the m john harrison blog

…wilful romantics don’t see a problem with that. They know what’s wrong with what they like, and they know it’s culturally unsupported in the same way as an old version of a browser is unsupported. But they go on liking it—or at least engaging with it—anyway, waiting unexpectantly to find themselves in their real lives—or unexpectantly trying to outlive the wrong lives—all of their lives. They’re often surrounded by a detritus of their own acts of abjection, symbolised in collections of rediscovered personal possessions from which they feel alienated. They often remark on these objects.


dad joke

I like reading–

Virginia Woolf, Peter Fleming, Alain Robbe Grillet, Dorothy Richardson, Arthur Machen, Christopher Isherwood, (early) Robert Ford, Robert Stone, Alfred Bester, Jayne Anne Phillips, Jenni Fagan, Jon Day, Brian Dillon, Katherine Mansfield, Chekhov, Will Eaves, Rosamund Lehmann, Alan Ginsberg, Eric Ambler, TS Eliot, TE Lawrence (The Mint), HG Wells, Helen Macdonald, Denis Johnson, Robert Aickman, Austin Wright, (early) JG Ballard, St John Perse (Anabasis, tr Eliot), Maria Stepanova (In Memory of Memory, tr Sasha Dugdale), Lara Pawson, Thomas Pynchon, both Nicholas Royles, Robert Macfarlane, Jack Kerouac, Albert Camus, Gareth E Rees, Borges, Charles Williams, Eve Babitz, Joan Didion, Anthony Powell, AE van Vogt, John Steinbeck (Cannery Row & Sweet Thursday), Paul Bowles, Patrick Modiano, Dodie Smith, Fernanda Melchor, Elizabeth Taylor, Elizabeth Bowen, Elizabeth Strout, Elizabeth & Her German Garden, Lawrence Durrell, Penelope Fitzgerald, Elmore Leonard, Barbara Comyns, Wolfgang Herrndorf, Marc Behm, Claire Keegan, Donald Westlake, Olivia Laing, Kathryn Scanlan, Anna Kavan, Maeve Brennan, Jocelyn Brooke, Lee Childs, Balzac, Kenneth Patchen, Rachel Kushner, Louis MacNeice, Heinz Pagels, Elaine Pagels, Isabel Waidner, Samuel Beckett, Jenni Diski, Jonathan Raban, Kathy Acker, David Constantine, Constantine Fitzgibbon, Theodora FitzGibbon, Cortazar, Roger Deakin, Maya Deren, Tim Etchells, JG Frazer, Alan Furst, James Gleick, Gunter Grass, Gorky (Fragments), Carson McCullers, IB Singer, Iris Murdoch, Rebecca Solnit, Upton Sinclair, Jessie L Weston

–Who else would I like?

Hugh Adlington on Penelope Fitzgerald’s working papers and draft versions, London Review of Books 19.12.2019–

“Fitzgerald believed that an original image or idea ‘always stays so to speak latent, within the novel when it’s finished’. What is omitted … is important because it shadows or informs what remains. She went further: ‘I can only say that [these orginal ideas or images] seem to me close to the mysterious individual life of the novel which you can recognise whether you’re reading it or writing it.” (His insert in square brackets.)

in full sunlight

On holiday recently, to celebrate my new & I hope final status as a relaxed, cheerful & fulfilled human being, I bought a novelty plate to eat breakfast from. Sturdy, off-white & sized conveniently between a side plate & a dinner plate, it would easily acommodate an egg-cup, a teaspoon & two slices of bread. Best of all, it features the image of a rooster in energetic colours, and displays the legend IT’S A BRAND NEW DAY! Nothing could fit better with our striped Cornish mugs and the bright red jacket we bought to insulate the cafetiere. I love my new plate. But sometimes, when I catch sight of it in full sunlight on the crowded drying rack by the sink, I’m dazzled & see only the words IT’S A BRAND & think: true.

anna & james

Anna, unaware of these judgements, took home two bottles of Fleury and a tub of pistachio ice cream then telephoned Marnie and conducted a short but satisfying row; after which they agreed to more broadly respect one another’s feelings and Anna listened to news of Marnie’s boyfriend’s job. Her plan for the rest of the evening had been to turn on her fifty-inch Sony and eat all the ice cream while watching an ageing wildlife presenter gambol in the brackish waters of the North Sea with the half-dozen mouldy-looking grey seals left in the Shetland Islands; but, four of the animals having the previous week contracted human norovirus, the spectacle was cancelled. Anna wandered about. After her exchange with Marnie the house seemed hot and airless. She took a shower. She stood looking out of the kitchen doorway with a glass of Fleury in her hand. Called the cat. He didn’t come.

“James, you depressing animal,” she said.

–from Empty Space, final novel of the KT trilogy, Gollancz 2012

‘The “ominous frenzy” of Kyoto will soon be replaced by an archaic calm, or at least an attempt to maintain one. The man soon finds himself outside the city – though, somehow, the narration is able to claim that he remains inside it.’ Read my review of A Mountain to the North, A Lake to The South, Paths to the West, A River to the East by the fabulous László Krasznahorkai (tr. Ottilie Mulzet, published by Tuskar Rock Press), in today’s TLS–

“Such an existence demands a fluid fidelity, a succession of continually disappointing commitments to false products. It is a matter of running hard to keep up with the inflation of devalued signs of life.” Debord, Comments On the Society of the Spectacle, 1998.

the cat

“I hate the noise saucepans make,” Victoria told the cat. “People always know you’re at home when they hear the saucepans clanging about in the kitchen.”

The cat stared up at her.

“You don’t say much, do you?” she said.

Later she went out to the Spar and bought two tins of catfood.

“We’ll try you on this,” she said. “But if you get expensive, off you go.” After it had eaten and licked around its face a bit, she picked it up and took it to the back door. “And out you go at night,” she said.

The cat miaowed at the door until she let it back in.

Originally published as Victoria Adopts, 2015

“Fuck off, I’ll fucking kill you.” Then a pause. Then: “I will fucking kill you.” And: “The fucking lot of you. You’re dead. You’re fucking dead.” Banal threats rendered pathetic by their own resonance in the deserted street. & of course there was always plenty of laughter and squealing, broken bits of karaoke. Among all these cries, we sometimes heard a sound with something of the interrogative in it, & something of a challenge, but also something of an attempt to attract attention; though it was, in the end, somehow too detached and too practiced to be any of those things. It was like the human version of a mechanical bird call, repeated over and over again, given rhythm by a pauses a different length to the cry itself. It was mechanical but really quite communicative. We heard it night after night, just down the road, we thought, from one of the bars; or in the street outside one of the bars. We stuck our heads out of the door but saw nothing. We walked down the street looking in one place or another, but all we heard from inside was laughter. It was always further away. Only when we had closed the front door behind us would it start up again, and then neither immediately nor predictably.

Originally published as “night after night”, 2015

shoebox lives

Found material is a private experience. If I use it I try not to draw narrative conclusions from it. It’s not there to provide “story”. The reader doesn’t need my idea of what happened. I don’t need the reader’s–that would be a crude intrusion into someone else’s fantasies. But there’s more. We both know how interpretations spin away from found material, but we also recognise that choosing one of them breaks “history” out of its quantum state and turns it into a lurching caricature, a bad guess, a sentimentalised drawing of an event in someone else’s life. Found material might be “evidence” –might even be a direct, indexical sign of a thing that happened–but the thing that happened, the life that contained it, can’t be reassembled, or back-engineered into existence. It’s only what it is now: if you try to glue the fragments together with the sentiments “evoked” in you, all you will have is a golem. All you’ve done is bully the mud into a shape that satisfies your needs. But avoid interpretation as determinedly as you can, and you have a metaphor for the way we encounter not just the past but the present: lives as the most tentative assemblages; interactions in your own life as partially interpretable fragments, fading images, achieving the condition of conversations overheard on the tops of buses, postcards from the past even as they happen.

Originally published 2018