8/13/22

Victoria Hood conjures a shifting range of narrators through an unstable range of worlds where mothers might be dead, girls compulsively shove peanuts inside their ears, agoraphobia traps people inside their houses, and cats won’t eat your soup


Victoria Hood, My Haunted Home: Stories, FC

2, 2022


Meditations on the ways grief is felt and harvested — the funny, the sorrowful, the surreal, and the unmentionable.

The stories in My Haunted Home delve in startling ways into the lives of the obsessed, the grieving, and the truly haunted. Victoria Hood conjures a shifting range of narrators through an unstable range of worlds where mothers might be dead, girls compulsively shove peanuts inside their ears, agoraphobia traps people inside their houses, and cats won’t eat your soup. In “The Teeth, the Way I Smile,” a daughter who looks like her dead mother manifests grief both in her house and her body. In “Smelly Smelly,” a woman slowly comes to realize her boyfriend has been dead for weeks. In “You, Your Fault,” we explore the unfolding love of two women who love every part of each other — including the parts that fixate on arson and murder.

Each story is a bite-size piece of haunting candy on a necklace of obsession holding them together. Hood probes the worlds of what can be haunted, unpacking the ways in which hauntings can be manifested in physical forms, mentally harvested and lived through, and even a change in what is haunting.


 “My Haunted Home” is a collection of short stories that explores the way in which hauntings and memory find themselves implanted in the everyday lives of those who live without people in their families. These stories work through grief in the form of haunting and explore how hauntings can be embodied through people and places. These stories work to bend genre tropes of horror and surrealist fiction in hopes to find a merging of haunting and memory. The narrators of these stories are ever changing, although there is overlap in voice throughout some of these stories. Part two of “My Haunted Home” utilizes a longer story format to follow one character throughout a few weeks in their life and follows the love life of this character.


These are stories about death, about grieving, about obsession and loss. But they’re also language-rich, experimental, strange, brilliant, and compulsively readable. I have never enjoyed being haunted as much as I did reading this amazing debut! - AMBER SPARKS

8/12/22

Evan Isoline - a mythographical-rhetorical work, a book of flowers, of arcadian theophanies & semiopathic assaults. In sur-rendering its totems & mementoes of Western arcana to the agency of their own dissolution, DƐVDMVTH brings the dead into rebellion

 

Evan Isoline, Deadmath, 11:11 Press, 2022

DƐVDMVTH is a mythographical-rhetorical work, a book of flowers, of arcadian theophanies & semiopathic assaults. In sur-rendering its totems & mementoes of Western arcana to the agency of their own dissolution, DƐVDMVTH brings the dead into rebellion, constructs a monument to an uninterpretable key in a ruin of obsolete modes.


LIKE A RECOVERED PYRAMID TEXT IN WHICH ALL THE ANCIENT MYTHS WE THOUGHT WE UNDERSTOOD HAVE BEEN RECAST, EVAN ISOLINE’S DƐVDMVTH IS A DISORIENTING PHANTASMAGORIA OF GENRE-SHATTERING FORMS AND STYLES, TEARING LIKE BLITZKRIEG THROUGH ITS UNHINGED IMAGINATION OF THE UNCONSCIOUS SPACE BEHIND ALL TIME. SPASTIC, BATTY, UNRELENTING, ABSURD, PROVOCATIVE, INCANTATORY, AND PROFANE ON EVERY PAGE, CONSIDER MAKING THIS THE LAST GIFT YOU EVER GIVE THE PEOPLE YOU CALL YOUR PARENTS. —BLAKE BUTLER

Evan Isoline, Philosophy of the Sky, 11:11 Press, 2021


PHILOSOPHY OF THE SKY is not a work of philosophy in an academic or traditional sense. It is, however, highly philosophical, totemic, and personal. In the book, Evan uses the sky as an abstract philosophical concept, like a cinematic backdrop, to explore conceptual associations between selfhood, objecthood, the body, apocalypticism, masculinity, masturbation, and self-destruction.

The text, symbol, and glyph are partially augmented by chance cut-up processes such as language translators, Markov chain generators, and AI natural language generators for the purpose of eliminating narrative preconception, discovering subconscious visual realms, and spotlighting a point of tension between natural and artificial aesthetic forms. The formatting of text becomes an important cinematographic framing tool.



PHILOSOPHY OF THE SKY is not a work of philosophy in an academic or traditional sense. It is, however, highly philosophical, totemic, and personal. In the book, Evan uses the sky as an abstract philosophical concept, like a cinematic backdrop, to explore conceptual associations between selfhood, objecthood, the body, apocalypticism, masculinity, masturbation, and self-destruction.

The text, symbol, and glyph are partially augmented by chance cut-up processes such as language translators, Markov chain generators, and AI natural language generators for the purpose of eliminating narrative preconception, discovering subconscious visual realms, and spotlighting a point of tension between natural and artificial aesthetic forms. The formatting of text becomes an important cinematographic framing tool.


LIKE AN ARTAUDIAN SET OF MAPS SKETCHED OUT FROM THE TOPOGRAPHIC EXPLORATION OF A SELF WHICH LOST ITSELF IN DATA AND CONSTELLATIONS, PHILOSOPHY OF THE SKY BECOMES A MIRROR IMAGE OF THE PHILOSOPHICAL ABYSS. ISOLINE’S SKY REFLECTS THE BLACKHOLESNESS OF WRITING AS IT UNVEILS ITSELF AS THE ATTRACTOR OF CONJUGATION, MUTATION AND REMIX —A CATACLYSMIC BLANK SPACE INSINUATING THE SILHOUETTES OF MONSTERS AND THE DISORIENTING TURBULENCE THAT ANTICIPATES THE ABERRANT DIRECTION OF THEIR WHIMS. THROUGH ABSTRACT IMAGES EXTIRPATED FROM CHAOS AND THEN FLOWCHARTED, AND GRAMMATICALIZED DESPAIR SAMPLED OUT IN GRAPHICAL TEST TUBES, PHILOSOPHY OF THE SKY IS BOTH A CAREFUL ESSAY ON THE GEOMETRY OF WRITING AND A VISIONARY COLLECTION OF ATTEMPTS TO CRYSTALLIZE A LOVABLE SELF FROM THE RUINS OF A COLLAPSING UNIVERSE.— GERMÁN SIERRA


THERE ARE A FEW BOOKS I’VE READ THAT FELT LIKE THEY WERE DIRECTLY ANSWERING THE CALL MADE BY ROBBE-GRILLET IN TOWARDS A NEW NOVEL. SLOW SLIDINGS BY M KITCHELL IS ONE, APPARITIONS OF THE LIVING BY JOHN TREFRY ANOTHER. I FELT EXCITED WHILE READING EVAN ISOLINE’S PHILOSOPHY OF THE SKY BECAUSE IT WAS CLEAR I’D FOUND ONE MORE. THE LANGUAGE IS SPARE YET RELENTLESS, THE FORM EXACTLY AS EXPERIMENTAL AS IT NEEDS TO BE TO PULL THE RUG OUT FROM YOU AGAIN AND AGAIN. A COMPLETELY UNIQUE AND REWARDING EXPERIENCE. — GRANT MAIERHOFER


WHEREAS DANIEL SCHREBER GAVE US TESTIMONY FROM THE OTHER SIDE OF THE SUN, AND NERVAL TOOK CONTROL OF THE MOON, EVAN ISOLINE’S DEBUT WANTS TO GRASP THE ENTIRE SKY, TO FOLD ITS HIDDEN ASPECT INTO A SECRET WEAPON AND BLOW OUR BRAINS OUT ACROSS THE HEAVENS. WITH A NERVE-LOGIC MADE HIS OWN, ISOLINE’S DEMENTED EMPIRICISM HALLUCINATES A SPRAWLING, ONANISTIC ONTOLOGY: WE DISCOVER HOW THE SKY IS ALSO THE SEA (THE SKY THAT FELL TO EARTH), THE BEACH A DESERT, AND HOW IT WAS ONCE SWALLOWED BY A SHARK (WHOSE ATTACKS NOW CONSUMMATE THE ULTIMATE SEXUAL UNION). A LOVE LETTER TO IMAGINATIVE EXCESS AND THE FAILURES OF REALITY, THIS TOO REAL SIMULATION WILL DRY HUMP YOUR LEG LIKE IT WAS THE LAST GLORY HOLE OF GOD, AND YOU’LL BE GLAD OF THE ATTENTION. — GARY J SHIPLEY


SEBALD'S "I" IS INEXTRICABLY HIM, YET IS SO UNSPECIFIC AND ETHEREAL AS TO BECOME ALL OF US. ISOLINE'S "I" IS NOT HIM, NOT EVEN A HUMAN--"I AM THE NEW WORD OUTSIDE ITSELF"--NOT EVEN A WORD. WRITERS USE THE "I" FOR MANY REASONS... URGENCY, VULNERABILITY, AUTHENTICITY. ISOLINE USES IT TO MAKE US AWARE THAT WE DON'T EXIST.— JOHN TREFRY


VAST HELIXES STREW THE PAGE, EVOLVING HERETICALLY. WHERE PERCEPTION IS TECHNOLOGIES OF REFRACTED LIGHT, THE CELESTIAL “ETERNAL RETURN” IS A THROW OF ONANISTIC DICE. GOD’S-EYE TELEOLOGIES TURN TO EXPIRED CELLULOID, THE OBESE MYTHEMES OF DIALECTICIANS TURN YVES KLEIN BLUE. ONCE UPON A TIME, PROTO-INDOEUROPEANS BUILT A MIRROR IN THE SKY & CALLED IT DYEUS, THE GREEKS ZEUS, THE ROMANS DEUS. CINEMA BY ANY OTHER NAME. BLEU DU CIEL. THUNDER & LIGHTNING. OZONE. ORGONE. NIETZCHE’S LAUGHTER AT MIDDAY. WEIRD THEREMIN MUSIC. PRONOUNS OF BLUE PEYOTE. WE ARE IN THE SKY AS THE SKY IS IN US. DARK MATTER STRUNG IN FILAMENTS THROUGH THE HEAVENLY BODY. ALL OF SPACE & TIME IS POETRY.— LOUIS ARMAND


I MEAN THIS IN THE MOST APPROBATORY SENSE OF THE WORD: EVAN ISOLINE'S PHILOSOPHY OF THE SKY IS CHILDLIKE IN THAT THE WORLD PRESENTS ITSELF TO THE NARRATORS AS AT ONCE WONDROUS, TERRIFYING, DIZZYING, AND COMPLEX; AS A PLANE OF INFINITE INTERPRETIVE POSSIBILITY WHERE MYSTIC STRUCTURES UNDERPIN EXPERIENCES OF THE EMBODIED SELF, DESIRE, AND THE ATMOSPHERE. SUBLIME, OBSESSIVE, SENSUOUS, AND PSYCHEDELIC, THIS IS AN EXCITING FULL-LENGTH DEBUT FROM ONE OF THE US'S FOREMOST INNOVATORS OF THE ORTHODOX SURREAL. DO YOU FEEL LIKE SHIT? BUY THIS BOOK. DO YOU FEEL GREAT? BUY THIS BOOK. DO YOU FEEL AMBIVALENT ABOUT MOST THINGS? BUY THIS BOOK. — LOGAN BERRY


PHILOSOPHY OF THE SKY NAVIGATES THE HUMAN BODY AS AN ABSTRACTED AND FOREIGN MACHINE. IT IS DRIVEN WITHOUT FULL UNDERSTANDING OF ITS MECHANICS. ITS NEURAL INTERIOR IS EXPLORED WITHOUT A PRECURSORY KNOWLEDGE OF WHERE EACH THREAD WILL LEAD. THE GROOVES OF THE BRAIN ARE SURVEYED AS AN ALIEN TOPOGRAPHY. LANGUAGE IS CORPOREALIZED INTO AMORPHOUS BLOBS. PROBED, INVESTIGATED, EXPERIMENTED UPON. ISOLINE PRESENTS THE BOOK-OBJECT AS AN AUTONOMOUS ENTITY. IT DOES NOT NEED US. IT GROWS, MUTATES, WRITHES WHETHER OR NOT WE ARE LOOKING. THE PAGE-MATTER THRIVES AND GROWS. SPREADING LIKE MOSS OR MOLD. AN ESOTERIC "I" (PERHAPS THE TEXT ITSELF) ANIMATES THE INANIMATE, MAPPING A NEW UNDERSTANDING OF WHAT A BOOK CAN BE THROUGH ITS FORMAL INNOVATION AND INTIMATE SCRIPT.— MIKE CORRAO


Historically, within literature, philosophy, and psychology, the notion of self has been explored in terms of verbs — thinking, acting, and other spins such as shopping (courtesy Barbara Kruger’s 1987 critique of consumerism). Then there are other ways of defining the self. One includes Freudian notions of layering of the ego, its entanglement with Eros and Thanatos. Another methodology of defining the self is vis-a-vis the Other, as, for instance, in the philosophy of Hegel who finds the Other intertwined within the act of defining the Self. A third can be taken from the poeticism of the self in that the “I”, and poetry’s relationship with it, is an eternal theme of literature. Arguably the most well-known example is Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself, but, really, there are countless examples

Evan Isoline’s volume of poetry, Philosophy of the Sky, could be understood as a philosophy of the self — as if to say I Sky, Therefore I Am (Self). The book makes a poetic impact on all such existing ways of defining the self and engaging with it. In Isoline’s craft, one sees Walt Whitman’s energy in the song of oneself (think his famous words “I celebrate myself, and sing myself”), albeit updated for twenty-first century conditions of wandering in and out of a self that is crowded, disrupted, and interrupted by multiple forces (for example, social media). Although Isoline does not explicitly claim any relationship with Whitman, the association stands out in various bits, pieces, and in lines throughout the book. There are many, but here is one:

I’m at the edge of the world and the world is what I am.

I press play on myself.

Cumulatively, such lines bring about a deja-vu: readers of poetry have experienced such deep meditation on the self and the world/nature around it: Whitman’s singing of himself, Tennyson’s Ulysses saying “I am become a name”, Emily Dickinson’s “I dwell in Possibility” and so on. An awareness of such similarities offers a great entry point into Isoline’s unusual book that brings together all kinds of literary matter: blank pages, different kinds of fonts, experiments in typography, inclusion of shapes, experiments with visual space (for example, the insertion of boxes, which make parts of the book look like a “student-friendly” textbook), and layouts that border on looking like diagrams. All of which makes Isoline’s unpaginated book a curiosity. It’s a wonderland in which readers might choose to take the Whitmanian pill to explore and, to some extent, it might even help. In Philosophy of the Sky, both the self and the sky are not clearly unitized entities. There are no landmarks, nothing to help one navigate the expanse. But Isoline’s visual and textual features add variety and lend an experimental interpretation to his expression of the self. Devoid of these elements, the book might look like a long document. However, these features compliment the poetry and, in some instances, are the poetry in themselves. Isoline’s unique way of blending the visual and the verbal binds the volume.

The book has nine parts, but they don’t necessarily stand out as distinct units that are thematically or stylistically separate from each other. Instead, they flow into one another and are expansive — one almost holds the other within itself. To understand Isoline’s musings on the self, one must approach them with two metaphors and entities that cannot, themselves, be understood in terms of smaller, reductionist units: the ocean and the sky.

The ocean, as an idea, is scattered throughout the work and, at each point, reveals something about the self and the body. The “speaker” or the self in the poem refers to intimacy with the ocean in different ways: “a sort of hallucinated sex”, “ocean as alive with its own new sex”:

The ocean is my desert.

A self-inflicted, objectifying, unalterable, subject-causing,

uncontrollable/causal object of desire.


The ocean and the self are one:


It is the ocean that is swimming in my mouth

the images will be there to satisfy my mind and my soul until there is nothing left.

And when the speaker urinates on themselves, “the warmth and the ammonia smell are irrevocably matched in my mind with a cinematic image of the ocean.” It is fascinating to see the self emerge in such intimacy, especially in the parallels that Isoline draws between self and nature, body and ocean.

Similarly, the sky is present in different spaces throughout the book, but it takes a little longer for the connection between this meditation on the self and the sky to be distinctly received — especially given the fact that “the sky” is promised in the title. But then, there it is, as freedom, and the connecting link between the two appears on page 66 — about one fourth into the book:

I want to be free for us

The word freedom

is in the sky

Isoline offers a theory, an image, a knowing: here, philosophy of the sky is the philosophy of the self because nothing else captures the idea of freedom that is required to understand both. Both are incorporeal, physically intangible, and yet both, the self and the sky, are everywhere. They are inescapable and all-consuming:

I am obsessed with looking at the sky. Wherever I am, I just walk around aimlessly and look at the sky. I love the sky. It scares and excites me. I never understood that by obsessing over something, I was bringing that thing closer to me . . . I like very much to think of the sky as an object. A singular form or ‘thing’, like the spherical objects it endomes. I am attracted to thinking of the sky as an object because it continuously, and automatically, falls outside of this classification.

To the shape of a shadow, the easily recognised silhouette that comes to mind when we think of self or body, Isoline brings a sense of disruption by suggesting the sky as a being. It is not a reductive, idyllic container of clouds or rain to be romanticised through poetry, but it is, for Isoline, something solid: something with a sense of agency that refuses to be defined or something that has a shape. These possibilities come alive in passages such as this one where Isoline offers some clarity of the book’s title:

I like to think of a relationship between the sky’s refusal to be defined and instinctual fears of physical annihilation and dismemberment.

The sky is often thought of as either flat or round. Flat as in a theatrical backdrop, and round as in a planetarium.

Both appeal to me in sexual and violent ways.

Sex and violence. In the book, the coming together of these two things is a union that informs many of the opposites and paradoxes that underline Isoline’s perspective of “myself” or my self. For example:

I will eat myself because I will starve

I will starve for the love of the thing that will kill me.

Or:

I think of a kind of sex that I couldn’t have

a suicidal form of masturbation

I’m sick of being with myself, the monster of me I have reproduced nothing but my own discontinuity (the reason why I want to be killed is because I do not want to be killed) If I kill him, I kill myself

I have hermaphroditically negated myself with a word I made a word into a gesture”

A sense of strange circularity looms over such lines. The act of starving to an extent that one eats oneself, or loving-nurturing that thing that ultimately reciprocates the care by killing the self, is a case in point. Such lines begin with a setting out of self but come back with the idea of unexpected violence. Self, in this sense, like the sky, is a space that lives between the starting and ending points of Eros and Thanatos — what is pleasure is also pain.

Indeed, in other words, as Isoline puts it: “Inviting irony is the value of my love.” And it emerges beautifully, indeed lovingly, throughout the book. Once when Isoline talks about desire to touch oneself and the nausea that follows that desire. Another time when he writes: “Clean things with your mouth. Spit on things.” And then, furthermore, through the instruction: ”Write a poem./Put it down and give it the middle finger.” (Giving poetry a middle finger – that’s a break from poetry itself!) Isoline seems to love these extremes. Writing poetry, and even loving it, on the one hand, and then shrugging it off completely by showing it a middle finger.

Then, there is the other extreme — the self is just too much or too many:

But the longer I am around him, the more I want to kill him because he becomes more and more like me

He is like a shadow a reflection a double of me I call him my friend, my son

but he has quickly become my enemy

because I hate myself, for what I have become

I am him and he is me

and two is too many

Bringing all these notions together is, perhaps, what vouches for the ‘philosophy’ in Isoline’s title and poetry. The blurb of the book claims that Isoline doesn’t aspire to write philosophy, in the academic sense; however, this does not mean that philosophy, poetry and, indeed, the self can be separated from each other in academic or non-academic senses — and Isoline knows this. The philosophy Isoline articulates is an interesting form — captured in poetry, visuality of shapes, and the guiding concept of the sky — and is, perhaps, an apt one to describe the self in all its complexity. For the readers who are keenly aware of their experiences of love, hatred and pain for, and fear of, the self, Isoline’s poetry will offer useful approximations of the vocabulary needed to meet them peacefully and poetically. - Soni Wadhwa

https://www.full-stop.net/2022/04/27/reviews/soni-wadhwa/philosophy-of-the-sky-evan-isoline/


A Book Is a Different Kind of Riddle Altogether”: Evan Isoline in Conversation with Vi Khi Nao about PHILOSOPHY OF THE SKY

Vi Khi Nao: I really love your name, Evan Isoline. It reminds me of a waterbottle company from Greenland or something. Though probably a country that fits your book more would be blueland, to match your intoxicating love for the sky. The contents of your collection—their subtitles have exquisite titles such as “CHYMICAL WEDDING,” “THE BLOOD HYPHEN,” “BLADES OF NOON,” “CUBICULUM/SHARK ATTACK”—all reflective of the empyrean, pelagic range of your imagination—though I am curious how you decide to land on the obvious PHILOSOPHY OF THE SKY?

Evan Isoline: Thanks so much! I can totally see the connection to the Nalgene bottle, or some sort of plastic, chemical or mathematic term. It’s actually an altered version of the Italian for “small islands” which I always kind of liked. Thank you for the kind words regarding the titles for the 9 parts of the book. The titles of these parts were indeed designed to signify a far-reaching personal relationship with the symbol of the “sky”. Empyrean and pelagic are fantastic words. The title PHILOSOPHY OF THE SKY became a working title for me fairly early on. I never had the intention or preconception that the book would have anything to do with philosophy in a traditional or linear sense. In the process I started to enjoy thinking about a kid roaming through a video store in the early 90s and finding a VHS tape on the shelf titled PHILOSOPHY OF THE SKY in the cult, horror or adult sections by chance. The juvenile intrigue of what might be on that tape. I didn’t know how I would incorporate the title into the book until much later in the process.

VKN: Is that your pen name, then? I noticed that your work is both performative and cinematic—there are themes of room, sky, desert, mouth, God, mother, sun, monster, mastication—this is to say: repetition appears to be a significant part of your book’s existence: repetition thematically and repetition textually and lexically. If repetition were to be prohibited in your work, what kind of book would you produce? Is it unimaginable? What is the primary engine behind your intense desire for hypnotic ecological recycling of words and themes? The first part of your 9 part collection—you opened it with a hallucinatory voyeuristic piece—can you talk about your process of their arrangement? How did you originally envision chaos within chaos, order within order? This is your first collection. Are there other books you have written prior to this “first”—sometimes our first isn’t our first.

EI: No, actually my given name is Evan Isoline. The story I’ve heard is that my Italian Great Grandfather immigrated to the U.S. from Northern Italy at age 18 and altered his name due to the discrimination at the time toward Italian immigrants and immigrants in general. It wasn’t until more recently that through results from an ancestry website I found that I may not be related to him by blood at all. In that way my name feels strange, almost not mine, but I kind of enjoy that.

YES. Repetition (particularly the obsessive use of particular symbols throughout these 9 sequences) was a very intrinsic part of the book. In it I use the word Part as opposed to a traditional chapter, more like how films are broken up. I don’t see the final piece as a “collection”, as may be the case with a grouping of short stories or poems, but something like a unified arrangement of fragments or sequences. This work (like other writing I’ve done) started with a very chaotic coagulation of word-pairings, sentences and textual images. For PHILOSOPHY OF THE SKY I kept a massive binder of these (along with Google Docs and Notes on my phone) until they would naturally mutate in a bodily, peristaltic kind of way, forms slowly growing and accreting. In this sense, imagining the book without this kind of obsessive or, as you said beautifully, “hypnotic ecological recycling of words and themes” I can’t quite imagine what the book would be. I like making big messes and working inside the mess.

In terms of process, there were many different ways that I wrote and assembled the text. Some portions were hand-written, some were typed and assembled on the computer, some were partially augmented by Markov chain generators, Google Translate and Natural Language Generators, while others large portions were written off the top of my head on my phone at work, on the beach or in the woods. I have an interest in surrealist/dada chance methods, and no doubt to the Gysin/Burroughs cut-up: the understanding that on some constitutional level language is a material, bodily thing, and looking at “writing” as a ritual or conceptual practice, while moving beyond the idea of automatism for automatism’s sake. I personally feel that there are so many ways one can write, draw, or make marks. I don’t think there are any rules, because to me art is not a game. I’m captivated by the possibilities; the permutational effusion of language and its effects. I’m interested in the way I can see and remember words, and how these experiences make me feel. Knowing when to push things further into excess and when to let them be. In relation to the inner experience of the act of writing I’ve found the definitions of transcend and transgress to be astonishingly close.

At the time I was writing the manuscript, the word-symbol SKY was something I could pin or fix my compulsions to in what amounted to being a period of 8.5 months in 2019. Before PHILOSOPHY OF THE SKY I had completed many smaller-scale writing projects, chapbooks and zines but PHILOSOPHY OF THE SKY is my first full-length book.

VKN: My natural impulse is to quote raw, visceral excerpts from your book, but your book is pageless—meaning—it exists without numbers. I imagine this gesture was intentional. Though I can speculate on why I think it’s pageless—designwise. After all, the ocean and sky and desert and film and camera have no page numbers attached to the bottom/top/side of their existence. It makes sense for you to want your book to reflect more of the cinematic-unraveling-after-the-effect of your mind’s endless, pageless, unbookendable imagination.

EI: Wow, that is a very mindful and generous read. Yes, the book was left purposefully unpaginated. But absolutely, Andrew Wilt (of 11:11 Press) and I talked about this and both really felt that a “pagelessness” or absence of page numberswould lend to visual, glyphic, and vertiginous sensibilities I was after. Oceans, skies, deserts, forests … to me these things belong to a symbolic category that has to do with space and has been poetically essentiallized over time. I wanted to play with that idea—to subject natural poetic imagery typically associated with Sublime, Ecstatic, or Mystic experience to the artifice of repetition and mutation. In regard to ideas of the cinematic, or to how cinema might be related here, with PHILOSOPHY OF THE SKY I was thinking a lot about lenses, prisms, distortions and refractions—in relation to ritual experiences of seeing. I really wanted to facilitate conditions for an active, viewing experience (with reader and writer trading roles of performativity and spectatorship). I’m really interested in the idea of a “writer-self” and of a “reader-self”, or archaic performance scripts ascribed to the archetypes of Writer and Reader, as well as to the book as an object in general.

To explore this idea I began to imagine the idea of a book believing that it was in fact not a book, but maybe a series of photographs or a film. I found it interesting to consider inanimate objects and animate subjects trading places, or carrying the potential of being more than one thing simultaneously.

VKN: Can you talk more about your relationship with your publisher—(We are pressmates, Evan, obviously!)—what was/is like to work with Andrew? And, how was the initial project evolved with him?

EI: It was a very exciting and serendipitous experience. I’d met the writer and artist Mike Corrao online in early 2019. He showed interest in some small self-published chapbooks I had begun to make of my own writing and proceeded to write an ekphrastic-theoretic essay about a chapbook I made called MVSHY VMBRA, or O! The Scarcity of Gore. I was amazed, and started to uncover realms of underground literature and independent presses (that prior to this) I had been totally blind too. Meeting Mike (who in turn introduced me to Andrew) was a very inspiring experience and we have collaborated quite a bit since early 2019.

That’s right! We are now press mates and this is particularly exciting for me as an admirer of your writing and art. It’s been a thrilling experience getting to meet, correspond and collaborate with writers and artists in this ever expanding independent literary network.

In terms of working with 11:11 on PHILOSOPHY OF THE SKY, I was heartened by the fact they showed interest in the project early on. The manuscript, as you can probably imagine, was fairly complex and required lots of transfer from Word to Adobe (type setting, formatting etc.) There were moments where I was concerned about the formatting and the idea that something might get lost in the process, but Mike, Andrew and Tyler at 11:11 really helped bring the vision through and ultimately into the 3-D, and for that I’m very thankful.


VKN: I could tell from your book that it was labor-intensive, but also incredibly satisfying! Your “CHYMICAL WEDDING” part four of your collection is so textually inviting. My eyes were dancing everywhere—my eyes were like at a visual candy stores and they just want to eat up all the shark gummy worms and lexical popcorns and word art—these black boxes with words in white fonts—these different square and rectangular rooms—my favorite of these is the page that begins with “I SEE THE BODIES A BODY WITH ONLY A MOUTH A BODY WITH NO EYES” of this section so that when I came to your stenciled-like phrase “I was so hungry I ate myself” I completely related. How did the design/arrangement/visual design part of it arrive to you? Did you play around with it a lot? Was it organic and intuitive? Or did you fight with it in order to arrive to such black rooms with white words?

EI: It’s great to hear that this portion felt inviting for you visually/textually. I think this part differs from the others based on the visual formatting and juxtapositions of font/voice. Although the text felt somewhat austere, I was hoping to create a dynamic or engaging reading experience. One where the reader might feel an agency to explore the spatial potential of the page, like a mise-en-scène or the geometry of a stage design. The formal elements of CHYMICAL WEDDING initially took priority over the conceptual elements. At the time I was interested in post-Robbe-Grillet structural conundrums and potentials. The structure of each page felt very intuitive and had to do with ways I was attempting to categorize shapes, styles and voices simultaneously. I wanted to juxtapose a more traditional symbolist/romantic poetics with stark, linear prose sections. I began playing with font and italics etc., text boxes and the use of white and black. This felt like some kind of abstract empirical process or an alchemical movement, trying to marry varying ideas and forms, across a spectrum of dark and light. The title CHYMICAL WEDDING obliquely refers to a Rosicrucian text that I read some time back in my early-mid 20s. This portion of the book was the second part I completed. and for me, felt like a new way of navigating the page. It was exciting to create these shapes, or “rooms” and be able to occupy them. The dead white screen or canvas had been a stifling place to begin and begged for an interference. There are living writers, artists, and publishers who come to mind that are seriously innovating what “literature” can do and how it can act, both digitally and in print, and I very much admire this endeavor.

VKN: Also, happy birthday to you, Evan!!! You turned (?) something yesterday? How does it feel to have your book out on your birthday? Is that right? My days and nights are pageless and numberless—like your filmesque book! And, how did you celebrate it—especially on the heel of COVID nearly, oh so nearly, ending? What is your collaboration with Mike like? What project(s) are you working on with him? Are you able to share? Give us a sample/tease of what is to come between you two?

EI: Thank you so much Vi! Yes, yesterday was my 35th birthday and was very special though laid back. For me laid back is good and I’m not necessarily rushing to get back to various versions of “normal” social life in the U.S.

Earlier on in the publishing process Andrew asked what my ideal release day for PHILOSOPHY OF THE SKY would be, and naturally, I said my birthday. That Andrew was able to make it happen was pretty awesome. There’s something about this first book being published that feels like I completed a project that started a LONG time ago in my head. I think it’s because it is the byproduct of many timelines converging. I didn’t have any understanding of what a first publishing experience might be like but regardless, this felt significant one day before my 35th birthday.

I produced a chapbook edition of Mike Corrao’s writing back in 2019 entitled AVIAN FUNERAL MARCH. This experience led to a rich correspondence and in the middle of lockdown last year Mike and I decided to collaborate on an experimental play, one that would be “impossible” to stage. The writing process was really intuitive and spontaneous. We started at the beginning and finished at the end, sending portions of text back and forth over months of emails. The play has been picked up and will be published which we’re thrilled about. That’s about all I can say at the moment!


VKN: Happy 35th to you ! May you grow to be 135 ! My Bell Curve collection is also coming out on my 42nd birthday. Your collection, from an aesthetic standpoint, also vacillates between extreme density (not necessarily maximalism) and minimalism—for instance the page with “a spider/websick” (also I love the word “websick” so much—I imagine this is how a spider might feel creating webpages with their long limbs and mouths—also themes of your book operating on a conspicuous, but also subliminal level) from “EARTHLESS (monster of mine)” is significantly textualwise and visceralwise, and from your Part Four “CHYMICAL WEDDING”—both seem to watch the primary themes of your work in that the minimal quality of your sky is drawn, repulsed, compelled, magneticized by the suffocating, asphyxiating aspects of your poetic desire. Did you want to drown the readers? Give them the illusion that they are breathing? Or were you trying to invite your readers into the profound, savage underground, ethereal depths of your dreams/poetic/concupiscent-scape?

EI: Thank you so much that really means a lot! Wow, congratulations, that’s very exciting! I know that for many Bell Curve is a highly anticipated release and I am no exception. How great that the book will appear on your 42nd. And may you see beyond 142 years!

I’m pleased to hear that you feel a vacillation between extreme density and minimalism in the book. It feels important to note that my background is in visual art (drawing, printmaking, multi-media). I have a bachelor’s degree in drawing/printmaking and a master’s in mult-media art/theory. That being said, my approach to writing has a lot to do with aesthetic concepts and techniques I learned through studying visual art. Certain basic things like dynamic composition, value scale, contrast, color theory, repetition etc. With PHILOSOPHY OF THE SKY, I spent a great deal of time meditating on its form and geometry. Building things out and flattening them back into images. I wanted to explore different geometric qualities in writing that I had experienced in visual art, polyhedrons, cubes, and especially triangularity—that is, I was very fascinated by Nikola Tesla’s interest in the numbers 3, 6, and 9, Pascal’s Triangle and the idea of the perfect number. Again, I like the idea of putting various concepts and things together to see what happens.

Thank you for the close and perceptive reading of the text! If it was going to be a book, I really wanted it to vibrate, and to do this I wanted to present a text with multiple layers and connotations, and for it to present built-in aleatory pathways where a reader could feel some agency to associate and roam a little. Or open the book at any point and start reading. This is not to suggest there wasn’t some personal antagonism or cruelty animating my poetic desire as you say. On some level there are stylistic allusions to a literature that existed or exists to intoxicate, distort, and confront. Primarily though, I would like to activate or open up possibilites of the “writing” experience for myself. Responding to PHILOSOPHY OF THE SKY the writer, philopsopher and publisher Gary Shipley wrote that the book wants to “grasp the entire sky to fold its hidden aspect into a secret weapon and blow our brains out across the heavens.” There is a violence in me no doubt that wants to antagonize the reader/spectator on some level, but ultimately the desire to confront myself in the act of writing feels most important. If I were to, as you say, find ways to invite the reader “into the profound, savage underground, ethereal depths” of my “dreams/poetic/concupiscent-scape” this would approach and ideal experience for me.

VKN: We come from similar backgrounds, Evan! Of the three mediums (drawing, printmaking, multi-media), which medium is your favorite? The visual art and I are soulmates. In the ethos of soulfulness, your work also has long blocks of prose (some of them were born from your dream(s)—it is so delightful to see your mind operating at different modes of register, which I think what dreaming/filming is like—where we move through different worlds—but the ones that get born into books are linguistic, literary worlds. There is one line—actually lines—from one of your long prose sections that I love: “My neighbor was a tall skinny woman, slightly shorter than me … She looked at me very suspiciously at first, her skin like partially dried papier-mâché pulled tightly over a slumping and dented wire skeleton”—it reminds me of the book by Salvador Plascencia’s The People of Paper (please forgive if my memory fails to accurately summarize this since I read that book a decade or so ago), where the protagonist tries to make love to a woman made of paper and he ends up with paper injuries such as papercuts. What is your experience with translating from dream into reality like? From images to language? And, do your dreams cut you like the way paper cuts someone? If they don’t cut you, do they force you to turn themselves into books? Where do your dreams go after they leave you—sprawled out, sudorific on the bedsheet of life?

EI: That’s so great! I love your visual art and that you have such a soulful connection to it! I really enjoyed experimenting with multi-media installation art when I was in graduate school. Interfering with space. Leaving strange things behind for people to find. Like the aftermath of a vandalism, or a ritual habitation of space. It felt theatrical to me. As is the case with a published piece of writing, much of the time a work of art is observed the piece’s creator is already absent, but in a sense not very far away. Growing up, this facet of creativity and art always made me think of the phenomenon of God.

Now that I am primarily focused on literary projects I feel a great freedom working with text, its possibilities feel expansive and liberating in their relative disengagement from materiality. But as I’m sure you know, turning text into a book is a different kind of riddle altogether. I think for me I find a lot in common with writing and the physicality of installation art, sculpture and performance–the latter you had mentioned earlier. But in the end, it is writing and drawing that are inseparable in my mind. They are the base activity in which I relate symbolically to the world.

The connection that you bring up between dreaming and filming is very poignant in terms of how cameras and eyes work I think and how I began conceiving the piece. For instance, at one point I started to frequent fairly obscure internet forums and blogs dealing with the symbolism of dreams. Over time, this became quite fascinating—a kind of voyeuristic experience—the vast majority of posts had concerned phobias and nightmares. People either weren’t having happy dreams or weren’t posting about them. I couldn’t believe how detailed and visual this personal information was that they were sharing. It was intriguing and could be surprisingly disturbing as well. I became particularly interested in and followed certain individuals who exhibited radical religious, political and suicidal ideologies, becoming convinced the world was going to end or had already ended. There must be something about the tectonic grind between dream and reality that is destined to give way to violence.

I am not aware of The People of Paper but will now have to read it! Wow these are really beautiful and evocative thoughts you have related to dream and to the surface-nature of paper and sudorific bedsheets. I have definitely come out of dreams with “cuts” of some form, in a figurative sense, or have in some way been marked by my dreams. Though a lot of the time I find my dreams frustrating and very boring. The boringness interests me too. This particular section you are addressing (LIGHTNING HEAD) was written in a fairly quick stream-of-consciousness kind of way and I pulled quite a bit from dreams, films and travel experiences. I would say that, more than anything specific, it was the ACT of dreaming, and the ACT of watching a film, and the ACT of traveling that interested me the most. I’m one of the people who never came out of the theatre when 2001: A Space Odyssey ended. To get some of the textural minutia and detail in LIGHTNING HEAD I started collecting and analyzing bad YELP reviews of motels that I would find online. The entire section in some way deals with certain Oedipal concepts I was relating to apocalyptic cults and to the image of the Pietà, particularly Michelangelo’s carved Carrara marble in St. Peter’s Basilica. I was once again exploring mental constellations.

When dreams leave maybe that means we leave the place of dream, or simply that awakening is tantamount to a different form of wandering and desire. It could be that humans have more than one self. I suppose looking at a piece of art as nothing more than a potentially objectionable residue left over from a person’s dreams makes a lot of sense to me. More than wanting an answer or proof I’ve grown to enjoy the mystery involved in being human; I like artifice, veils, surfaces and masks … frames and tensions. Going back to film or to theater, conflict and anticipation are imperative to arriving at some feeling of fulfillment or catharsis.

VKN: Why is your relationship to the ocean so erotic? Though your relationship to the sky is also erotic–it seems that that eroticism is a slight bit different. Is there a distinction between the different types of eroticism that manifests in your love for the sky/ocean? Or could one lump your philosophies of desire into one? And, while at it, I have a light question for you: what is the meaning of existence, Evan? Surely it is not number 42. Or is it? I hope not!

EI: If there is a sense of eroticism in my relation to the ocean in the book I think it is to do with the “ocean” as a representation or a simulation. This has to do with ideas the symbol might invoke: immensity, voidness, amnesia, fear. The ocean as a symbol (which in turn is metamorphosed into sky, desert, woods etc.) is effective in placing an anthropological subject in a place of uncertainty or even danger. To be clear, these paraphilic relations to objects, placesand natural phenomena in the book are not necessarily my own, or even a character’s I had in mind. I was imagining a type of first-person writing where I could explore new symbolic territories. At this point, I think if my relationship to symbolic language carries with it feelings of eroticism it may be because “art” to me is more of a state than a thing. A profoundly symbolic realm of interpretation and association where one can get lost and navigate patterns.

Haha! Maybe the answer to the question “What is the meaning of existence?” is 42??! It seems like an appropriate answer for a computer to give. Forgive me, but for a human, that question seems flawed if one considers there to be not be one singular meaning of life, but many.

VKN: Without going into too much psychoanalytic depth, your work carries a range of interests—some are bright like the sky and aquatic like the sea, but inside that sky is cloudy depths of difficult subjects such as self-killing, death, masturbation, terror, suicide—how do you manage the dark aspects of your work? (Though I don’t classify masturbation as dark! Rarely ever!) How do you invite them in and still give them so much life/light? Also, this may feel non sequitur, but do you like Coke or Pepsi? What kind of soft-drink or drink guy are you? (alcohol could be mentioned/included)?

EI: I’m very glad you wanted to bring up some of the darker themes and connotations in the book. When I began writing the manuscript in spring 2019 a young man jumped off of the large bridge and into the river estuary where I live. The town is small and people knew this person. I heard he was in his early 20s. Someone I was close to worked with him—their desks were right fnext to each other. She said that at one point in the day he just got up and walked out of work, and that this struck people as strange. He never returned. Local authorities and Coast Guard could not locate his body. A large amount of time passed before his body was recovered way up the Washington coast. The way that this affected people on a local level felt palpable and emotional, although sadly many people have jumped off of that bridge since I’ve been here. Though I did not know a thing about him, this particular instance made me very emotional and I remember the weather that day being so blue and wet and cloudy that I felt like I was dreaming or going to drift away. That night I revisited work from the late Dutch artist Bas Jan Ader; specifically the pieces I’m Too Sad to Tell You and In Search of the Miraculous.

Bottom line—certain events, emotions and subjects amounted in a way that pushed me in a certain direction. It all felt connected and I think in a social kind of way I needed to grieve and exorcise, even for losses that weren’t mine personally. Though there is no doubt that writing at the time was a mechanism I designed to channel and understand my own self-destructivity. I was overwhelmed. Screens, work, political vitriol, narcissism, greed, addiction, racial hatred, porn, captivity, war, terror, ads, all conglomerating into a virulent onslaught of visual information … in regard to the bleeding edge of the virtual and the real I was looking for ways in and ways out.

Now to rapidly shift gears, beverage-wise (I love this question! Ideally I would always have some kind of beverage in arms reach), I love coffee, herbal tea, beer, wine, Tequila and Gin. I don’t drink soda much anymore these days, but I love coffee to my own detriment! Espresso on ice. I really appreciate good water as I get older as well.

VKN: The vomit—eating vomits—toilet bowl scene from your book also was hard to digest. I had to remove myself in order to read/process it. Re: the young man: I am sorry to hear that!! That must have been devastating for you to witness peripherally. Like dreams, they find their way into our work. Sometimes surreptitiously/ sometimes blatantly. Bridge-jumping always feels like time traveling to me—a way to cross from one reality to another. To cross into an extreme end of the spectrum.

What are you working on now, Evan? And, do you wear boxers or briefs or lingerie (!)? And, if one had a book (one that you love or even hate !) designed/printed/laminated on it, which book would you choose to have on it? With a back and front cover? If I were to wear briefs, I would want this line from your book to be stenciled on it: “DURING SLEEP MY MOUTH IS FULL OF CYAN GEOMETRY.” In fact, I just want to wear briefs (only—which unfortunately I don’t own any!) while reading your PHILOSOPHY OF THE SKY and gazing at Tiffany Lin’s Instagram account. I think her Instagram account and your book are soulmates. She takes pictures of clouds with her camera and uploaded them there. There is even a post about “The Sky We Built” ! Too bad I had to read it wearing all Eskimoesque outfits because I am always so cold.

EI: That’s really interesting to know that the text is capable of inducing an intense reaction like this. When I was 22 I studied painting and printmaking in Italy and tore off by myself on buses and trains through western Europe (Rome, Paris, Berlin, Prague …) and found myself in some very squalid and disgusting rooms. The more I ran out of money the more squalid and sketchy they became. This developed into a curiosity involved with visiting and experiencing spaces like this in the U.S. as well. Or maybe thinking about physically filthy or abandoned spaces as projections of an interior mental or spiritual kind of space.

Yes, I totally understand what you mean. For some time I’ve imagined self-destructive and onanistic acts being an anology for something obscure. These subjects carry prominent social stigmas that limit the way people are able to relate to them. A frustration with this is partially where the bookemanated from I think.

Thank you for asking! I am a good way into my second full-length project. Similar to PHILOSOPHY OF THE SKY this will be very visual and even more design oriented. I admire the work of the Bauhaus, Swiss typography and Russian constructivist design. I would like to push the potential for graphic design, visual art and literature to coalesce, though, I must say, it feels important not to exclude conventional literary structures and styles. My new piece is using first-person narration and design elements to explore transhistorical (or maybe pseudohistorical) poetic monologues. It is very diagrammatic and growing off of some of my experimentation in PHILOSOPHY OF THE SKY.

Ooh la la! I am a boxer briefs person but would not object to the idea of a man enjoying to wear lingerie. If I had one book to laminate or print on my undies maybe it would be Dante’s Inferno, where the mountain and its seven terraces are all present! Or maybe just your average self-help book from Barnes and Noble. Hahaha, I love that! Maybe having briefs produced with that line could be a smart marketing decision for me to get my words out there. I guess I’ll leave it to the reader to make what they will of it. To wear it as they want. I just took a look at Tiffany Lin’s sky imagery and I totally know what you mean. I was just thinking about this earlier. Since finishing the writing I’ll see images of a blue sky on my phone or catch a glimpse of it out the window, or walk into a wide-open space, stop and look up and feel transported right back into the obsessive, abductive emotions I was possessed by while writing it.

https://heavyfeatherreview.org/2021/06/04/isoline/

6/9/22

M. J. Nicholls - So funny, so bitter, so ingenious, so culturally literate (especially on rock music), so politically astute, so Swiftian/Sorrentinoesque/Flann O’Brieny, so lovelorn, so raunchy and gruesome, so outraged at the literary scene, so surprising an ending

M. J. Nicholls, Condemned to Cymru, Sagging

Meniscus Press, 2022


At the Husavík Research Institute, a paradise of Nordic perfection where the blemished are banished and the pretty are promoted, acne-ridden Magnus is sent on a bogus anthropological fact-finding mission to visit every village, town, and city in Wales to file "reports" for Iceland's upcoming colonisation. The reports he composes are fragments of snarky travelogue, highly suspicious tales of local folklore, unforgiving recaps of childhood trauma, and cris de coeur from a misanthropic outsider fated to stalk the wild Welsh countryside suffering squeamish erotic reveries about Helga Horsedóttir. Presented in alphabetical, achronological order, Condemned to Cymru is a comico-pimply picaresque, a digressive ramble into the dark heart of boredom, and the essential reference encyclopedia of self-hatred.


So funny, so bitter, so ingenious, so culturally literate (especially on rock music), so politically astute, so Swiftian/Sorrentinoesque/Flann O’Brieny, so lovelorn, so raunchy and gruesome, so outraged at the literary scene, so surprising an ending... so many high-calorie maximalist sentences, so many off-the-wall metaphors, so many show-stopping arias... so satisfying a read, so reaffirming that Nicholls is one of the cleverest metafictionists alive. Only he could pull off a study in despair in the form of a Welsh gazetteer. - Steven Moore


“Here’s a promise: the latest from M.J. Nicholls is like nothing you’ve ever read before. Set in an era of mass irradiation, Condemned to Cymru will be a big fat Quantum IV-level zit right on the nose of your otherwise airbrushed, plastically perfected reading list. Lean in and pop this sucker. Send a portentous pus of futuristic archaicisms and gorgeous grotesquerie dripping down the bathroom mirror. You’ll never reflect on the possibilities of fiction the same.”—Dan Tremaglio


An experimental comic romp encompassing Wales, literature, and mommy issues.

The setup for Nicholls’ novel is deliberately absurd: After a war between Liechtenstein and Wales, a group of Icelandic researchers have deployed the narrator, Magnus, to Wales to observe culture and society there. The novel is ostensibly a report of his findings, formatted as an abecedary, riffing on towns alphabetically. As a guide to Wales, it’s useless: Magnus writes that Sennybridge is home to the “World Interspecies Kissing Championships” and that the residents of Pen-y-clawdd “want more sheep.” But most entries emphasize Magnus’ own emotional territory anyway: His badly acne-afflicted face, which he discusses in putrescent detail, his contemptuous mother, and his strained relationship with Katrin, a fellow “repulsive freak.” In between are scatalogical jokes, riffs on 1990s alt-rock acts (including a funny, furious rant about PJ Harvey) and multiple interlocutors with Pynchon-ian names (Isadora Pledge, Greg Impasse, Aaron Swanlopp). It doesn’t add up to much of a story, but then “story” isn’t really the point; indeed, another extended rant about the cozy comforts of Ian Rankin mysteries implies that “story” is a kind of antagonist. (As Magnus writes, “Neatness and pith have no place in fiction.”) So Nicholls uses the abecedary format and repeated tropes to create a sustained mood of angry/funny dissatisfaction with the world, romance, and literature as we know it. The novel’s conceit is in league with works by the likes of Gilbert Sorrentino or David Markson, but Nicholls’ brand of absurdism emphasizes comedy, which generally works. Sometimes Wales is the butt of the joke: Of Elan Village, he writes, “If this village was lacking a particular concept, that particular concept would be élan.” But Magnus’ target is usually himself, and the self-deprecating approach somehow makes the project go down easier.

Free-wheeling, unconventional fun. - Kirkus Reviews


How do you go about describing a book by Nicholls? The trickiest thing is to describe it without giving anything away and ruining the reading experience….here goes nothing! Condemned to Cymru is a love letter from a struggling writer with body issues, whose biggest outspoken bully is himself, possibly down to the incredibly deep rooted over powering mother and absent father issues he has which leads to him being in an abusive relationship…I therapist’s wet-dream.

Our narrator is Magnus, he has Quantum IV level acne on his face, the pimples have enough presence to get their own names, Wales has been at war with another European country and Magnus gets sent over from Iceland to carry out a anthropological study…What Magnus returns with is not the results you’d expect from said study. There are a number of absurd local stories from people in pubs and random strangers who randomly get into his car, there are little snippets of overheard conversations, definitions of town’s names, poems from the biggest name in Welsh poetry and ya know those little blue plaques you see when visiting a town in the UK? well it has them too. For me my favourite part were those trips down memory lane remembering Welsh bands of the past…used to love Catatonia. You may think that the information that Magnus is providing is irrelevant but once you start digging deeper you’ll see just how clever the book is.

I’ve read a few books by Nicholls now to know what to expect, a proper onion of a book with so many layers that you can get lost in the dialogue and forget what the actual plot of the book is, there are always those little references to things that have already happened to keep you from completely losing your way. It’s like an abstract painting, he lays everything out on the pages and leaves your own imagination to unravel the book’s mysteries. If you live in Wales, or were born in Wales or have visited Wales or are an actual Whale then ya gotta get this books to see if your town/village gets mentioned…you might want to sue. - Jason 

https://felcherman.wordpress.com/2022/04/23/condemned-to-cymru-by-m-j-nicholls/


M.J. Nicholls’ new novel Condemned to Cymru is Rabelaisian in every sense of the word: it’s gross, it’s droll, there’s sex and violence and jokes. It even affects the Rabelaisian flourish of an artificial structure—the story is mostly presented as one pathetic misanthrope’s alphabetized travelogue (of sorts) of Wales, written for a sinister Icelandic thinktank bent on world domination. And much like Rabelais, beneath all the playful language and grotesqueries is a story concerned with people, society, suffering, and justice (or the lack thereof).

A brief initial chapter sets the scene: in the near future, the aggressively aspirational ethos of Nordic living (hygge, market socialism, ruddy-cheeked statuesque Vikings enjoying outdoor winter sports) has been fully weaponized into a new imperial project for a catastrophe-ravaged world. Failed states are aggressively colonized and remade into little Icelands, affluent, prosperous, resplendent with new fjords. However, the selling of this New Icelandic vision requires careful curation—those who can’t project the youthful, vigorous beauty necessary for all utopias are shunned and kept hidden, relegated to basement offices or shipped off to far away war-torn lands. Like Wales.

Magnus, the antihero of this story, is one such undesirable. His pimples, pustules, boils, whelks, blisters, and blemishes have made him into a pariah, and for the crime of unattractiveness he has been sent to catalog and describe the towns and villages of war-ravaged Wales with an eye towards future Icelandic colonization and domination.

What follows, however, is far more than a travel itinerary. Rebelling against his exile, the bitter, vile, and cynical Magnus presents a stunningly useless account of his Welsh travels. His entries have little to do with anything, and include: false etymologies of tongue-twisting Welsh place names; brief misanthropic descriptions of Magnus’ feeling and opinions; sexual fantasies; his encounters with the giant mutated asses and elbows terrorizing the countryside (strongly suggestive of the old aphorism regarding the ability to tell them apart); excerpts from a counter-factual Alternative History of Wales; poems from the posthumously celebrated writer Barrie Bartmel’s magnum opus, Poems of a Poltroon; traumatic childhood memories; writing advice; long, rambling, discursive stories from locals; discussions of crime fiction and its dominance of the literary landscape; music criticism; and, most pungently, Magnus’ pining and lovelorn encomia to his erotic fixation, the unattainable and mysterious Helga Horsedòttir.

These occur as part of an alphabetical listing of Welsh towns; some are a single sentence, others stretch on and on for pages. There are repetitions and refrains and contradictions, and when read together a broad blackly humorous picture begins to come into focus of Magnus, his childhood, his life, his struggles and insecurities and perversities. Questions also arise from this list. Landscapes are not alphabetical, and so this travelogue could never actually represent an itinerary—what does this say about classification and taxonomy and the way transnational neoliberal ventures like the Húsavík Research Hive commodify place? If we could reconstruct a probable itinerary for Magnus from his achronological musings, would we begin to see a more structured narrative, his thoughts and experiences all in neat, ordered rows? This is the richness of these disjointed entries, the list as literature, a lesson learned first and best from Rabelais himself.

A final chapter sees Magnus, his abecedary completed and presumably submitted, back home just in time to experience a remarkable juxtaposition, the implications of which reorient the preceding chapters in a profound way. For all his posturing and misanthropy, the transformation at the end of Condemned to Cymru forces us to reconsider Magnus and his place in society, as well as the ultimate source of his suffering.

For all the stomach-churning descriptions of sebaceous discharge (and, to be clear: don’t read this book while eating) and the sour misanthropy of its main character, this book is a tremendous amount of fun, and even the bleakest parts have a core of playfulness to them. M.J. Nicholls has written a clever, surprising story, equal parts funny and despairing, sharp enough to keep you reading a literal alphabetical list of Welsh towns, parsing a tangled story overheard in a pub for deeper meanings, or trying to find the metacommentary behind a giant rampaging buttocks smashing the local sheep to smithereens. - Eric Williams

https://heavyfeatherreview.org/2022/05/02/condemned-to-cymru/



M. J. Nicholls, Trimming England, Sagging Meniscus Press, 2021


Nicholls' path-breaking new book is a stark and uncompromising account of the bizarre and regrettable period when the British government set about trimming England. In 2021, British Prime Minister Frank Oakface elected to rid each English county of its most irritating citizen, deporting them for a period of incarceration in Jersey's one-star Hotel Diabolique. From a ticket inspector whose sudden lust for zydeco music ruins his marriage, to a blogger who hangs around supermarkets seeking sympathy by the bananas, to a teacher who lobotomises an entire classroom to improve her son's life chances, Nicholls' fearless reportage brings together the riveting stories of these hapless discards into an ebullient and swashbuckling satire of our contemporary predicament.


M.J. Nicholls’ latest book, Trimming England, shows an alternate world where the population is slowly whittled away. The Prime Minister asks each county to nominate someone to be sent to a one-star hotel in Jersey. Thus begins Nicholl’s chronicling of the absolute worst that England has to offer.

Readers won’t need to know much about English regions or dialects to follow along with the despicable people sent to stay at the Hotel Diabolique. The concept will charm regardless of the audience and one can imagine how easily and well it would translate across other countries and continents. It may be slightly disappointing for those familiar with England as other than the county names and a few of the cities, the locations don’t feel authentically rooted. West Yorkshire could be swapped for Cornwall. The introduction sets up the initially absurd premise with ease and allows the case of each county to stand on its own. Essentially, this is a collection of flash fiction—some of the stories last less than a page and contain a single picture, others are more detailed and feel like an encompassing story. Nicholls’ is a confident writer who is rightfully unashamed of his modernist writing that may have some readers admiring his heights of creativity and others scratching their heads.

The individual stories work best at their shortest and funniest. Nicholl’s clearly knows how to set up a joke and doesn’t rely on the absurdity of the book’s premise to deliver laughs for him. This can range from names of characters to the reason they’re being sent away. Some of these people would be in prison if not sent away, others just commit annoying social faux pas. It’s easy to imagine that at the Hotel Diabolique Ted Bundy would ask Larry David to pass him the milk. The book has a focus on how writers can often be annoying and although this comes up often, the way it is handled is different enough to not become tiresome. Still, it may be slightly less interesting to people who have no hand in the creative arts. The highlight—a list of Letterboxd movie reviews that saw someone be sent to Jersey solely for their poor taste in films. Each chapter varies so much from the last that it’s almost like opening a random Christmas present, never quite sure what the next one will be. One interesting side effect is how much the reader may think about the book, wondering what criteria they would set for exile.

Trimming England is not a book that rests on its’ laurels and for the most part it pushes forward into new territory with each chapter. For ambition and execution alone, it’s something special. It’s easy to pick up, dip in and out of and find something to admire. Nicholl’s has a unique style and ambition that may not work for every reader, but those who resonate with it will love it and hold it close as they beg not to be sent to Jersey. - Jay Slayton-Joslin

https://babou691.com/2021/05/17/trimming-england/


M. J. Nicholls is a Jazz-Man Word-Smith or a Word-Smith Jazz-Man or a Jazz-Word Smith-Man…one of those at least, he has a unique way with words, he’ll use words that surely do not exist so you google them and yes “Bummershoot” is a word (even though Microsoft refuse to admit that and have done a red squiggle) and it is a word I shall be using whenever I can. He’ll reuse/rephrase words in a sentence and it gives the paragraphs (some rather long) a certain beat and that’s where the Jazz feeling comes in, you find yourself getting lost in the flow and really enjoying what he has conjured up.

I like the idea of the plot, find a crappy hotel and then take the worst person in each county and send them to that hotel for an amount of time determined by just how bad their crimes are. I have to admit that I was rather interested in who got sent from my county, the crime revolved around the pressure of getting that perfect opening sentence. A reoccurring theme of the crimes was to do with writers, the chaos they create, the stress they cause, the abuse they direct at publishers and of course that opening sentence issue…I thought I’d go back to the beginning and check out Nicholls opening sentence, was it a good’un or will he being doing time? It features underpants and all bran so gets a thumbs up for me.

The best in the book was about M. D. Thomas, an 82 year old from Warwickshire, a brilliant rant written on the side of a museum, I found myself agreeing with his words and was rather disappointed he was found guilty.

Another clever, absurd book by Nicholls, it’s not going to be for everybody but if you’re ok with letting go of reality for a bit then you’re going to get quite a few laughs from this…and if you don’t like words, don’t worry there are a lot of great illustrations here too, a bit like YouTube but on pause. - Jason Denness

https://felcherman.wordpress.com/2021/06/02/trimming-england-by-m-j-nicholls/


Trimming England, M.J. Nicholls’ latest work of satire, is a brilliant piece of character work. Not so much plot-based, the novel centers around one idea: “In 2021, British Prime Minister Frank Oakface elected to rid each English county of its most irritating citizen.” Those voted out by their community members receive sentences of varying lengths and are all committed to “Jersey’s one-star Hotel Diabolique,” which is French for Rubbish Hotel. Nicholls, writing to us in the introduction from the year 2023, tells us that “this work is an almanac of terror,” and he would be absolutely correct.

The introduction sets up the plot, as Nicholls has won a contest for a “FREE HOLIDAY” and finds himself amidst those imprisoned, listening to their stories. With an opening like this, I anticipated a frame narrative, but Nicholls does not revisit us in the end. I craved closure and a final bit of commentary, but to his credit, this might distract us from the amusing, frightening, and utterly ridiculous characters with whom we’ve just spent 256 pages. Nicholls, it would seem, wants to leave us reeling and sorting through our feelings without his own closing thoughts to dictate our reactions.

We are warned in the introduction that the stories are told in the prisoners’ own voices, and this choice highlights the strong characters Nicholls has crafted. As we read on, moving from county to county, we are thrust headlong into the character’s account and I found myself marveling at Nicholls’ ability to assume new voices so wholeheartedly. From the self-indulgent neediness of “Colin” (not his real name) who craves pity for pity’s sake (his real name evokes no pity), to the blabbering ambiguities of Crocus Nightshade MP, Nicholls slips seamlessly into each character.

Of particular note is Northumberland’s account, written by the prisoner’s former wife. Craig Scowly, sentenced to nearly twenty years for “verbal uxoricide” (the killing of one’s wife), does not get to speak. Instead, we are presented with “ten pages of notepaper mailed to the editor by Mrs. Scowly’s mother,” and her mental anguish and abuse sustained is evident in the short, repetitive sentences as she retells, and relives, the humiliation brought about by her husband. At six pages, Northumberland is one of the shorter long accounts, but it shows the emotional lifting Nicholls does while he excoriates society’s simultaneous demands for perfection and lust for schadenfreude.

Trimming England does have a particular audience, and Nicholls knows it well. He tells us in the introduction that, given the anti-intellectualism movement, most of those imprisoned in Hotel Diabolique are writers and artists. Those who have given any time or effort to writing will feel the stabbing delight of being seen, since Nicholls eviscerates the writing process with regular attention throughout the novel. Whether it’s Chesire’s prisoner being told by a smarmy editor that readers want “Victor, the man, not Victor the man-made construct through whom the author is channeling fuming frustration …” or the 75-year-old woman imprisoned for her repetitive, insistent, and sometimes offensive emails to agents, Nicholls seems to say to creatives out there: I see you. I feel your pain.

For good measure, there is a teacher thrown in, and as a former high school English teacher myself, I could relate to Sarah Yurt of County Durham, and her task of “teaching five classes of net-ravaged teenagers Shakespeare and Austen in a way that made me popular and likeable” and her desire to “open a crack of trust into which I could spelunk knowledge by stealth.” Nicholls does well at satirizing the state of classrooms today, both in terms of disengaged parents and those who are more invested and see education as a high-stakes game. Suffice to say, it was eerily believable that parents would be callous and cutthroat enough that it could to lead to the shocking conclusion of Ms. Yurt’s narrative.

Trimming England is a work of satire and a bit of a warning as well. It’s best not to read the entire book in one sitting (though you easily could); while there are highs of laughter and utter absurdity, there are just as many moments of exhaustive recognition that lead to, in my case at least, staring blankly at a wall (or out at the ocean, when available) to process the plight of society. This should be a point of pride for Nicholls; Trimming England resonates with biting accuracy.

If you choose to pick up your own copy, I’d recommend reading with a highlighter in hand to mark the notables and quotables. There were many that will, either to Nicholls’ horror or delight, be typed into status bars of social media accounts or, worse still, used as a caption on a picture-sharing site. Whether or not those posting seek the same “peer-to-peer validation” of Tyrone Pouch of Bedfordshire, Nicholls excels at condensing the relatable into something easily shared, and it is certain that you will find something that crawls into your head and proceeds to live there for an extended period of time. Be it the varying definitions of a career (is a career determined by finances, success, or just stubborn persistence?), the intonation that there is “only poetry in poetry,” or adopting the “maverick stance” of letting your hunger dictate when you eat, or any of the other gems with which Nicholls has populated the novel, rest assured that you are not alone. I’ve already posted a quote on the importance of books in society, and the peer-to-peer validation is exactly as rewarding as Nicholls and Pouch promised it would be.

Trimming England is a satirical “almanac of terror,” because it is terrifying to consider a movement against intellectualism and creative individuals. It is also a cathartic experience for those of us who overthink and create our own lists of why we’d be bundled off to Hotel Diabolique. Nicholls purports to satirize England, but from my corner of South Carolina, I’d argue he does a solid job of bringing most of society to task. If his purpose in this satire is to show where his priorities lie, I’d gladly hand him the scissors for a global trim. - Nora E. Webb

https://heavyfeatherreview.org/2021/07/02/trimming-england/


M.J. Nicholls’ Trimming England takes the reader on a journey through an alternate England led by people who think it’s a good idea to “trim” the country of its more colourful inhabitants. The book opens with an introduction from Nicholls, writing in the year 2023. He has won a free holiday in Jersey from a Munch bar, but the hotel he will be staying in, the Hotel Diabolique, is famous for its “discomfort” and prides itself on giving its guests a terrible experience. Its only visitors are “masochists, sex tourists, and contest winners,” all of whom are apparently fine with paying £10.99 for an uncooked sprout.

There is, however, one other group who stays in this hotel. Contained within its walls is a “prison for public nuisance offenders,” which currently holds 47 people. Nicholls explains that, in 2021, British Prime Minister Frank Oakface devised a scheme to improve life in England’s 48 counties. The “largest irritant” in each county would be identified via online polling and then incarcerated for a duration dependent on the supposed severity of the irritant’s crime. Nicholls decides to accept his prize and go to the Hotel Diabolique. Once there, he meets all 47 inmates of this “irritant-cleansing scheme” and sets about recording their stories. The chapters that follow are those stories, recast in “more palatable and vivid literary styles.” Each chapter is named after the part of England from which the irritant was trimmed. The sentence is recorded, spanning a few hours to a few decades, and the crimes, which range from “seeking sympathy” to lobotomising children for profit.

In the opening chapter, Tyrone Pouch, a writer by trade, takes to social media to express his frustration with a bout of writer’s block: “I lapse into creative coma.” The post is well received – 50+ likes – and the next day Tyrone indulges himself again: “Verily, I sink into a trough of brain-mush.” But he loses his “core base of likers,” and the reason soon becomes clear to him: He expressed his “impotence in a creative way, hinting to the reader [he] was merely pretending” to have writer’s block. He then tries to salvage his reputation as a terrible writer: “I cannot write a single pissing thing.” But it’s too late, and the comment section is littered with “faux-concern.” Tyrone resorts to “writing lengthy retractions” but they fall on deaf ears. He then commits to stop being “a writer writing nonwriting about not-writing,” but before he can put his resolution into practice, he is incarcerated. Sentence: two years. Crime: “abysmal second status.”

This first case establishes the book’s preoccupation with writers and their writing, a pattern that is acknowledged by Nicholls in his introduction, blaming it on the current social climate, which is a “time of deep-seated anti-intellectualism in the country.” In a later chapter, we meet Hector Lettsin, who is tired of being published in “small unprofitable low-circulation presses” and in need of an agent. He submits his “highly literary new novel” (entitled My Highly Literary New Novel) to several agents, and eventually bags Sam Ruple, who has no scruples about transforming Hector’s novel into “a breakthrough big whopper.” Hector agrees to abandon his plan to spit on “the tired conventions of the novel” and instead embrace “likeable” characters and the whimsical opinions of focus groups. Sentence: 79 years.

Further on, in Shropshire, Simone Slaph’s debut novel, Love Among Bedwetters, is about to be published, but there’s a catch. You see, for an author to survive in today’s market, she must have a “niche.” If Simone goes ahead with her debut, she will need to embrace the mantle of “that bedwetting author.” Simone weighs up the pros and cons: having recognition and an income vs. “having strangers think she is a bedwetter.” She decides to make her bed and, indeed, wet it. Her second novel, Bedwetters in Borstal, is about “prisoners who piss themselves.” Crime: “soul for hot piss.” Sentence: eight years.

These tales from the world of publishing will almost certainly bring a knowing smile to the face of any writer (They did to this reviewer.) But the wit that accompanies these observations should be enough to entertain even those who have never heard of the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook. Delving deeper, behind the charming absurdity, is a thoughtful analysis of the literary novel in modern publishing (For poor Simone, even the term “literary” is too literary and has to be replaced with “easypleasy.”) And because the starving artists and publishing establishment are both represented at their most excessive, one is not left feeling a bias in favour of one over the other. Both can be reasonable and irritating in equal measure.

For those not amused by scribblers and their scribbles, there are plenty of other characters being trimmed from England. There is the magazine editor who confuses “novelty teacosies” with “Heinrich Himmler action figures” (naturally, an easy mistake to make), and the man who starts a local campaign to turn a woman’s living room into a public toilet, all because she “tutted hard” when he bumped into her along Porthmeor Beach. A mystery criminal is sentenced for an unspecified time for daring to suggest, in a public forum, that Manchester might be renamed Squidgieroonienips, and Frank Fitch gets “11 furlongs” for letting the world know that he’s been to a tree that appeared in “Escape to the Country East Sussex,” along with several other insufferable YouTube comments.

Accompanying the text is a series of illustrations by Kathleen Nicholls that shows a map-like outline of the region of England under observation and, within the region’s parameters, the drawing of an object or character featured in the chapter. The simplicity of these drawings – nothing more than black lines against a cream background – adds to the sense of intimacy developed in the text. They are doodles of a kind one might make in a diary, little memorials to the bizarre. And Trimming England is, if anything, a monument to the bizarre, describing a world in which a mother tells her son that his father has died by texting “YR FTHR HD HRT ATTACK. DID NT SRVVE. PLS CM HM.” Understandably, she must have had a lot on her plate. Though some readers might find the lack of a single narrative disjointing (The book can seem like a collection of intriguing but independent short stories at times, which is of course the intention, hence the novel being presented as edited and introduced by Nicholls rather than written by him), the landscape of Trimming England is so well defined and consistently wound into the fabric of each mini-narrative that immersion comes naturally. Indeed, the episodic nature of the book, coupled with its quirky tangents and playful dialogues brings to mind John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces. As in Toole’s satirical novel, Trimming England is not just a showcase of strange “irritants,” it’s also the documentation of a society. For Toole, the society is New Orleans. For Nicholls, it’s England. And for all its absurdity and inventiveness, there is, in a way, a quaint Englishness to many of the characters and their stories, underdogs struggling against the wrath of mundanity.

Trimming England presents the reader with a world that is both incredibly strange and all too familiar. The novel’s imaginative premise is its initial draw, but its cast of characters will take you to the end. One after another, these 47 prisoners keep the reader’s attention with their mannerisms and reasoning on subjects that combine the unusual with the everyday. It was a good thing Nicholls won that contest, thoughI wrote a novella that fits in one’s pocket. You could be sitting on a ski lift, preparing to slope down snowy tufts, and read page 28 of this novella that begins with the words “reason for making this trip”. You could be attending a cousin’s daughter’s clavichord recital, and in a break from the bumbled baroque boredom, read page 48 that begins with the words “my mother was pregnant at the time”. You could be erecting a supporting partition from drywall with seven other muscular builders, and in a lull, read page 12 that begins with the words “Paul was too vague to cause irritation”. You could be interviewing Sean Lennon about his latest album, and after making a barbed remark about his solo efforts never eclipsing the worst of his father’s avant-garde indulgences, read page 2 that begins with the words “of custard powder in a supermarket”. You could be in a chemistry lesson, feverishly trying to make the lime water turn cloudy with your carbon dioxide output, and read page 40 that begins with the words “in the lucrative trade of smuggling drugs”. There are 56 pages of text in this “sagging short”, so another 51 examples of moments in which this novella can be removed from a pocket for the purposes of reading can be provided on request. Otherwise, purchase here. - M.J. Nicholls one can’t help wonder if winning it was more than mere chance. Was Nicholls the 48th condemned irritant? If so, through writing this book, he has more than repaid his debt to society. - Robert Montero

https://www.litromagazine.com/reviews/book-review-trimming-england/



M. J. Nicholls, Scotland Before the Bomb,

Sagging Meniscus Press, 2019


In 2060, Scotland was annihilated in a series of merciless nuclear strikes from Luxembourg. In response to a curious public's growing hunger for a definitive history of the long-lost nation, M.J. Nicholls provides the most complete account available of Scottish life starting with the failed independence referendum of 2014. Reflecting how 21st-century Scotland split into numerous nation-states with radically different societies and systems of government, this work of painstaking research and archivism is divided into chapters corresponding with those several regions, whose fates, though ultimately conjoined in irreversible darkness, took divergent paths to the inevitable during the brief but colorful period of Scotland's ill-fated fling with freedom. This volume will unearth the enigma that was Scotland before the bomb.


See what I did there? Bomb. Blast. Get it? Tough crowd, I'll show myself out. Don't forget to tip your bookseller staff for the holidays--they are a long suffering lot what with ebooks and paper being anti-enviromental and no one reading anymore because of Netflix and etc. etc. But never mind all that I'm sure everything will work out what with the U.S. poised to re-elect a psychopath as President (as if we live in some kind of surreal mashup of Frank Miller's Elektra: Assassin in which a demon takes over the mind of a Presidential candidate who wins the election and <i>1984</i> in which half the country's minds are taken over by the fascistic Fox News and the other lying liars who lie). But nevermind the never minds, I'm reviewing this book Scotland Before the Bomb. The name is prophetic because we are all right now right before "The Bomb." Right before civilization falls. Right before global warming slams the lid down on us squirming frogs in a slow boiling pot.

To offer up some reference points that almost no one will recognize, I would describe SBtB as being a bit like the transgressive Stewart Home with a splattering of Mark Leyner, a sprinkle of Flann O'Brien and a smidge of David Markson. It's experimental but accessible. It's weird but entertaining. It's ridiculous yet kept me interested. It's unafraid to show its insecurities, if you follow me. But not too closely please. Nicholls takes chances, and I appreciate his courage. There are no sensitive characters here struggling with their relationships. There are no relatable relatables. There is no unexpected redemption in the end. There are no characters to root for nor did Ellen DeGeneres leave this book as a gift under your seat. She's too busy partying with that guy who started the Iraq War based on lies, you know the (weapons of) mass (destruction that don't exist) murderer guy? The prequel to Trump the Movie that we let go about his business afterwards like there was nothing to see here, move along?

Anywho.

If you enjoy word-play and absurd humor and violent illogic then this book might be for you. Nicholls probably didn't write it for you though. I think he wrote it for himself, which is the kind of book I love the most. Iconoclastic. Original. Fierce. Uncompromising. [Insert other words here that sound dramatic. Also, play dramatic music here. Dance a little perhaps. Eat something, you look hungry, don't you like my soup?]

In conclusion: the end. - David D. Katzman


 “Over the last five years, Scots writer Mark Nicholls has published five novels that establish him as one of the best comic postmodernists of our day. Like the late, great Gilbert Sorrentino, he is a grandmaster of sardonic humor, a superb mimic of various literary forms, and a stylist in full command of the entire range and resources of the English language…. A goofy gazetteer, Scotland Before the Bomb evokes other novels in the travelogue mode, from the sublime (Gilbert Sorrentino’s The Sky Changes, Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities) to the ridiculous (Chandler Brossard’s Postcards, Michael Martone’s The Blue Guide to Indiana). Scotland does indeed deserve bombing if readers there remain unaware they are harboring one of the funniest, most inventive writers living.” —Steven Moore


Scotland before the Bomb is a linguistically acrobatic novel that’s filled with zany wit and sheer randomness.

There’re heaping helpings of dystopia and absurdity in M. J. Nicholls’s Scotland before the Bomb, a sprawling chronicle in which a Scottish independence vote fractured the country into dozens of tiny nation states. Presented in the form of archived entries compiled by a researcher from the twenty-second century, each of the book’s entries documents the rise and fall of the nations. Rampantly imaginative, the book pokes fun at every sort of human folly and hubris.

The book is wild with wacky scenarios from the start, in which neighboring town states fight a cold war, with one deciding to raise itself to a 75-degree angle to spy on its opponent, only to be foiled when the other town buries itself under a tarpaulin to escape surveillance. The population of another town is inspired by a Violent Femmes song to adopt ocelots, with disastrous consequences. And here, Edinburgh has been taken over by Fringe Festival performers to the point where critics are executed and performance art clutters every street.

Like a stream of jokes in a deadpan stand-up routine, the book holds steady with its barrage of insanity, playing with forms. A transcript of an interview conducted with a surviving citizen from a lost nation becomes a laundry list of every chair his leaders sat on; it’s a bizarre riff that wouldn’t be out of place on a Monty Python skit. The tragedies of the nation town Dundee are shared via newspaper clippings detailing improbable events, man-eating ferrets, and spontaneously combusting PMs. A scrap of autobiography from the former prime minister of Selkirk reveals the secret to his success: he apologizes to the public for all of the failings of his stewardship in advance.

As might be expected given the sheer volume of these forays into insanity, some bits are more humorous than others. The book’s best passages are those that lean toward a semblance of narrative. One dark comic standout concerns the travails of an ordinary couple in the town of Clackmannan, where everyone is obligated to receive media transmissions while they work out; less than fit individuals soon find themselves hopelessly behind in current affairs. Another high point is an entry on the town of Echt, where every resident is required to assume the identity of a fictional persona, such as a “laconic” or “sympathetic” character. In a rare bit of pathos, the “likable” character in this scenario decides to follow his bliss and form a washboard band, resulting in a major hit to his likability.

Like chapters of a travel guide, this often nonsensical, sometimes indulgent, and entertaining work is best enjoyed in short bursts. Scotland before the Bomb doesn’t climax so much as collapse in exhaustion, and the book concludes with a lengthy passage from a Glasgow author’s unwritten non-novel. The final parade of non sequiturs and abandoned scraps of conversation and plot are metafictional and daunting.

Scotland before the Bomb is a linguistically acrobatic novel that’s filled with zany wit and sheer randomness. - Ho Lin

https://www.forewordreviews.com/reviews/scotland-before-the-bomb/


In Nicholl's new novel, Scotland has become independent and fragments as individual counties secede. Then, what used to be Scotland is wiped off the map by a hail of nuclear missiles launched by the furious Prime Minister of Luxembourg. Writing in the early 22nd Century, Nicholls pieces together a portrait of Scotland from 2014 to 2060 using whatever scattered fragments survive – and we see counties which, allowed to go their own way, become increasingly individualistic and eccentric. Ross & Cromarty undertakes a massive civil engineering project to tilt itself 75 degrees so it can spy on Invergordon; Festival performers take over Edinburgh completely; Nicholas Parsons invades Braemar and imposes a permanent game of Just a Minute on the inhabitants. Packed with everything from bogus Trip Adviser reviews to memoirs, interviews, haikus and a densely-packed seven-page list of reasons to be miserable, Nicholls’ latest is an impressive outpouring of imaginative, seemingly inexhaustible absurdity pitched somewhere between Alasdair Gray and Spike Milligan. - Alastair Mabbott

https://www.heraldscotland.com/life_style/arts_ents/18074666.paperbacks-scotland-bomb-parents-not-belong/


In February of last year we reviewed M.J. Nicholls’ The House Of Writers a novel concerned with writers, writing, and all that goes with it. In June his next, The 1002nd Book To Read Before You Die, was published and was also reviewed on these pages where we said, “It is a love-letter to literature, but one which casts a delightfully cynical and often incredulous eye over all the hype and hoopla which surrounds the publishing industry.”

In the space of those two novels it felt that Nicholls had addressed his thoughts and concerns about being a writer, making his points in a pertinent and artistic manner which challenged the reader to consider their own relationship with literature. The question to ponder when approaching his latest, Scotland Before The Bomb, was where he was going to go next. As always with M.J.Nicholls the answer was never going to be straightforward.

This time around he turns a keen and coruscating eye on the state of the nation, or rather the states. Continuing to mix fantasy with reality, the premise of Scotland Before The Bomb is decidedly more towards the former, one hopes. In 2060 Scotland is destroyed by nuclear strikes from Luxembourg for reasons unknown, although it is possible some persistent trolling was to blame. As time passes the rest of the world wants to know more about Scotland’s history, especially the time between the independence referendum of 2014 and the country’s fatal destruction.

In that time Scotland not only achieved independence but became so enamoured of the idea that it continued to split further into individual nation states each with their own social, political and cultural systems. Scotland Before The Bomb promises to bring you “closer to understanding the enigma that was Scotland before the bomb.” Of course the writer/editor of this book is one M.J. Nicholls (writing in 2113). Who else?

If you haven’t read Nicholls before, and if the above paragraphs don’t make it clear, this is a writer who likes not only to play with the content of his books, but with the form itself. Having Scotland broken up into these fiefdoms dictates the structure, dividing the chapters into short stories which allows Nicholls full rein to turn his hand to different styles and literary devices. As a result we have journalistic reports, diary entries, Senryu poetry (often called human haiku), virtual tickertape, Q&A interviews, Trip Advisor reports, emails, transcripts, and even concrete poetry.

In doing so Nicholls tackles current obsessions and concerns, such as climate change, immigration, zero hour contracts, racism, fake news, nationhood, the failure of political systems, and so much more. While doing so he has Ross & Cromarty bankrupt itself to the World Bank, Edinburgh’s festival becomes permanent, the sovereign nation of Perth threatens to launch their own nuclear attack as a result of royal disharmony, Stirling is plagued by a dangerous and debilitating fog, Lothian’s skies are black with delivery drones, and Glasgow & Renfrew seem to exist only on the pages of a notebook of an unnamed “disillusioned fiction writer”, whose style seems strangely familiar.

Nicholls’ humour is really to the fore this time around. He revels in the absurd, both in the possibilities his writing allows and in the world in general – the former perfectly serving the latter. No other writer would have Nicholas Parsons enforcing a never-ending game of Just A Minute on the villagers of Braemar, or have Alasdair Gray as one of the earliest First Ministers of Scotland, post-independence – (except perhaps Mr Gray himself).

If his previous novels put a wry smile on your face, Scotland Before The Bomb will have you laughing out loud. At times it’s Jerry Seinfeld meets Laurence Sterne meets Kathy Acker, at others it’s like Samuel Beckett’s Alice in Wonderland, but it’s also impossible to define fully. To attempt to do so would be like writing a parody of M.J. Nicholls, something which I think he would admire and abhor in equal measure, so much so that I’m tempted to give it a go.

Scotland Before The Bomb is that rarest of literary beasts – a satirical, witty, and considered comic novel which is deadly serious at its core. Coming near the end of a varied and vibrant year for Scottish writing, Nicholls has delivered one of the very best examples of just why this is. While you’ll find your own touchstones it’s unlike any other novel you’ll have read before unless you have read M.J. Nicholls. And if you haven’t you absolutely should. He could just be your new favourite writer – you just don’t know it yet. - Alistair Braidwood

https://www.scotswhayhae.com/post/state-of-independence-a-review-of-m-j-nicholls-scotland-before-the-bomb



M. J. Nicholls, The 1002nd Book to Read Before

You Die, Sagging Meniscus Press, 2018


Marcus Schott, sacked from serving succour to suckers and loans to losers, leaves the office life to luxuriate in literature. His plan is to read every title featured in Dr. Peter Boxall's notorious compendium 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. Motoring toward a small pre-purchased cottage on the Orkney Isles, Marcus soon encounters fatal hiccups in his scheme to compress a lifetime's reading into three years. These hiccups include skittish librarian Isobel Bartmel, self-cauterising critic Raine Upright, and the unpredictable happenings of the characterless Orkney peoples, too long trapped in their bothies of banality, each pushing Marcus further from his ecstatic vision of total list completion.

A light comedy with a sunny paradisiac quality, rich in verbal virtuosity, Rabelaisian lists, and the occasional outburst of cheerful, cathartic violence, THE 1002ND BOOK is the ultimate summer novel against summer novels: an anti-crowdpleaser with a tidy, cinematic plot that should please both crowds and all those thoroughly depressed by them.


“Overarching and embedded within the pacy, racy and often hilarious novel-in-the-novel, M.J. Nicholls offers the reader (and writer) sustained and timely reflections on the state of literature today. The compendious range of literary references, coupled with vigorous comment and critique regarding both the works themselves and the institutions through which they are produced and circulated, make this, the 1002nd (or even 102nd) book you should read before you die, a rich and an intellectually rewarding experience.”– Michael Westlake


“A bibliophile’s delight. If I were as clever as Nicholls, I’d describe it as ‘A sensational performance that takes the theatrics of a Morricone score and ties them to Sir Patrick Moore’s monocle.’ But I’m not, so I’ll just say this is a hilarious look at the literary life from both ends—reading and writing—paraded in a maximalist style with all the postmodern bells and whistles one expects from this ingenious author. Beneath it all is a deep knowledge and love for language and literature, despite Nicholls’s antic mockery of some of its creators and consumers.”—Steven Moore


“A brilliant companion for anyone who needs to read, particularly fiction, and muscular encouragement for you who wants to begin. Wry wit and intelligence unfold this original novel, an unparalleled advocacy of the written word. When you look back through the brambles of the last paragraphs you will see that you have been swanked onto the literary playing field by a major player, a strong new innovative voice full of the joys of reading and writing.”—Steve Katz


“M.J. Nicholls splices Laurence Sterne, Douglas Adams, Robert M. Pirsig, and J.P. Donleavy with a Scottish twist. The 1002nd Book To Read Before You Die should be read while drinking a very good bottle of blended Scotch.”—Chris Scott


M.J. Nicholls’ previous novel The House Of Writers was, as the title suggests, a book on and about writers and writing, but it was so much more. He has followed it with The 1002nd Book To Read Before You Die which, as the title suggests, concentrates on readers and reading, but to say it is so much more than that would be understatement of the highest order. It is a love-letter to literature, but one which casts a delightfully cynical and often incredulous eye over all the hype and hoopla which surrounds the publishing industry. From writers, through agents, festivals and their organisers, literary panels and prizes, book sellers, publishers, and critics, to you, dear readers, (and me), Nicholls is coruscating in his condemnation, but remains droll and darkly comedic throughout, his tongue just far enough in his cheek for us to get the joke.

It begins with a Legal Disclaimer which reads, “The Scottish Arts Council strongly repudiate all the claims made in this novel.”. This sets the tone for a fantastically inventive novel where fiction meets fact, and while the lines between the two are mostly clear, it is surprisingly exciting to read a novel where living and breathing writers mix with each other, and with Nicholls’ characters, building to some unforgettable scenes. In lesser hands the amount of referencing of authors, writers, and other cultural touchstones could have been a distraction, or an exercise in showing how clever the writer is, but here it all feels a necessary part of the bigger picture.

The novel introduces us to Marcus Schott who, after leaving his job at E-Z Monee Loans, decides he is going to immerse himself in literature, not entirely for reasons of his intellectual betterment. Moving to Orkney to make his way through the novels named in Dr. Peter Boxall’s 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, he works out in detail the time, budget and itinerary required, as long as there are no hidden costs to complicate matters. Marcus soon discovers that life is little but hidden costs. As Marcus’ story continues ‘the author’ makes regular appearances in chapters which are there to explain the greater whole, in a manner not dissimilar to Alasdair Gray’s appearance in Lanark. Both strands work together where they could have pulled the reader in different directions, and it is to Nicholls’ credit that he succeeds.

The 1002nd Book To Read Before You Die asks you to consider just what it means to be a reader. Can it be called a pastime? What, if anything, can a writer expect, or even demand, from readers? Can you experience “reader’s block”? It also asks questions about why we read, (I can recommend early nights with The Brothers Karamazov for taking your mind of a broken heart. Well, perhaps “recommend” is the wrong word.) Do you read more keenly when the rest of your life is less than satisfying? If the pram in the hall is the enemy of good art, does the same fate befall the ‘good reader’? And, ultimately, does it matter? While reading The 1002nd Book To Read Before You Die I was reminded of Bill Shankly’s quotation, “Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I assure you, it’s much more serious than that.” Nicholl’s novel seems to take a similar fundamentalist stance towards literature, and how you feel about that will go a long way to deciding what you feel about Nicholls’ novel.

In his essay ‘What Is Literature?’, Jean Paul Sartre writes about “committed literature”, specifically prose, which should always be engaged with the present day. Does this mean the reader is required to be equally as committed for this to exist? Surely it must, otherwise there seems little point. That idea gets to the heart of The 1002nd Book To Read Before You Die. It will make you examine how you read, why you read, and even who you read for. There is no doubt a combative and challenging edge, (there’s a surprising amount of spitting encouraged), and you’ll find yourself disagreeing as well as agreeing, often in the same sentence. That is part of the point. Nicholls makes you confront your own truths and prejudices, asking if you really believe or are simply falling in line with the consensus.

The 1002nd Book To Read Before You Die is a comic novel which takes its subject matter very seriously, and demands to be read in the same manner. It is a literary undertaking which needs the reader to engage fully. To do otherwise would be to miss out on what is, at times, an exhilarating experience. Although there are other Scottish novels which come to mind, such as Kevin McNeill’s The Brilliant & Forever, Alice Thompson’s Burnt Island, and Graham Lironi’s Oh, Marina Girl, M.J. Nicholls is doing something which feels and reads as new and exciting. If you love books then The 1002nd Book To Read Before You Die is one to read, before it’s too late. - Alistair Braidwood

https://www.scotswhayhae.com/post/read-all-about-it-a-review-of-m-j-nicholls-the-1002nd-book-to-read-before-you-die


Glasgow-based author Nicholls has had two novels published in the US, but this is his debut here. And what a calling card it is. Straight off the starting blocks, he skewers writers, readers and the publishing industry in a savage postmodern satire written with the fervour of a true bibiliophile.

Having saved up enough money to buy a cottage in Orkney, Marcus Schott quits his job to spend the next three years working through a list of 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. But it turns out he’s only a character created by another Marcus Schott. This one is an unsuccessful author whose previous book prompted his mother to suggest that if he really had to write “metawank” he could at least emulate Jasper Fforde and make some money out of it. Against all his expectations, he has won a £10,000 award to write a novel set in the Highlands, its publication to coincide with the tourist season. But Marcus has no intention of turning in the lightweight dross demanded of him, insisting that he will follow his muse and write instead about a man named Marcus Schott who goes to Orkney to read 1001 books in rural seclusion.

The storylines of the two Marcuses run in parallel. The “real” one battles with philistines from Highland Council who try to enforce their strict stipulations on the book’s content. Meanwhile, the “fictional” Marcus is in a surreal Orkney where sad men sit in pubs nursing violently colourful cocktails. In the library, he meets the eccentric Isobel Bartmel, who sees something of George Orwell’s Gordon Comstock in Marcus and believes that seducing him will inject some much-needed hot sex into Orwell’s oeuvre. Marcus has a rival, however, in Raine Upright, a fierce contrarian who scoffs at the classics and dismisses the literary canon. Both Isobel and Raine speak in the most preposterous, flamboyant manner, and Isobel warns Marcus that if he wants to survive in Orkney he too must become a “character”.

Essentially, they’re misanthropes who have lost faith in the wretched human race to escape into books, and insist that everyone should take literature as seriously and as all-consumingly as they do. “For me, composing a postmodern novel about a writer composing a postmodern novel is a more sincere form of emotional expression than the I-love-you,” says Marcus, and Nicholls’ novel is postmodern “metawank” cranked up to 11. It could hardly be more indulgent and self-referential, and the narrative, naturally, comes with built-in self-criticism. Luckily, Nicholls is wickedly funny and wildly verbally inventive, which does help to offset the unlikeable characters and their bombastic, fanatical chatter.

There are some glib touches that feel too obvious for this level of sophistication, as when Marcus receives an angry letter from the Society of Bland Authors, representing Tony Parsons, Ben Elton and Nick Hornby. But in a book which has you wondering whether even the typos are deliberate, it’s hard to know if the occasions when Nicholls swaps a rapier for a sledgehammer aren’t part of the grand design too. - ALASTAIR MABBOTT

https://www.heraldscotland.com/life_style/arts_ents/16338126.review-1002nd-book-read-die-m-j-nicholls/



M. J. Nicholls, The House of Writers, Sagging

Meniscus Press, 2016


THE HOUSE OF WRITERS is a playful novel set in 2050, when the publishing industry has collapsed, literature has become a micro-niche interest, and Scotland itself has become an enormous call center. Those writers who remain reside in a dilapidated towerblock, where they churn out hack works tailored to please their small audiences. The novel weaves together individual stories of life inside (and outside) the building, where each floor houses a different genre, as the writers fight to keep the process of literature alive with varying degrees of success. THE HOUSE OF WRITERS is a feast of wit: a surreal entertainment, a bracing satire, a verbal tour de force, and a good-spirited dystopian comedy; it is also a loving homage to language, literature, and the imagination, and a plea that they remain vital well into the dubious future that awaits us.


 “I could be wrong, but I believe this novel was transmitted into the author’s mind by the illegitimate love child of Bill Hicks and David Foster Wallace. Like a proverbial middle finger to the middlebrow, M.J. Nicholls has given himself the Herculean task of making fiction matter. Usurped by hacks and the hyperactivity of hyperlinks, meaningful stories have become exceedingly rare. Or, even worse, are rarely read because who got time for dat? Enter this rare novel that wages war on corporate mediocrity in a fantastical future where books are reduced to ego strokes commissioned by rich fucks. Fiction to match your sofa. Fortunately, Nicholls shreds the commoditization of our existence like a literary Tasmanian devil with razor-sharp wit. Fierce​, original and delirious, The House of Writers is a comedic masterwork that defies convention.”—David David Katzman


“The author photo in the back of the book depicts the human host environment for M.J. Nicholls the author, who looks more like the mid-1500s painting ‘The Librarian’ by Giuseppe Arcimboldo, more like a construction of books. For nearly a decade, I’ve known the author as a young Scottish reader of Dalkey Archive titles, primarily, who posts perfectly phrased, amusing reviews on a popular book-reviewing site. His novel is a loyal representation of the spirit of this omni-admired/‘liked’ online manifestation. Perfectly sculpted sentences, awareness of every reaction a reader might make to the author’s every action, and a general willingness to err on the side of exaggerated good spirit, to coax way more amusement than tears, and to eschew the conventional formula of fiction (conflict, rising drama, poignancy) in favor of carrying on in a canonical manner from Tristram Shandy and Quixote on down to Borges and Christine Brooke-Rose’s Textermination and the like. Like Perec’s Life: A User’s Manual more than Danielewski’s House of Leaves, M.J. Nicholls concocts a funhouse for readers wiling and able to live in an Escherian library stocked with mirror-bound books. But the parts this reader loved best were the first thirds of the sections titled ‘This,’ those bits where there’s a sense of a melancholy human slouched in bed with laptop, addicted to the internet, needing to fill blank pages with text in the tradition of all those books that make the silent solitary reading life seem meaningful.”—Lee Klein


After societal, economic, and technological collapse rocks Britain, authors stubbornly ply their (mostly obsolete) trade crammed into a high-rise in the north.

In this debut novel, set in the mid-21st century, digital culture has proved ruinous for writers. First, publishers dictated that only the simplest, bottom-line pablum be produced. Second, a socioeconomic meltdown, precipitated by widespread tech failures (bad screws in the motherboard cooling fans), left Britain a wasteland, roamed by artificial intelligence appliances gone feral and starving digi-pets. While the principal economy and infrastructure center on the lone surviving big business, a Scottish call center (itself just a minor subsidiary of a U.S.-based, Rupert Murdoch-like multinational), authors stubbornly pursue their craft and egos in a communal high-rise, sometimes for just a couple of paying readers. Cal McIntyre, a narrator perpetually working—or not—on a “meta-novel” called The House of Writers, compiles formidable lists of silly, nonexistent books and offers a tour of the building, with different genres on each floor. There are name-dropping details of a “Farewell Authors Conference”; lists of fictitious sexual positions; descriptions of flash-in-the-pan literary movements seeking relevance (the gender-bending Anti-cis-heteronormativists); and entire catalog entries oriented toward Scottish shortbread. Real-life, dust-jacket celebrities (Ian Rankin, J.K. Rowling, Jodi Picoult, Zadie Smith, Jonathan Franzen, graphic designer Chip Kidd) blend with the invented scribblers and cranks, who still follow their muses and remain vain and self-centered loons, despite conditions wherein their products serve practically no purpose. Comedian and writer Spike Milligan would certainly approve of Glasgow author Nicholls’ novel, a piece of literary goonery (or, to Yanks, Monty Pythonism) that lacks a particularly strong plot. As with Monty Python and The Goon Show, the audience either gets the dense barrages of absurdist humor or not. At one point, Jesus even returns, but, after being largely ignored by House of Writers occupants, the Savior departs, leaving an angry, obscene note behind (though Cal theorizes the message could have been one author’s idea of a practical joke). The encouraging theme beneath the satire seems to be that, no matter what, writers and writing (and all the attendant aggravations and pretensions) will persist. Perhaps Cal’s meta-novel will turn out to be the Best Book That Ever Existed.

Cascades of absurdist, knowing nonsense about the writing profession. - Kirkus Reviews


How shall I say this? You may consider it hyperbole. The flattery of a fool unschooled in either High Quality Literary Fiction (HQLF) or, even worse, a soul lacking a sense of humor. You may say, Lentz, go back and hide on the First Floor of THOW with the other poor devils possessed by the obsession -- I say it boldly and without reserve or shame -- to write HQLF. By what other name shall I call it than obsession? Clearly, there's no money in HQLF. It would be laughable to imagine anything resembling fame emanating from the paltry exercise of egoism, which is HQLF. Where did "The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman" get Laurence Sterne? Or what became of JP Donleavy after "The Ginger Man" came to see the light of day? How the groundlings spurned "A Modest Proposal" by Jonathan Swift. I do truly weep to imagine David Foster Wallace at the end of his rope. Don't get me started on what the comedies of Oscar Wilde did for him. His gaolers must have laughed their heads off throughout the incarceration of that gifted writer of HQLF. Immortality, you may ask? Please, do grow up. So it begs the question: why does anyone in their right mind write HQLF? No one really has the time to read it. No one is prepared to invest the most paltry sum for an e-book of even the most brilliant work of HQLF. Fortunately, in the future for those addicted to the unholy oppression of writing HQLF there is "The House of Writers." And Nicholls may not be in his right mind. How could any writers of HQLF possibly be of sound mind? At least, if the prophecy of the scriptures are fulfilled, then the writers of HQLF will have somewhere safe and warm to take them in (prepositional ending). Somewhere to commiserate with others of their petty and miserable ilk. It sounds like Paradise to me. How I yearn for it. Grant me the steaming porridge, the zesty and savory intellectual comfort food of The House of Writers any day. What an upgrade it would be to anyone writing HQLF in this age. Ah, but this isn't about me, is it? It is about serious literature. And its place in the civilization of humanity well after we've been put out to pasture. Will humanity in 2050 miss HQLF? Don't make me laugh. The genre will be long since gone. And its writers will be exposed for the egoists they most surely were. In 2100 will the intelligentsia long for the Golden Age of HQLF among the overgrown ruins of The House of Writers? Surely, we are blessed to have the prophetic vision of Nicholls to imagine it. For is he not the Jeremiah, Isaiah, Ezekiel and Zechariah of all writers of HQLF wandering aimlessly among the heatherclad heaths and heathcliffs of the highlands of ScotCall? But let me circle back to my first point, if I may. I hope to, by now, have convinced you that, normally, I am not a purveyor of praise: far from it. I am, after all, a CRITIC. (If you don't believe me, ask my wife.) I take the title of Goodreads Critic with desperate solemnity. So I will risk that I may throw-up a little in my mouth when I report this to you. This critical qualitative description of sangfroid, when misapplied, is a malapropos utterly sickening to give or take. It offends the intellectual ear with its saccharine ring. I use it only sparingly and as a last resort. And like profanity in my HQLF I eschew it out of hand. However, well, here it is. Ahem. I find that one pervasive literary quality resides in the comic wit of the HQLF of MJ Nicholls. I found this quality first in my reading of "Post-Modern Belch," which I could not put down as I laughed my head off throughout (double prepositional ending). Furthermore, this most elusive literary quality resides in "The House of Writers." And that quality is: G...Sorry. Gee...Harrumph...Pardon me. Genie...Forgive this brief respite and bathroom break: this word does give me pause. And triggers grand disquiet in us all. Let's try, again...The word is...Genius... There now, that wasn't so hard. I'm feeling better now, having belched that out. The wit that resides in "The House of Writers" is comic Genius. This book is world-class. It is one for the ages. So if you give even a brass farthing for the state of the quality of serious literature to be read by your children, grandchildren and great grandchildren, then take a lesson from "The House of Writers" and support HQLF wherever you may find it, like here. Then go out to your favorite independent bookstore or, if necessary, online and buy this genius, masterpiece, possibly immortal, literary novel. - Wordsworth @ amazon.com


Who knew an anti-novel could be so propulsive? Or have such a handsome cover design!

The House of Writers removes the starved reader from the bland buffet-line that is the contemporary dystopian novel—vehicles that exist primarily for teens to explore their hormones while wearing skintight leggings and sticking it to mom and dad, i.e., the scary adult world—and happily plops her back into the realm of unnerving parables about the smooshing of the human spirit. A country made brain-dead by the false comforts of technology? A society peopled with boors who demonize the dwindling few who strive to create and/or appreciate works of art that challenge and engage a person's heart, brain and soul? If you bristle or scoff at the plausibility of that scenario then please put down your smart phone, pause the never-ending Netflix stream and consult a mirror beneath some sobering lighting.

Economic disaster has turned Scotland into a hellish nation-sized call-center, a pseudo government which maintains control by humoring every idiotic question, opinion and prejudice of a populace that constantly calls-in seeking personal validation for all their idiotic questions, opinions and prejudices. This is clearly not an ideal environment for that rare, thoughtful creature known as the author. So stands The House of Writers, a shoddy towerblock which shelters the few writers remaining in Scotland, and wherein they are farmed out to different floors, each level dedicated to a particular genre, and each genre catered to the tastes of the few wealthy individuals who fund the HoW.

But all of this scene setting really doesn't do justice to the real experience of this novel. The pleasure of The House of Writers is not to be found in its plot (though the book is rife with bite-sized narratives), but in the brio of its confident writing, the black hilarity of its unhinged imagination, the sincerity of its love for books and those sickly few who still love writing and reading them. With a large cast of cartoonish outcasts failing to keep their s*** together by pumping out hack works that mostly no one will ever read, THoW burns through one scathing satirical concept after another, sparing no kind of writer or reader along the way as it rollicks toward the inevitability of dystopian despair; but in the wake of all its imaginings—a star-studded literary convention ending in mass suicide, primates with better tastes in art than humans, the eating and breeding of electric sheep, the takeover of a village with a bazooka fashioned out of toasters, bestsellers boasting pages laced with heroin, an assortment of strange lists, even a few ads from sponsors—the game reader is left with a unique reading experience that is as invigorating as it is affecting. It’s not necessary for what is written about to pass as humane—writing is humane. Get me? - Anthony Vacca


Although it's presented as an experimental novel, House of Writers is at heart an enjoyable literary romp through a future Scotland where writers have become persecuted and reviled. "By 2040, writers were perceived in society as intellectual snobs and treated with casual contempt by the public. To clamp down on hate crime, the Tories introduced Artists' Licences, whereby every work was made to conform to two rigid dicta: 1) make it wholly understandable to even the dumbest, most bumbling alien. 2) Make it funny and light and utterly unthreatening to even the most delicate flowers." One of the book's many ironies is that this has already happened; publishers already make sure that novels conform to standard types; Nicholls somehow managed to slip through the net. This isn't a book for the dumbest alien and it helps if you know who Des Esseintes is and what happened in Mirbeau's Torture Garden. But not much. If you don't, just enjoy the ride as you watch the literary scenery go by.On the other hand, if you do know and love this kind of thing, you might relate Nicholls' book to Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, where books are burnt, Marisha Pessl's metafictional romp Special Topics in Calamity Fiction, Chuck Palahniuk's Haunted, about a group of writers locked in a house, or Flann O'Brien's At Swim Two Birds, a novel by/about a man writing a novel about writing a novel. Nicholls book isn't as good as O'Brien's but what book is? Discuss. Nicholls would be happy to debate it with you. He seems to have had fun writing this novel and it shows. Enjoy. - Francis Booth

M. J. Nicholls, The Quiddity of Delusion,

Sagging Meniscus, 2017


In an obsessive monologue vaguely after the manner of Thomas Bernhard, a socially inept writer, in an attempt to deflate or defeat the humiliation of seeking to impress the smooth-talking, self-important sorts of people he loathes but envies, tries to get to the bottom of an embarrassing incident from his childhood, with entertaining but refreshingly anti-climactic non- results. In THE QUIDDITY OF DELUSION, both barrels of Nicholls' word-gun are, as always, loaded, and the ego gets it hard in the nads.


“Needing social approval from his pompously intellectual inferiors, our hero suffers how to present a self-compromised pseudo-version of a traumatic childhood embarrassing incident in a self-failed attempt to ‘belong.’ Later he tries to research what really happened by traveling to the assumed spot. He interviews the memories of sister & parents who all prove their reactivated mocking indifference to our pathetically verbally self-conscious hero who’s an exactitude slave to literary integrity that attempts to pierce the fiction/reality divide to which he’s a writerly insider/outsider tumbled by word-beset rectitude. All this wrings humor to its highest note.”—Marvin Cohen


I wrote a novella that fits in one’s pocket. You could be sitting on a ski lift, preparing to slope down snowy tufts, and read page 28 of this novella that begins with the words “reason for making this trip”. You could be attending a cousin’s daughter’s clavichord recital, and in a break from the bumbled baroque boredom, read page 48 that begins with the words “my mother was pregnant at the time”. You could be erecting a supporting partition from drywall with seven other muscular builders, and in a lull, read page 12 that begins with the words “Paul was too vague to cause irritation”. You could be interviewing Sean Lennon about his latest album, and after making a barbed remark about his solo efforts never eclipsing the worst of his father’s avant-garde indulgences, read page 2 that begins with the words “of custard powder in a supermarket”. You could be in a chemistry lesson, feverishly trying to make the lime water turn cloudy with your carbon dioxide output, and read page 40 that begins with the words “in the lucrative trade of smuggling drugs”. There are 56 pages of text in this “sagging short”, so another 51 examples of moments in which this novella can be removed from a pocket for the purposes of reading can be provided on request. Otherwise, purchase here. - M.J. Nicholls  



M. J. Nicholls, A Postmodern Belch, lulu.com,

2014


This edition of A Postmodern Belch has been discredited. Pending article 9.6 of the Creative Commons Licence, portions of this work contain improperly brushed syllables taken from a 1978 edition of A Postmodern Belch and inelegantly buffered clauses taken from a 1997 edition of A Postmodern Belch. This edition of A Postmodern Belch is adapted from the 2007 edition of A Postmodern Belch and reinstates all the irritating and unlikeable qualities of the 2010 edition of A Postmodern Belch, including the missing correspondence between Luca Brasi and Lionel Blair that never made it into the 1808 edition.


A delightful exercise in self-referential humor in which a novel's characters fight for supremacy over the text. This prolonged joke, however, is not the only factor at play; caught in that infinite labyrinth, it eventually becomes apparent that time passes, and a meta-narrative emerges outside the confines of their literary battlefield. Juvenilia, the author calls it, and certainly there is no shortage of juvenile humor, just as there is no conscience in the recourse to the most insultingly absurd forms of continuity. But it is a jolly ride nonetheless. - Jacob Smullyan


Thanks to this blog, I “met” M.J. Nicholls in a course of what some people would call destiny, others a happy coincidence, and some other others (the vast majority, to be more precise) simply wouldn’t see a reason to call it anything. To cut the long story short, Mark liked one of my blog posts and wanted me to write a similar article for a publication he was editing, so we engaged in a collaboration that happily ended in me offering him to read my book of stories translated into English, and him reading it and saying that they want to publish it. When this wonderful thing happens, I’ll let you know.

Contrary to what this might look like thus far, this is not a post about me. This is about “A Postmodern Belch”, a novel that M.J. wrote in his twenties, I believe. Too young to be envied for his literary skills, yet he is. The “Belch” is a novel which fascinates the reader with incredibly fresh language, ripe literary style and confident experimenting with metafiction; a primer for all who wish to refresh their language with smart and completely new word coinages, puns, similes, and humorous reflections on the relationship between an author and his/her work of art.

GUIDE TO SUCCESSFUL POSTMODERNISM

This is only a fraction of what you’ll find in “A Postmodern Belch”: pages divided into 2, 4, 8… parts to accommodate different voices created after a character has been split into 2,4,8… parts; an onslaught of letters G that threaten to subdue the voice of the character and turn all his consonants into G; an advertisement for a product called Macroshit Ghostwriter that helps users choose from tons of different pre-written story templates, freeing them from the need to use their brains ever again; a variety of narrative formats, each more imaginative than the previous, all the while following the search of three fictional characters for their true author self or for their true narrative that will dazzle the world.

In plain words: in this novel nothing and everything happens, while Lydia, Harold and Greg engage in conversions with the narrator, whoever he or she is – it’s never clear and always a battle of who’ll earn the role, and in conversations (quarrels, rather) with each other. What I love love love about this work is 1) its unending artistry (not that I understood half of it – too lazy to consult the dictionary every three words), 2) how predictive the author is of any possible criticism, anticipating, addressing and dissecting every imagined “issue” with plot, style, form, tone, character, voice, point of view, or whatever creative writing programs teach us is important, before any critic gets the chance to try the same, 3) the humorous parts where it’s hard not to laugh out loud, 4) the obvious fact that he is enjoying and loving writing with all his heart, 5) the confidence with which he dives into the most postmodern of all postmoderness without losing the reader’s respect. 

Finally, I want to point out that the author of this post is NOT being compensated for this favorable review by having her collection of stories published. All occurrences of published books or books waiting to be published are purely coincidental. The author kindly advises all lovers of a good postmodern novel to go and treat themselves to “A Postmodern Belch” before it changes form and becomes something else (got your attention now, didn’t I?). - Ana S.

https://waitingfornobel.wordpress.com/2015/03/25/postmodern-belch/



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