Wednesday, 21 January 2009

A Review of THE BETTER MAKER








THE BETTER MAKER by Walter Aske.
Lulu 278 pp £ 7.29



"I mean that I came home more greedy, more ambitious, more voluptuous and even more cruel and inhuman - because I have been among human beings" Seneca


Walter Aske has a way with words. "Darkly attractive with words" - to paraphrase Sini Kaattari, one of his main characters. Nor is he part of a literary movement or creative writing club, but a man of great introspection and originality. For his main theme, unprofessed, is undoubtedly himself. Maintaining a symbiotic colloquy with love and despair, The Better Maker is an excellent example of how the use of language sets one apart; how its rendition, not the story is paramount.

Using a well-established literary device that allows one timescale to
be relevant to another, Patrick Sadler's Italian fast-forwards give his life a
posthumous meaning as well as guiding the eye of the reader to the ultimate
denouement of his literary composition. On the face of it, Patrick seems
destined to be a pariah. Morose, insular, lugubrious, he has in effect turned
himself into an outcast. Again and again, his adult behaviour has roots in his
childhood: ...his introspection, his suspicion of his own insignificance, his
self-obsession, his ambiguous relations with Sini Kaattari and - of which she is
seen as the epitome - with Polly‘s nose. One remains profoundly struck by the
miserable aspect he presents. Rigid with intimidation, he has a defeated look
about him. A symptom, no doubt, of the overarching need to be loved. Perhaps the
story is apocryphal. But it has the sound of psychological truth. And on this
point as on others it does not lack credibility

Above all there is a sense of restless uncertainty:

"He studied her for some hint of his failure, why she had withdrawn
from him in the Leech Hall, and avoided him since. And why now she had taken him
into her kitchen, and offered him tea, or coffee, or hot chocolate even. Then
his gaze dropped and he stared at the table, fighting to withstand the love that
would compel him to speak, to speak and so err in her strange kingdom. If his
love had scared her so, then he must act outside of love; but that misleading
angel had him, as surely as ever. Within a minute his easy, sleepy warmth had
contracted to silence. He was barely aware of her or himself; he had sealed
himself into a numbness from which he could act without love. The music met the
silences strangely.”

While he endures a major psychological crisis - that of falling in love
- people around Patrick Sadler are both charmed and alarmed by his tranquil
defiance of convention. Like the Roman Seneca, Patrick is dismayed with himself,
but even more dismayed with his fellow men, and he functions on the assumption
that they are not to be trusted. At the same time, one is struck by his strange
passivity in the face of his “Torment.” Reacting with the same stoicism he has
displayed as a child, the victim refuses to protest the treatment the world is
dishing out to him. Tortured by inner demons and a sense of his own
worthlessness, he's less of an arrogant or Rimbaudlean rakehell than he is an
abandoned and impassive outcast. His entire attitude is complete denial.


Some of its content makes repetitive reading. There are too many recurring,
campus canteens that badly need to have their mash potatoes fed to the pigs. And
a number of his dialogues are diminished by a plethora of insider innuendo. A
sort of campus repartee. I wonder, too, whether the university content isn't
responsible for some the style, which, at times, is remorselessly collegiate. In
fact, the atmosphere is, if not pretentious, somewhat affected, even if the
finest passages are composed in an archaic, oblique and enigmatic style with a
terseness that - for all its infusion of "fearful secrecy" - has few equals. Or
at least, few that I know of. And yet, paranoia can be catching. Becoming ever
more detached and mysterious - in the words of Sini: "You are not exactly human”
- their "forbidden" relationship seems more suited to the sadistic moral
universe of 13th century Florence than the Runnkirk of 1999.

"He dreamt of her death. he dreamt of his. Knives in the night. He woke
in his flat and rolled to his unsteady feet, listening and waiting, then unable
to sleep, worried for Sini across the town. They both waited their end, her
shaming, and what hell would follow after. Their love did not feel blessed and
wonderful; it was urgent. They both talked of how long they could love like
this, before a world they both saw as cruel and stupid found them out. They
shared an intimation of doom that went beyond scandal or separation"


Fear feeds on itself and prophecies of doom become self-fulfilling:
“Sini died on Christmas day.”

One of Walter Aske's amazing qualities is the potently
self-deprecating irony and wit that he applies to potentially heart-rending
situations. His ability to handle emotional restraint is extraordinary. There is
a memorable scene in the nocturnal college library where Patrick feels haunted
by a ghost - which then turns out to be Sini incarnate, who promptly takes him
home. What follows is a tragicomedy. He declares his love for her as he lies
prostrate under a pile of vestments from a coat-rack which has collapsed and
buried him. One wonders what Henry Miller would have made of it - the great
master of the hilarious and grotesque. And Strindberg's taste for bad omens
would have been no less well served - to take the other extreme. Indeed, some
may argue that if you are used as a butt for fate or buried under a pile of
coats, some of love's dignity is lost. But even though Patrick is hardly
expansive in his emotions, for the time being he appears a contented man.

He dreaded the fading of his love for Sini - and so did I. In truth, I
felt a terrible hole in my stomach. And, I suppose, if I'm honest, I also felt
affronted when "she took his now eager cock in his mouth". It jars (- which is,
of course, precisely the point that the author is making). Polly Church, on the
other hand, never lives up to her promise. I retained a feeling of distinct
unfamiliarity. "The one deeper, bonded in his blood and bone; the other an
unsettled revenant, a catalyst."
The result, inevitably, is an untidy compromise
until I lost them again in a long bluster about Schubert, Mozart, St Augustine,
Apocalypse, Christ and the pretensions of literary theorists. Followed with
another exegesis by Polly Church on Abelard and Heloise in - if I have got this
right - Dante's Inferno, plus a giddy succession of non sequiturs blazing away
with all the dizzying complexities I had previously devoured about Patrick’s
disintegrating life. It was 3 am - the hour of the wolf - and I had enough of
death, Satan, the Viking and a man called Gaston who devotes himself unashamedly
to succeeding as a bohemian temp. I told myself we'd reached the central fire.

Now, I am no great creative writing fan. And some books have a longer
life than their authors. Most of them don't. But I have a hunch that what makes
The Better Maker unique has more to do with the dark poetic spirit of its
author, the vogue for personal deprecation and its spark of nihilistic chemistry
than with any capacity for explicit, blatant mainstream perceptions. The author
started as he meant to go on and he writes well, in an "untutored" fashion.
Clearly, in scale, scope and significance this is an Erstlingswerk, and I had an
extraordinary sense of its singularity. In fact, Walter Aske is an accomplished
communicator, but he also needs to be a skilled editor in order to render the
intricate convolutions of the story accessible to the more general reader - for
that "less is more” continues to be an excellent recommendation, here as
elsewhere. Commercial success, admittedly, is only a remote possibility. But
then, success and genius are not synonymous - far from it! In fact, he would
never make it as a writer-in-residence employed by Camden or Islington Arts
Council. And we should all be thankful for that!

Oh, and lest I forget, if you have never heard of Walter Aske , you may be surprised to learn that he is none other, of course, than Elberry of The Lumber Room.


Dreamy




5 comments:

Bob said...

I must admit that I was surprised when I read the review of the "√úbermensch Conspiracy", especially the part about the male called Max.

I am lost for words. I am a sucker.

elberry said...

Heh heh heh.

Bob said...

Elberry, I know people who are like you. One of them is a good friend. He found a girl and married her a couple of years ago and is living very happily now with two small kids by the way, so there is still hope for you.

I don't know any people like Selena, however.

I guess I will continue to read this blog, I am curious about the upcoming developments.

Selena Dreamy said...

My goodness, men can natter!

But absolutely, hang in there Bob, my next two posts should be absolutely critical to your moral development...

mutleythedog said...

I strongly identified with Patrick - or Paddy as I like to think of him - I am much like that myself- insular and brooding and lugubrious and whatnot!