Saturday 26 August 2017

Letters from a Lost Uncle by Mervyn Peake  {Reviewed by THOMAS}
“You will understand, unless you are very stupid, how exciting it is after so many years spent in searching for the White Lion, to feel so close to him.” The characters of Peake’s fictions, finding conventional society too narrow to contain them, turn their backs upon all that is familiar, traditional and expected of them and choose the path of loneliness that is the only alternative, monopraxis establishing no maps to variance, to learn that the path of loneliness is one to be beaten for oneself. Where there is no route forward a route must be made forward, and to carry on is to carry on with no companion but perhaps an oddity not of the same order of being as oneself. This is a melancholy path but it would be gritless to despair for to despair is the intended fate of all who turn their backs on lit windows and dining tables. One such wanderer, a “lost uncle”, though to whom he is lost is unclear, finds himself, one-legged but with a useful spike to complete his complement of limbs, more suited to the hazards and loneliness of arctic wastes than he is to human company, and travels north in search of the White Lion, whose image he has seen on a stamp. The longing of the Peakesean wayfarer draws him to the cold far edges of the mind, where snow may be swept by wind into a vast column, clearing the underlying ice so that the monsters that swim beneath may grin up as he passes. He has only a mutant turtle-dog named Jackson for company and to carry his gear. And the lion? Single-mindedness such as the uncle’s cannot fail, but the prize is bound to disappoint, the White Lion to be vast but old and on the point of death, the animals of the North all gathered for its farewell. And out of such loneliness, from this nowhere to which such uncles belong, from these experiences from beyond the usual ambit of experience, why these letters posted back to an undifferentiated nephew, these, in this case, distinctive pencil drawings with typewritten scraps of text pasted on? Does the letter, the book, the artefact, the text perform an inward urgency, tethering the sojourner to a sanity from which they might otherwise be distant? Or is there a magnanimity in production when to not produce would be less draining: does a writer imagine that the world might somehow be better (or worse) for their imposing their words upon others or upon at least the possibility of others? The task of an explorer is to explore. Is there any quest that does not leave a trace?

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