Archives for posts with tag: Rabbit

Tensions (I), 2012

Tensions (II), 2012

Jean Hélion painted Tensions in 1932. According to Jean-Luc Daval, Hélion was “the sole French exponent of geometric abstraction”. To me the painting looks like High Modernism, and wouldn’t look out of place in a Mies Van Der Rohe building.

Anyway, Wikipedia has this to say: “[His] work of the 1930s established him as a leading modernist. His mid-career rejection of abstraction was followed by nearly five decades as a figurative painter. He was also the author of several books and an extensive body of critical writing.”

You can buy a  hand-painted reproduction of  Jean Hélion’s Tensions here.

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This is the last of my posts with titles taken from Jean-Luc Daval’s History of Abstract Painting.

As usual, thanks to John Pindar and Deanne who set this whole titling thing in motion. And to my collaborator Richard over at CK Ponderings with whom I have completed nine collaborations. The latest can be seen a few posts back. Please check it out.

It may surprise you to learn that some people have never seen a single episode of The League of Gentlemen. But it’s true. I’m one. Which puts me in the happy position of being able to review Jeremy Dyson’s first book of short stories with the cool detachment it deserves (he’s a co-writer on the series, for those who are as uninitiated as I am).

Never Trust A Rabbit comprises twelve short stories, three of which have been published previously in other places; seven and a half were written specially for this collection. Each story is preceded by a wonderful unsettling, inky black and white illustration by James Hood. We get an introduction from the author, and, opposite the colophon page, a Hungarian proverb: Never trust a rabbit. They may look like a child’s toy but they eat your crops. It’s the perfect taster for the stories to come. And, of course, Jeremy Dyson made it up. There is no such Hungarian proverb.

All twelve stories end unexpectedly. After the first couple, We Who Walk Through Walls and A Slate Roof In The Rain, you begin to expect the unexpected. Some stories finish more surprisingly than others. When the twist works it’s brilliant, but when it doesn’t it’s extremely frustrating because the stories are otherwise so well written. City Deep is the oldest here – dating back to 1989/1990. It’s about a tube-train-phobic man who is forced to go underground with catastrophic (but kind of predictable) results. And We Who Walk Through Walls (about the staging of an illusion that involves a world famous magician walking through a wall) ends unpredictably, but at the expense of its own narrative logic, making the ending read as if it were flown in from another story.

But when it works, ah when it works…

At the heart of the collection are two stories. The first is The Engine of Desire. It’s disgusting, improbable, nasty, and hilarious. Where some of the other stories are tightly focused miniatures (The Maze, All In The Telling), this is a story told in the literary equivalent of widescreen CinemaScope. It has a “hero” called Jack Sleighmaker (fer Chrissakes)!

Sleighmaker is an international adventurer-cum-mercenary who will do virtually anything for money. He is commissioned by Prince Bandar bin Turki (of some unspecified country) to find and acquire an incredibly rare automaton invented by an erotomaniac artist called Thomas Narcejac. The piece in question is a life-like replica of a girl called Aveline that can apparently perform unbelievably exquisite sexual acts. The quest to find the piece takes Sleighmaker from Egypt to Rippon in North Yorkshire and eventually on to a little piece of Kent in the middle of Zambia. The visceral, gory, insane, spectacular denouement reminded me of one of the Chapman Brothers’ sicker dioramas. And made me laugh out loud.

The second is the most recent story in the collection, A Last Look At The Sea. It’s a taut, unshowy dissection of a couple’s relationship, with a strange maritime effect as a backdrop. George and Tessa, who have been seeing each other for a year, visit Long Cross in Cornwall, just prior to Tessa going to live in America for a year. At Tessa’s insistence they go for a cliff walk that leads them to a fog-shrouded beach where the tide goes out and does not come back. There is a sumptuous bleakness to the story, rounded out by a deft ending that manages to be positive without being sickly or sentimental.

The remaining eight stories stand at points along the line that connects The Engine of Desire to A Last Look At The Sea.  At the heart of each lies a believable relationship – even if it’s between a man and a cash machine (The Cashpoint Oracle) – and this lends the stories, no matter how absurd, their emotional power.  It’s a fine balance between the deliciously sinister and the mundane and human that makes these stories so satisfying. Tasty!

Review originally published by The Roundtable Review (May/ June 2007)