece on female bondage soon -- to redress the balance!
Friday, 16 October 2015
Was there something sinister about Lewis Carroll's fixation with seven-year-old Alice Liddell? Not necessarily, says Katie Roiphe. http://www.amazon.co.uk/Still-She-Haunts-Katie-Roiphe/dp/0747265585
The Guardian, Monday 29 October 2001
It is true that the Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, otherwise known as Lewis Carroll, author of the inimitable classics Alice in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking Glass, liked little girls. Or, as he once wrote: "I am fond of children (except boys)." He took exquisite, melancholy photographs of little girls. He befriended little girls on trains, and beaches, and in the houses of friends. And one particular little girl, Alice Liddell, came to be his muse and great passion.
Unfortunately for Dodgson, the 21st century does not look kindly on a single man who is beguiled by seven-year-olds. Feminist critics have darkly suggested that Dodgson was a paedophile. They have condemned the beautiful photographs he took and objected to his objectification of the immature female body, and read all sorts of rapacious nonsense into the Alice books.
At the other extreme, many of Dodgson's defenders have protested too much. They have attempted to argue that he was utterly without feelings for little girls. One of his early biographers wrote, "There is no evidence that he felt or inspired any pangs of tender passion", when of course there was an abundance of evidence that he did. His defenders tend to portray him as a shy, stuttering bachelor with a fondness for children that may as well have been a fondness for stamps or porcelain puppies.
Is it possible that neither view of him is correct - that he was neither the child molester nor the pure, white-haired reverend? It is possible that our crude categories, our black and white views of romantic feeling, cannot contain someone like Dodgson. It is almost impossible for us to contemplate a man who falls in love with little girls without wanting to put him in prison. The subtleties, for those of us still mired in the paranoia’s of the 20th century, are hard to grasp. When one thinks of a paedophile, one thinks of a lustful, over-the-top, drooling Nabokov love, but that is not Lewis Carroll. His love was more delicate and tortured and elusive; his warmth, his strange, terrified passion, more intricate and complicated than anything encompassed by a single word.
Dodgson's affection for what he called his "child friends" was always mingled with a vague yearning. He wrote to one 10-year-old girl, "Extra thanks and kisses for the lock of hair. I have kissed it several times - for want of having you to kiss, you know, even hair is better than nothing." This is typical of his correspondence. He converted whatever his feelings were into the whimsical, quasi-romantic banter that eventually made its way into the Alice books. He wrote to one mother of a potential visit with her daughter, "And would it be de rigueur that there should be a third to dinner? Tête à tête is so much the nicest."
There was a romantic intensity to the friendships that Dodgson struck up with children, a hint of hunger, of never quite getting enough. This was especially true of his relationship with Alice. There was always a sense that he wanted more of her. And yet, can we really blame him for that - as long as he didn't act on his feelings? If he turned himself inside out, turned the world inside out with his powerful imagination, in order to avoid them?
He was not alone in his obsession. The era seemed to breed a certain type of neurasthenic man who had a well-developed and intellectually complicated disdain for overt physicality and who found himself drawn to pre-teens.
Take John Ruskin. He also fell under the spell of an Alice, among other young girls he encountered. One particular street urchin whom he glimpsed in Italy made a big impression on him. It is one of the paradoxes of Victorian culture that the sentimentality, the frilly, sugar-sweet view of the child often coexisted with darker sexual urges; that they fed each other, and the squeamishness about sex led to a perverse attraction to anything innocent and pure. Children were safe, and in their safety, certain thoughts - dirty, sensual thoughts - were allowed to flourish.
It is almost impossible to claim that Dodgson was drawn to little girls on a purely spiritual plane. His deep aesthetic appreciation of their physical presence was too conspicuous. He wrote to Gertrude Thomson, an artist who sketched girlish fairies and nymphs, "I confess I do not admire naked boys in pictures. They always seem... to need clothes, whereas one hardly sees why the lovely forms of girls should ever be covered up."
It's clear, then, that Dodgson had a submerged erotic fascination with the nubile female form. But what to make of it? What if he did love children, and in that love was a sexual element? What if he admired the bodies of little girls and never touched one? There is no doubt that he was tormented by what he called "the inclinations of my sinful heart". Even his mathematical writings were marked by his struggle. In the introduction to Curiosa Mathematica, Part II, he wrote that fixing one's mind on mathematics as one lay in bed could ward off "unholy thoughts, which torture with their hateful presence, the fancy that would fain be pure". Strong language for a book about trigonometry.
The picture we get of is of a man afraid of his own dreams, struggling for command over himself. In one of his most charming analyses, the biographer Morton Cohen actually charted Dodgson's moments of greatest torment and insomnia in his diaries and found that they correlated to the days on which he saw Alice.
But Dodgson's response to any heightened agitation he felt with children was this: he sat with Alice in a boat gliding along the glittering river and made up stories, the more outlandish the better. His feelings rhymed and punned themselves into expression. He chatted her up with the manic energy of Wonderland. His frustration, his alienation, blossomed into the caterpillar at the hookah and Humpty Dumpty and the Mad Hatter. He channelled his devotion into a wild and lovely literary universe; his imagination so dangerous and inflamed, it fled the real world. He called the Alice books a "love-gift". And because this love is unrequited, because it is impossible, ethereal, because he cannot allow himself to fully feel it, there is a hint of sadness. As he puts it, "a shadow of a sigh" trembles through the story.
To me, there is a nobility in a self-restraint so forceful that it spews out stuttering tortoises and talking chess pieces rather than focus on the matter at hand. There is something touching about a man who fights the hardest fight in the world: his own desire.
You can feel the loneliness on the page. You can feel the longing in the photographs. You can witness the self-contempt in his diaries. How can one not feel sympathy for a man who writes in his diary, "I pray to God to give me a new heart", but is stuck, in spite of his astonishing powers of invention, his brilliance, his immortal wit, with the one he has.
He had impure thoughts, yes. What matters, in the end, is what he did with them.
Katie Roiphe's novel about Lewis Carroll and Alice Liddell, “Still She Haunts Me”, is available at Amazon.co.uk
And at Amazon.com
Friday, 9 October 2015
“The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there.”
L.P.Hartley’s inspired opening sentence to his remarkable novel, “The Go-Between” is memorable and often quoted.
“The Go-between was first published in 1953, the following year it received the Heinemann Foundation Prize of the Royal Society of Literature. Its film version was also very successful and won the principal award at the Festival de Cannes in 1973. The novel is a memory story: a man in his sixties looks back on his boyhood, recalling the events that took place on a summer visit to an aristocratic family in Norfolk in the 1900's. Hartley uses double narrative, the young Leo's actions told by the older Leo, and it shows us how it has affected his life”. WIKI
The novel, “The Go-Between” is a compelling illustration of Freudian psychoanalysis. It explores the ideology of sexuality within the context of Victorian England and the imagined world of a twelve year old boy on the edge of puberty. But more than anything, “The Go-Between” is an exposition of Freud’s “repressed memory syndrome”.
“Repressed memory is a hypothetical concept used to describe a significant memory, usually of a traumatic nature, that has become unavailable for recall; also called motivated forgetting in which a subject blocks out painful or traumatic times in one's life. This is not the same as amnesia, which is a term for any instance in which memories are either not stored in the first place (such as with traumatic head injuries when short term memory does not transfer to long term memory) or forgotten.
The term is used to describe memories that have been dissociated from awareness as well as those that have been repressed without dissociation. Repressed memory syndrome, the clinical term used to describe repressed memories, is often compared to psychogenic amnesia, and some sources compare the two as equivalent.
According to proponents of the hypothesis, repressed memories may sometimes be recovered years or decades after the event, most often spontaneously, triggered by a particular smell, taste, or other identifier related to the lost memory, or via suggestion during psychotherapy”. WIKI
Freud used the term repression to describe the way emotionally painful events could be blocked out of conscious awareness so that their painful effects would not have to be experienced.
The trigger for releasing the adult Leo’s repressed memory is his diary, discovered after a lifetime of blank, barren emotions. The trauma that has caused his memories to be suppressed is the imaginings of a sensitive young boy on the verge of puberty who conveys messages between two secret lovers. In repressing his memory, Leo’s life has been one of neurosis, negation and sterility.
Leo’s conscious mind has actively pushed into his unconscious mind the major, traumatic event. For Freud, repression was a defence mechanism - the repressed memories are often devastating in nature, but, although hidden, they continue to exert an effect on behaviour.
Leo Colston, is a bachelor librarian in his sixties. He is a self-proclaimed “foreigner in the world of the emotions.” Colston’s discovery of the diary he kept in the summer of 1900, the year he turned thirteen, precipitates the release of the repressed memories of the people and events that led to his withdrawal from emotional relationships. The young Leo, imaginative, sensitive, and eager to please, his values and vision determined by the self-centeredness of a child, visits the estate of a schoolmate.
Yes, the catalyst for the story is the diary. The diary isn’t detailed in terms of narrative, but the words, phrases and illustrations within its pages lift Leo into the world of dark, stormy memories that he has repressed. He tells us that most of the writings within the diary are in code. A code that the adult Leo has to recall and translate.
“Try now, try now, it isn't too late”
“Excitement, like hysteria, bubbled up in me from a hundred unsealed springs. If it isn't too late, I thought confusedly, neither it is too early: I haven't much time left to spoil. It was the last flicker of instinct of self-preservation which had failed me so signally at Brandham Hall.”
The adult Leo has an epiphany, a sudden realisation that the key to his frozen life is in the pages of his diary.
So repressed are his memories, that he cannot even remember the name of his childhood school friend. The diary tells him; “Marcus.”
The child Leo, invents a story, a romantic tale about the profound events of that summer in the year 1900.
Bruno Bettleheim in his book "The Uses of Enchantment" makes the point that fairy tales;
"... carry important messages to the conscious, the preconscious , and the unconscious mind, on whatever level each is functioning at the time. Our own narratives carry a similar message, both to ourselves and to whoever we are asking to share them with us.”
Already, the diary is helping Leo to remember his story.
"To my mind's eye, my buried memories of Brandham Hall are like effects of chiaroscuro, patches of light and dark: it is only with effort that I see them in terms of colour. There are things I know, though I don't know how I know them, and things that I remember. Certain things are established in my mind as facts, but no picture attaches to them; on the other hand there are pictures unverified by any fact which recur obsessively, like the landscape of a dream."
The adult Leo realises that something profound happened all those years ago, and something profound is about to happen in his present.
"..the past kept pricking at me and I knew that all the elements of those nineteen days in July were astir within me, like phlegm in an attack of bronchitis, waiting to come up. I had kept them buried all these years, but they were there, I knew, the more complete, the more unforgotten, for being carefully embalmed. Never, never had they seen the light of day; the slightest stirring had been stifled with a scattering of earth.”
Among other things, "The Go-Between" is about class distinction and its warping effect upon the life of one small boy. The story is set in the days before World War I, privileged days that seemed to stretch endlessly before the British upper class. The boy, Leo, comes to spend a summer holiday at the home of a rich friend. And he falls in hopeless schoolboy love with the friend's older sister, Marian.
Marian is engaged to marry well, to Lord Trimingham, but she is in love with a roughshod tenant farmer, Ted Burgess, and she enlists the boy to carry messages back and forth between them. The boy has only a shadowy notion at first about the significance of the messages, but during the summer he is sharply disillusioned about life, fidelity, and his own place in the great scheme of things.
In the family's matriarch, Mrs Maudsley, Hartley give us a woman who seems to support the British class system all by herself, simply through her belief in it. They show a father and a fiancé who are aware of Marian’s affair with the farmer, but do nothing about it. They are confident she will do the "right thing" in the end, and she does.
Everything that will become of this boy in his adult life is already there, by implication, at the end of his summer holiday. Leo ends up being warped by the final tragedy that turns him into an emotionally hollow adult.
So twelve-year-old Leo spends the summer of 1900 at the country estate of his much wealthier school friend, Marcus Maudsley, presided over by a patriarch who;
"sitting down looked much taller than standing up"
and a matriarch "who seemed to take up more space than necessary."
What begins as a delicious idyll of scorching skies, afternoon swims, tea and cricket, soon darkens toward storm. Leo suffers his first crush on Marcus's elder sister Marian, becoming an unwilling go-between in her complicated machinations with a war hero beau and a local farmer. Leo's defining characteristic is his naiveté, which everyone exploits for their own amusement, and the reader chuckles along manipulated by Hartley's irony, making us complicit in the tragedy to come.
The adult Leo informs the reader;
“My secret- the explanation of me- lay there. I take myself much too seriously, of course. What does it matter to anyone what I was like, then or now? But every man is important to himself at one time or another; my problem had been to reduce the importance, and spread it out as thinly as I could over half a century. Thanks to my interment policy I had come to terms with life, I had made a working -working was the word - arrangement with it, on the one condition that there should be no exhumation. Was it true, what I sometimes told myself, that my best energies had been given to the undertaker's art? If it was, what did it matter? Should have I acquitted myself better, with the knowledge I had now? I doubted it; knowledge may be power, but it is not resilience, or resourcefulness, or adaptability to life, still less is it instinctive sympathy with human nature; and those were qualities I possessed in 1900 in far greater measure that I possess them in 1952.”
The summer is hot, too hot for Leo in the warm winter clothes he has brought with him to Norfolk. Marian offers to buy him a new set of clothes more suited to the weather. They leave for Norwich to go shopping on the following day. Leo, the adolescent boy is delighted, but the adult reader already has the dark, uncomfortable stirrings of duplicity.
The violation of Leo’s twelve year old soul has begun.
Leo's romantic imagination favours heroes and villains. At Brandham, he invents his own fairy story. He is the hero, already in love with the beautiful princess and like many before him, his love will be his downfall. The reader already knows that Marian will betray him.
After they have finished their shopping in Norwich, “she dismissed me,” and Leo wanders around the cathedral for an hour. Leo is happy; excited. “Never had I felt in such harmony with my surroundings.”
Leo leaves early to the appointed meeting place. He catches sight of Marian.
“She seemed to be saying goodbye to someone, at least I had the impression of a raised hat.”
Leo does not say anymore than that. He doesn’t have the reader’s sophistication of suspecting a liaison; an assignation.
But if naïveté is his defining characteristic, Leo’s naïveté is his fatal flaw. In a cruel twist the flaw is made tangible by the Lincoln green suit gifted by the Maudsleys on his birthday;
"It is your true colour," chants Marcus, "Green, green, green."
The reader is older, wiser than the boy Leo. The boy’s powers of intelligence are inferior to ours, so we have a sense of looking down on the events with a notion of absurdity. Of course it is absurd that the boy Leo, should imagine himself in love with the beautiful Marian and Hartley draws the reader in to a mood of smug complicity. But the reader has to respond sympathetically to the boy Leo’s dilemma. Leo’s world is introverted and unworldly; Hartley presents the reader with a very grown up situation, in which the child has no defence against the power of adults.
This is something we can all relate to; when adults had conversations while we were present. Their words laden with innuendo. We can remember feeling disconcerted, that something is being said that we don’t quite understand. There is laughter that confuses and disorientates us; is the laughter at our expense? We remember the dark, hot discomfort. We recall being compromised at having to break a sacred vow. Adults shouldn’t do this to children; but they do. It must have happened to L.P.Hartley too, for him to know.
The man Leo, imagines the boy Leo confronting him with the life he has wasted.
“If my twelve-year-old self, of whom I had grown rather fond, thinking about him, were to reproach me: 'Why have you grown up such a dull dog, when I gave you such a good start? Why have you spent your time in dusty libraries, cataloguing other people's books instead of writing your own?”
The older Leo, has his answer ready.
“Well, it was you who let me down, and I will tell you how. You flew too near to the sun, and you were scorched. This cindery creature is what you made me.”
The hot weather continues, but Leo doesn’t mind it now that he is wearing cool summer clothes.
The heat, brings out notions of sex, as it does for all of us. And Leo is no different; but his ideas of sex are hazy and he simply imagines his own nakedness. He experiences his first feelings of erotica.
“My notions of decency were vague and ill-defined, as were all my ideas relating to sex; yet they were definite enough for me to long for the release…of casting off my clothes, and being like a tree or a flower, with nothing between me and nature.”
There is a bathing party planned and Leo is disappointed to learn that he will not be allowed to swim. He won’t have the pleasure of wearing the swimming suit that Marian has chosen for him. His mother has written to Mrs Maudsley, telling her that he is frail.
As the party approaches the place where they are to bathe they see a man diving into the river. As he swims towards them, Denys, Marcus’ elder brother, realises that it is Ted Burgess, the tenant of Blackthorn Farm. He has a right to be at the river. He is not a trespasser; it is his land. Ted Burgess is a man glowing and shining with health; he is in his prime.
While the rest of the party are bathing, Leo spies on Ted Burgess. Leo is the voyeur.
“ Believing himself to be unseen by the other bathers he gave himself up to being alone with his body. He wriggled his toes, breathed hard through his nose, twisted his brown moustache where some drops of water still clung, and looked himself critically all over. The scrutiny seemed to satisfy him, as well it might. I whose only acquaintance was with bodies and minds developing, was suddenly confronted by maturity in its most undeniable form; and I wondered, what it must feel like to be him, master of those limbs which have passed beyond the need of gym and playing field, and exist for their own strength and beauty? What can they do, I thought, to be conscious of themselves?
Now he had a plantain stalk in his left hand and was rubbing it gently along the hairs of his right forearm; they glinted in the sun and were paler than his arms, which were mahogany coloured to above the elbow. Then he stretched both arms high above his chest, which was so white it might have belonged to another person, except below his neck where the sun had burnt a copper breastplate; and he smiled to himself, an intimate, pleased smile, that would have looked childish or imbecile on most people, but on him had the effect of a feather on a tiger -- it pointed to a contrast, and all to his advantage.”
The passage is highly erotically charged and is intensely homoerotic, as Leo awakens to the sheer beauty of the male. But it frightens him too, as he recognises unadulterated masculine power.
After the group has finished bathing, Marian indulges herself in a dalliance; a little flirtation with Leo. He helps her to dry her hair. Marian is simply amusing herself. For Leo it is entirely different. He tells the reader;
“A labour of love it truly was, the first I had ever done.”
The stage is set, when Leo’s friend Marcus develops the measles and Leo is left to his own devices. The tragedy gathers pace when Leo stumbles on Ted Burgess’ farm house and is caught sliding down the farmer’s haystack.
Ted gives him a “business letter” to give to Marian, but only when she is alone. Leo is sworn to secrecy; there would be “trouble” if anyone should find out.
Leo doesn’t understand a lot about the world of adults, but he understands that a secret is sacred. The bond should never be broken.
And so Leo becomes “postman” for Ted and Marian. Lord Trimingham has already christened him “Mercury, messenger for the gods”, because Leo once took a message to Marian for him. Leo likes the allusion; he also likes Hugh Trimingham and he likes Ted. And we know that he loves Marian. He is torn.
"Why don't you marry Ted?" Leo asks Marian.
"Because I can't," she replies.
"Then why are you marrying Trimingham?"
"Because I must."
She understands, and she is tough enough to endure. The victim in this story is the boy, who is scarred sexually and emotionally by his summer experience. He is on the verge of puberty; adolescence. The experiences of those hot, stifling summer days have turned the adult into a sort of bloodless eunuch.
And the day comes when Leo discovers what Ted and Marian’s “business” is really about. Lord Trimingham enters the room, just as Marian is handing Leo a letter for Ted. He succeeds in thrusting it into his pocket without Trimingham seeing. But in her haste, Marian has forgotten to seal the letter. Eventually, on his way to Ted’s farm, Leo succumbs to temptation and reads the first few sentences. What harm can it do?
“Darling, darling, darling,
Same place, same time, this evening.
But take care not to -”
“The rest was hidden by the envelope.”
Leo isn’t just devastated, he is mortified. He is hot, then cold.
“Not Adam and Eve, after eating the apple, could have been more upset than I was”.
But most of all he is acutely embarrassed. He knows nothing of sex; the facts of life. He is at an age at which boys giggle and sneer at courting couples holding hands. They are “spooning”. Stolen kisses are a joke. He likens Ted and Marian and whatever they have been doing, because he doesn’t really know, to dirty postcards he has seen at the seaside. He sees them as ridiculous and he cannot believe that his Marian would sink so low. “Spooning” is what they called it in 1900’s England, even if Leo doesn’t know what it really involves. But it is degrading, dirty, something to giggle and nudge about.
I’ve just finished re-reading “The Go-Between”. I watched the 1970’s film adaptation yesterday. Harold Pinter wrote the screenplay and Joseph Losey directed it. The beautiful Julie Christie is Marian, Alan Bates is the handsome Ted, with Edward Fox as Trimingham. Dominic Guard is the boy Leo and he won a BAFTA for his performance. The film is well worth renting and the book is simply stunning to read.
There’s still a few chapters that I really do need to discuss, but I’m going to stop writing now, except to say that the boy Leo suffers a complete mental breakdown after the tragic dénouement.
The reader can see it coming. The strain is too much for his young emotions. He has experienced pure ecstatic love and putrid betrayal in the same time frame. It’s enough for an adult to comprehend, let alone a twelve year old boy.
“And I had a curious experience, almost an illusion, as though a part of me was stationed far away, behind me, perhaps in the belt of trees beyond the river; and from there I could see myself, a bent figure, no bigger than a beetle, weaving to and fro across the ribbon of road”.
Leo’s young mind is fracturing.
I don’t want to spoil it, give anymore away for anyone who hasn’t seen the film, nor read L.P.Hartley’s superbly crafted novel of complexities, which is “The Go-Between”.
I’ll go back to where I started, with Freud and his theory of repressed memory.
“Psychological repression, is the psychological attempt by an individual to repel its own desires and impulses towards pleasurable instincts. Such desires, impulses, wishes, fantasies or feelings can be represented in the mind as thoughts, images and memories. The repression is caused when an external force puts itself in contrast with the desire, threatening to cause suffering if the desire is satisfied, thereby posing a conflict for the individual; the repressive response to the threat is to exclude the desire from one's consciousness and hold or subdue it in the unconscious.” WIKI
Our repressed desires return to our conscious minds in “Freudian slips,” dreams, blunders, wishes and fantasies. The stories that we tell.
Is Freud right? Well, that really is another discussion. Whether he’s right or wrong, what Freud has done for us, is to give us the tools to have an unfolding dialogue.
Friday, 2 October 2015
Where do stories come from? What inspires a story? Whether it is Romance or Erotica, Horror or Adventure; any genre that you can think of, they all have a beginning; the germ of an idea. Anything can be a source of inspiration for the creative writer. Our night time dreams; our waking dreams. Newspaper articles, childhood, other writer’s stories. Jealousy, fear, loathing, desire, love, hate, death, grief, greed and of course sex: every emotion that you can think of can spark a story.
My favourite writer of plays for television, Denis Potter talked about his own torment about the creative writer's calling, a word with religious significance to Denis. He weaves together his only partially assimilated realization that God and sex, guilt and anger, longings and frustration are inescapable aspects of his creativity.
I wonder about a writer like Edgar Allan Poe. I wonder what he thought about his feverish writings in the cold light of day; those hallucinatory worlds; those bloody visions.
Psychoanalytical theory is interesting. Freud talked about “the return of the repressed”. Our dirty thoughts, our bad thoughts will find a way out, whether in our dreams, or for writers, through our stories. Jung talked about “the Shadow”. We must acknowledge our dark desires; again, perhaps as writers, we face stuff we’d rather not face in reality, in our stories.
If it is absolutely impossible to give our fantasies a voice then the old Mythologies are there to help us; to teach us that there is nothing that we can dream up that the Myths have not already confronted.
The Mythologist, Joseph Campbell (“follow your bliss”) felt that Americans, both the general public and professionals who worked and studied overseas, were uninformed with regard to the world's myths and cultures. The Myths have a wisdom that is relevant to us, even today, in modern society.
My writer friend, Jan Vander Laenen and I have talked about the roots of our stories on numerous occasions. Jan and I both write Erotica; the sort of Erotica that some would describe as Pornograhic. Neither of us can reach a conclusion that satisfies us both. Here are Jan’s thoughts.
Unusual associations – this is something I read in a book about creativity – are frequently made in the nebulous zone between falling asleep and waking up. During an afternoon nap, I suddenly wake up with a start and with a complete story in my mind. It seems a repulsive story to me. Nevertheless, I hope to develop it into a novella one day – not with the title “The Foundling”, which gives away the point, but, rather, “Sabrina”.
Sabrina “works” as a shemale in the pine forests around Torre del Lago. On a porn website, her profile has the name “assbirth” on account of her being able to dilate her anus in an incredible way using all sorts of objects and her greatest fantasy being the ability to bear a child at any time. Her movies are almost surreal: after some investigation in the area of the average head for a baby, she should indeed be able to do this.
One day, she finds a newborn baby boy in the forest, a foundling. She takes him home with her straightaway and rubs Lubrifist all over the baby. And then she manages to have him reborn out of her arse - the renaissance! The baby suffocates, of course.
She hides the child’s body under a bush in the woods. The corpse is found and the police soon arrest the real mother, who is prosecuted and brought before the court. They don’t know what to do about the anal mucus and traces of Lubrifist at the time.
Sabrina sells her movie as a “nasty”. She has no sense of guilt whatsoever. And perhaps she will never get caught. Her deed becomes an urban legend.
Before writing it out in full, I will have to ask for counsel from the ghost of Pasolini during the night. Maybe have a chat with a shemale. Preferably not a viado from Brazil but, rather, a real Italian – I feel I understand the way they think. Fate will help me run into the right person to make this tale into a long story.
It is 1968 and I am 8 years old, sitting in the third class of the boys’ school in Tongerlo. Master Verboven is giving a history lesson, relating all the gory details of the plague epidemic in 1348, how people suddenly get a sore throat and lumps and languish under the most excruciating pain for a day and a half, how the streets are strewn with rotting corpses, and how nobody knows what to do to escape the horrors of the Black Death.
I feel scared. My throat contracts. I start sweating and run out of the classroom in panic, from Abbey Street, past the parish church, towards Trannoy Square and to my GP, Doctor Caers. He consoles me, gives me a tablet to calm my anxiety attack and tells me I have indigestion.
“Now go home,” says the doctor in a fatherly manner - we live a little further on. “But it’s only half past three, they expect me to be at school. Can I stay here till four o’clock? If I get home earlier, my parents will be really angry and maybe even hit me.” “Ok”, says the doctor. From that day, his wife will only talk bad about my parents.
When my elder brother lays in a coma for two weeks in 1978 and eventually dies from injuries suffered in a road accident, this Mrs. Caers tells everyone it is a concealed suicide and that my parents do everything to make life a misery for their children. My dead brother. I am seventeen. And I do not go and pay my respects to his body, nor that of my grandfather when he wastes away with grief six months later. In fact, I don’t see my first dead person until I am thirty-seven years old.
Strangely enough, I develop an unhealthy predilection for horror from childhood. “Godfather Death” is my favourite fairy tale. As an adolescent, I discover Edgar Allan Poe. And Dracula. And Frankenstein. And Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
My first book, “A Spark of Genius”, appears in 1988. Stories about suicide, crushed phalanxes, abused children, corpses and skulls. In an Italian and Brussels atmosphere – in Brussels, everyone drinks the famous “half & half”, a mixture of sparkling wine and white wine in a champagne flute. Mrs. Caers rings the doorbell. She has come to congratulate me on my first book and presents me with a gift of a bottle of sparkling wine and white wine. For a “half & half”.
So I don’t see my first corpse until the age of thirty-seven. My 89 year-old grandmother. I go to see her at the funeral home. I speak timidly to her: “Grandma, I’m here.” I make the sign of a cross on her forehead with my left index finger. And my legs feel they will give way. “Zet aa ressekes”, “Sit down,” says the funeral director in Lebbeeks dialect as she pushes a chair towards me.
I come out confused. And go for a cup of coffee in the café on the other side of the street. I have to go to the toilet. So, at the urinal I take my member out of my pants with my left hand. I haven’t washed my hands. “There are now dead skin cells from my dear old grandma stuck to my penis”, I think.
That evening, my Albanian lover, Fittim, owner of the Fritland take-away restaurant opposite the Brussels Stock Exchange, calls by unexpectedly. Our romp is a relief for me. And when he takes my member in his mouth, I get outrageously worked up. “Now he has dead skin cells from my dear old grandma in his mouth”, I think.
2012. In the meantime, I have become very well-read in the genre of horror. And I am even a member of the World Horror Association. It is dusk and I am playing with the idea of visiting St. John’s Hospital as well as the mortuary. You know, as a horror writer I have to brace myself and dare to stand face to face with everything I write about: corpses, diseases and murders.
I push the idea away and walk towards the Coal Market. Fittim has since died and his sons have taken over the business. The take-away is also a meeting place for many homeless people, as well as drunks and beggars.
On the footpath in front of Fritland, I witness a scary scene. A drunk has bitten off his tongue during an epileptic fit. It gets stuck in his throat. He is choking to death. Bystanders look on. A drunken mate phones for an ambulance: “Je crois que c’est grave,” – I think it’s serious -, he stammers.
That evening, not only do I see my second corpse, I also see someone in the throes of death. The drunk has turned as blue as a ‘smurf’, his eyes are bulging and blood is coming from his mouth. He is lying on his back and continues to convulse and shake uncontrollably for another ten seconds, upon which his soul departs from his body. I carry on walking and think about how fragile life is.
Crime of passion
I would almost want to start this alienating tale with the beginning of Poe’s “The Black Cat”: “For the most wild, yet most homely narrative which I am about to pen, I neither expect nor solicit belief.”
My story is set a few years back. I literally immerse myself in everything that
has to do with horror: books, movies and theoretical works. The English translation of my horror story entitled “The Sleeping Beauty” receives nothing less than a Bram Stoker Award in America. I am also invited to attend a congress on the aforementioned Edgar Allan Poe, and a New York horror publishing house is issuing my recent story entitled “Lise”, which is a cross between “The Night Porter” and “Flatliners”, in a compilation. So yes, of course I am proud of myself!
My love life is also doing ok. A year earlier, I run into an ex-lover, Mimoun from Algeria, and we start to develop a relationship. We are in love with each other, which means, of course, that the devil known as jealousy also rears its ugly head. Using his own key, Mimoun drops into my apartment at the most unexpected time, fearing to catch me in bed with someone else.
I don’t ask him any questions. Very early in our affair, I think I can smell a different perfume on his stomach. Right at the beginning of our affair, I find a single louse in my pubic hair. A French fortune-teller tells me our love is pure and that a happy future lays in store for us.
She also tells me that Mimoun knows another man somewhere in the city: he wants to finish with this fellow as quickly as possible but the person concerned does not shrink from employing dirty practices in order to keep the Algerian for himself – such as threatening to disclose Mimoun’s homosexuality to the members of his family.
A few nights before Halloween. I have seen Mimoun the evening before. I am at home alone and reach the conclusion that I, as a horror writer, have never seen a corpse apart from that of my grandmother or have first-hand experience of people dying, let alone attending a bloody operation such as a leg being amputated. I am a bit tipsy. I walk resolutely to St. John’s hospital and go a step further. I want them to let me into the mortuary.
The person I encounter there is Evert. He is the night nurse in the emergency department. He earns a bit more by also working as a waiter in the gay bar, “Le Duquesnoy”, where he served Mimoun and myself our drinks at the time - a Duvel beer for Mimoun and a small lager for me.
Evert looks at me aghast and takes me in his arms. “Mimoun’s family has to be informed, quickly; I will let you pay your respects before they get here.” He then leads me into the morgue. And shows me a lifeless Mimoun, with fatal stab wounds to his chest. Evert takes me by the arm and leads me outside. A group of North Africans come running up, relatives of my forbidden lover.
A crime of passion, my lord! The nasty guy somewhere in the city does not want to let Mimoun go alive. Is the rest a coincidence? Synchronicity? Mimoun’s soul giving me a sign? Why, in God’s name, do I run to the mortuary at St. John’s Hospital the moment Mimoun’s dead body arrives there?
My thoughts at the beginning of this post are partially my own, but are also influenced by sources from the Web and my dear friend Jan Vander Laenen
Thanks to Mister Mojo for reminding me of Joseph Campbell. You can follow Mister Mojo at Twitter; @FunkedUpRadio
Jan Vander Laenen loves to hear from his readers, his email is; firstname.lastname@example.org