Short stories review: 15/12/20
THE BOOK OF WATER
by Andreas Philippopoloulos-Mihalopoulos
... a collection of short stories about desire, fear, life, care, and ecological anxiety, all narrated through the physical and metaphysical presence of water.
The Book of Water by Andreas Philippopoloulos-Mihalopoulos is a study of all human existence, but specifically, how porous it must be to give it meaning. For if we can be invaded or be dissipated there must be some sense in which we exist, and here, over and over, Andreas explores how the inside leaks out, the outside in, in a fashion that’s occasionally thrilling, more usually nightmarish. The title tells you all, for everything you can do with water happens within its pages - drink it, swim in it, cleanse with it, tread it. But water functions here too as metaphor - for money, love, creativity, inspiration - and there is a strong note here also of magical realism, with people turning into water, returning to their natural, original state, often when they eschew the dreary world about them, and actively seek magic, or at least the natural world; or indeed, actively stop trying to hold on to the dreary material reality about them. Instead, “He turned into an elongated globe, a dappled column of water, rushing but contained, a well flooding without overflowing, never, not a drop. His body was trembling under the weight of this molten economy…” (pg 27)
In tarot, emotions are represented by water; the suit of cups, fluid, agile and in constant flow, healing and cleansing; gentle, or powerful, a destructive, raging force. This is a book that brims with feeling, taking typical situations and conflicts and reducing them to their primitive, primeval selves, and throughout, the protagonist within this collection is the water itself - the words move slowly, weightily, within it; ideas float off within it, come near us, then bob away again before you can quite capture them. There are strong links here with Buddhism and its instruction that we “Be like water” - be mindful, without structure or form, only the shape of the container in which we find ourselves. Often there are lines drawn within these watery tales, vertical lines drawn within water, representing perhaps an end to time - more usually represented as a horizontal timeline - and instead an eternal moment. In ‘Geometry’ a man swims along a line, unknowing, one side soft ripples, the other “rippling with a strobe striation”; his flailing strokes “mixing waters while keeping them separate”. Water identifies with no culture, ethnicity or belief system; it is common and present within them all, the essential substance from which all forms are born.
I particularly enjoyed 'The Shepherdess', the tale of a small boy who will not eat, only drink, who’s taken to visit a friend of his mother, her house a show home, filled with porcelain ornaments; the mother boasts of her well-behaved, trouble-free son, until the moment the child stuffs a porcelain shepherdess down his throat. Rejecting love and life in the form it’s offered is a recurring theme in this collection. It reminded me of Edward Gorey’s 'The Remembered Visit' in its quotidian observations, mingled with its consideration of art and high culture and what they might mean to a fragile child on the brink of adulthood.
The intangible surrealism of the book is perhaps not for everyone - its gentle happenings will either tantalize and enthrall or leave you baffled. You very much have to go to Andreas: he isn’t coming to you; he won’t explain himself, or make any deferential condescension to his readership. He will neither apologise, nor explain, but bob along beside you, free-flowing, sensual, indifferent to your response to his yielding, changing flow. No better conclusion than his own words, from the titular story: “He finally let the book go, not because it was slipping from his hands, but because he himself was slipping from the plot, dragging down with him a piece of the world that was held together by liquid bridges, stretched ropes made of jelly, trembling hands of waves. Maybe what bothered him was that, in fact, he liked this watery fall.”
Review: Melissa Todd.
Andreas Philippopoloulos-Mihalopoulos – The Book of Water
Eris Press, out March 2021