THE BLOK SAGA: SPECIAL EDITION – 2012 -2013

THE DAYS OF MIRACLES AND WONDERS (1997).

The Days of Miracles and WonderThe Literary Review, by John Murray, September 1997:

The key dramatic point in this rich, exuberant and poignant novel is the abduction by Syrian agents of a Greek, Christian doctor, Petros Angelopoulos, who is visiting old friends in – wait for it – East Lothian. Previously he had been working in harrowing conditions in a Palestinian camp in Beirut, zestfully enduring eighteen-hour days patching up all those mutilated by the Amal militia. Dr ‘Angel’ is an outstanding comic creation. Faithless to women but faithful to his patients; a cheerful pessimist, who whiles away his blindfolded incarceration with tender memories of passionate love affairs.

‘An endless web, woven with everything that was, and possibly everything that will be. Each field with a built-in memory derived from self-resonance with its own past.’ Thus we first learn about ‘morphic resonance’ (there’s nothing new under the sun), the structural framework of this comic, apocalyptic and brilliant political satire.
‘Morphically resonant’ with Angel’s abduction is the parallel snatching from Fontevrault, France, of the crusading monarch, Richard the Lionheart, by Aziz Khamash, the Christian war-lord and ‘Butcher of Beirut’. Richard has risen from his tomb, only to be whisked away to Beirut, to be grilled by Khamash’s occultist parents about the apocalyptic future of the Druze.

What is really impressive is the way Louvish’s knowledge of Lebanese politics, and the underpinning eschatologies of the warring sects, leads him and his characters Tewfik and Angel towards a compassionate, bird’s-eye view of the whole sorry picture. The author grew up in Jerusalem and is a Scottish Jew who is obviously pro-Palestinian.
This is a very angry satire, but it also attempts to understand the fanatic occultism of the Druze and the hard-line Rabbis. Indeed, Louvish’s panoptic sympathies are very similar to those of Simon Stylites, the pillar-dwelling anchorite who is also a key historical player in the book.

Equally impressive is the way the author manages to incorporate lengthy political discussions and large chunks of newspaper quotations into the fabric of the novel. These passages might have read like cut-price Aldous Huxley, were it not for Louvish’s compassionate anger, excellent comic dialogue and razor-sharp one-liners. His versatility allows him to construct authentic monologues by characters as diverse as Saddam Hussein and the lovably sour Baruch Blok.

As well as political anger, Louvish expresses a profoundly spiritual anger. He is well versed in the genuine spiritual ideals of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, which is why, like Simon Stylites, he has an overarching view of the Levantine tragedy.
As for technical versatility, Louvish manages the whole range, from black descriptions of Angel’s gory craniotomies, to a decorously compressed comic prose when satirising American art colonies, London publishing, East Lothian, etc. On one page he has the sober, spiritual clarity of the proclamations of the new Mahdi; elsewhere, he does his satirical scenesetting with a skilfully truncated syntax reminiscent of J P Donleavy. For a writer with so much talent he ought to come across as a show-off, but his self-deprecation is all of a piece with the remarkable graphics that scatter the text: Simon Stylites’s excrement-disposal machine and Israeli gas masks, to name but two…
This is a very important novel by an extremely gifted author. It’s too good to win the Booker prize, but I’m sure Simon Louvish doesn’t give a damn about that.

From the first chapter:

God’s Little Acre.

When Richard the Lionheart died, struck by a crossbow bolt during a minor siege of the castle of Chalus-Chabrol in the Limousin, his heart was cut out and taken to the Cathedral at Rouen, his entrails were removed, preserved in vinegar, in a jar, to the Abbey of Charoux, near Poitiers, and the rest of his body was taken to the Abbey of Fontevraud, near Chinon, for interment. But, after a while, his restless nature asserted itself, and he rose, from the vault in which his remains had been placed, to walk about the cloisters, the chapel and kitchen of the Abbey, dressed in a friar’s grey robe, his brow furrowed in thought, his hands clasped behind him, as he struggled, in his mutilated state, to make sense of his life, his battles, his desires, and the general apathy of the Creation.

Eventually, he grew tired of the peaceful tranquility of the cloisters and made his way up the hill, past the mid-day trippers and the Lazarus Chapel, out the southwest gate of the complex into the Rue Saint-Lazare, following its curve into the market place thronged, on a brilliant spring day, with tourists clutching their souvenir booklets, road maps and Michelin Guides. It was a Thursday, and the local townspeople were out in force, besieging the stalls and vendors of the cheesemongers, greengrocers, fruiterers, butchers, bakers, fishmongers, potters and postcard salespersons, the housewives and husbands cramming plastic shopping bags with long sticks of bread, fromages, cold meats and frozen chickens, tinned bouillabaisse and fresh carp, carrots, cauliflowers, cabbages and corn.
The pungent smell of goat cheese propelled him past the crowded stalls, by the moss grown walls of the old enclosure, into the Fontevraud shopping mall, the department stores, post office, souvenir shops and cafes almost blocked by the parked tourist cars. He skipped hurriedly to avoid a braking BMW and manouevered his way into a plastic chair by a table at the Cafe Des Amis, protected from the sun by a bright red and white striped awning. The Cafe was crowded with the visitors who had come from the four corners of the earth to marvel at the ancient Abbey’s Royal Tombs. The father, Henry II Plantagenet. The mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine. The son, minus some vital organs. And also stocked, in gold urns in the crypt: the hearts of his brother, John Lackland, of John’s third wife, Isabella of Angouleme and their son, Henry III, who reigned from the age of nine for more than half a century. Notable, during John’s reign: the Magna Carta. The Rule of Law. But can the Little Man, and Woman, win?

The tourists’ jabber wafted, waved. At the next table, to his left, a white shirted young man with golden hair, golden beard and two enormous gold earings purred softly at two healthy young girls in yellow and blue t-shirts balancing cigarettes between their fingertips. To his right, a heavy thighed German couple held two golden children in a vice like grip of large brown palms. The waiter, a cheerful black haired young lad in a striped apron, sauntered up and asked:

“Voulez vous, m’sieu?”

Richard chose the Sandwich Jambon and Tomato Salad and settled down to watch the cruisers dragging Main. Germans, English, Japanese, Dutch, Swedes, and French families from the urban north, the world’s petite-bourgeoisie tripping along the Chateaux trail. Chatillon, Loches, Tours, Chinon, Saumur, Fontevraud-L’Abbaye. Relics of fallen empires, ploughed battlefields and remaindered wars. Bleached bones, dried out and disappeared tendons and sinews of old warriors and youths who never became old warriors. Sacked villages, ashes of peasant huts burned with their inhabitants inside, the dead echoes of the cries of men, women, children, the bleating of farm animals driven off by maces, crossbows, lances, smoke rising to the blue sky, the crackle of flames, the tolling of church bells, the massed chiming of chain mail, the clank of mounted knights, the metal charge, the flash of swords in the sun, the splintering of skulls, the severing of arms. The blood, seeping into the soil. The captives, led off in chains for ransom and profit, mere assets in the knightly game of human supply and demand.

And once he has entered the fray let each man of high birth think of nothing but the breaking of heads and arms; for it is better to die than to be vanquished and live…
“Medic! Medic!”

The army sawbones swoop, splatter. Gangrenous limbs litter the field. Wine poured in open wounds. Invocations of God, the Father, the Mother. Priests intone what comfort they can. Saints stand and scratch on pillars, which grow, higher and higher, till the shouts below are not heard.

A flight of military Mirages, training, cuts through the Angevin sky. The king’s jaws work methodically through the fresh bread, butter and ham. The teeth bite, the tongue propels morsels down the gullet, to the emptied maw. To his right, a dark, moustached man of wiry build and a thoughtful if mischievous look, and a petite, lightly freckled red headed woman, both appearing in their mid thirties, approached and sat at an available table. The man’s eyes met the king’s gaze briefly before he turned to hold his companion’s hand, on the table top, with a transitory air, as if unsure whether their moment of rest in the sun would endure.

Dust to dust. The earth moves, a gentle rocking. King Richard’s eyes close, the last morsels of ham sinking, the eyelids heavy with old dreams. Memories and hopes. Unrequited desires and passions. Failed ambitions and vanities curtailed. Home is the sailor, home from the sea, and the hunter…? So much fatigue. The old warrior, eviscerated. No heart, no guts. No more glory.

And nevertheless…

(Now read on…)

THE BLOK SAGA 5: THE FUNDAMENTAL BLOK, and 6: THE CHINESE SMILE, to follow in 2013, and more titles to come in due course…