Thursday, 11 January 2018

A Country Still All Mystery

Mark Valentine
Tartarus Press

‘The English landscape was made . . . not just for food and shelter and pleasure, but also for the journey of the soul. There is a field of supernatural stories set in this “other” country, the country of the spirit . . .’ 
In A Country Still All Mystery, Mark Valentine explores how certain writers have used their fiction to convey the idea of numinous terrain, places where we might at any moment stray into the realms of the unearthly and uncanny. 
These essays continue similar literary and antiquarian themes to his well-received earlier volume, Haunted By Books (2015). When and where was the last wolf seen in England? Why were certain lonely houses left beyond parish boundaries? Is there a missing book by T.E. Lawrence? What was the secret history of Cope & Fenwick, liturgical publishers? What became of the original Tower of Moab? 
A Country Still All Mystery will be read with pleasure by those who enjoy the out-of-the-way, the obscure, the eccentric and the outré. It will appeal to anyone who has ever strayed into remote country which seems to be not quite fully in this world.

This is a collection of articles written by Mark over the last few years on various topics that hold his passions but mostly, and at the heart of it, it's about books.  Through it's pages Mark wanders through a host of almost forgotten, half ignored and partially glimpsed authors.  His explorations and explanations of their work is fascinating and delivered in Mark's beautifully crafted prose which adds an entirely extra level of joy to the experience.

photograph by R.B. Russell
Through the course of the various essays we meet authors such as Mary Butts, Oliver Onions, Ronald Frazer, William Hope Hodgson, Randolph Stow, Lord Dunsany, Robert Atkinson, Sarban and of course Arthur Machen (from whose 'The Hill of Dreams' this book takes it's title).  We also get articles on such intriguing topics as the location of the last wolf in England and the assassins of Thomas Beckett,  we learn more about extra-parochial districts - an interest of Mark's that contributed to one of his Connoisseur stories - and several explorations of obscure religious sects.

Books like this are a pleasure I usually like to eke out.  These days I'm far more drawn to fiction than to non so when I do get the urge to read a collection of articles I tend to treat it as an event and read no more than an article a day allowing myself time to digest and ruminate on what I've read.  It can often take me the best part of a month to get through a decent sized collection. I read this one in two days as I simply didn't want to stop.  Mark's energy and enthusiasm is utterly infectious and his subject matter is compelling in the oddest way.

A hugely recommended read for anyone with an interest in the roads less traveled and in the words spoken with a quieter resonance.

Available direct from the publisher (see above)

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