Saturday, March 10, 2018

That's the way you do it! [Riddled Book Club edition]

Isn't it always the same? You wait and wait for a detection / police-procedural novel deeply steeped in love for London, with the hunchbacked puppet Punch as the chief suspect -- in his role as Lord of Misrule and homicidal psychopath -- and then two come along at once.

Now Mr Punch is clearly a victim of his social environment. The other occupants of his fictive world are equally prone to stick-related violence, and it would not end well if the entire murderous menage followed him into what we laughingly call "reality".

Note also that Mr Punch has made himself useful to the agents of law enforcement, as an informant, which is probably why he escaped justice for so long despite his involvement as accomplice in crime. His career as a snitch goes back at least to 1837, the date of the events recorded "The Story of a Disappearance and an Appearance", when Toby the Dog was evidently a recent addition to the typical Punch dramatis personae.
Toby dogs, you know, are the last new thing in the shows. I have only seen one myself, but before long all the men will have them.
In that case the actual malefactors were [SPOILER ALERT] the Punch-&-Judy showmen (or so it would seem, as both die before they can incriminate the puppet directly). The Punch-booth is haunted... but before that, a dream nightmare sequence unfolds:
Facing me there was a Punch and Judy Show, perhaps rather larger than the ordinary ones, painted with black figures on a reddish-yellow ground. Behind it and on each side was only darkness, but in front there was a sufficiency of light. [...] There was something Satanic about the hero. He varied his methods of attack: for some of his victims he lay in wait, and to see his horrible face — it was yellowish white, I may remark — peering round the wings made me think of the Vampyre in Fuseli’s foul sketch. To others he was polite and carneying — particularly to the unfortunate alien who can only say Shallabalah — though what Punch said I never could catch. But with all of them I came to dread the moment of death. The crack of the stick on their skulls, which in the ordinary way delights me, had here a crushing sound as if the bone was giving way, and the victims quivered and kicked as they lay.
Anyway, Mr Punch is clearly a negative role model and not someone with whom minors should associate... as has been explored at length by McKean and Gaiman.

Of course Mr Punch is most relevant to our interests for his presence in the background and in the backstory of Riddley Walker, where the Punch-&-Judy show has an importance comparable to a medieval Mystery Play, being one of the few surviving vestiges of pre-Apocalypse culture.

So here at stately Riddled Towers and Highrise Parking Building, fierce debate has raged over his precise folkloric role. Some set him within the context of the old pagan traditions... along with Morris dancing and beltane fires and Maypoles and Wicker Men and Mummer Plays (which is to say, head-hunting human sacrifice and the Shamanic journey on the Hobby-horse). The corollary follows that Punch will feature in an unwritten novel in Holdstock's Mythago Wood cycle, existing in alternative realities if not this one, and the Library Pixies have been asked to check the shelves. The other viewpoint sees Punch as an urban construct, created by the pressures of unnatural high-population-density existence -- the repression of natural urges to cudgel people to death -- as a kind of embodied safety valve. In which case the non-author of the nonexistent novel was or will be J. G. Ballard.

No-one pays any attention to my own theory that the Punch-&-Judy booth is actually a form of Memory Theatre. The suggestion that Punch is merely a character from the Commedia dell'Arte --transposed into the medium of slapstick puppetry and elevated to the giddy empyrean of "Quintessential Symbol of Timeless English Tradition" -- was treated with the contempt it deserves.

There is always a relevant Oglaf

"Memory of Blood" and "Rivers of London" are both ripping yarns. The latter, though, has a shout-out to "Death Line" and the Russell Square tube station:
Russell Square lies a kilometre north of Covent Garden on the other side of the British Museum. According to Nightingale, it was at the heart of a literary and philosophical movement in the early years of the last century, but I remember it because of an old horror movie about cannibals living in the Underground system.
"Death Line / Raw Meat" is a great little movie, far too good to be a product of this reality, and I can only suppose that it found its way here by quantum-tunnelling from a superior time-line in which it was the pilot episode of a long-running comedy/horror TV series.

Then there was this passage. Published in 2011, it was clearly inspired by the notorious piracy of a publication in Gut, by hepatologists Finelli & Tarantino, in 2012 / 2014:
The modem was hidden behind a stack of Gut: an International Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology. A jaunty subtitle revealed that Gut had indeed been voted Best Journal of Gastroenterology by gastroenterologists worldwide. I didn’t know whether to be worried or reassured by the implication that there were many more magazines devoted to the smooth functioning of my intestines. The socket for the modem looked suspiciously jury-rigged and definitely not standard NHS issue. When I asked Dr Walid about it, he merely said that he liked to keep certain of his files secure.
‘From who?’ I asked.
‘Other researchers,’ he said. ‘They’re always looking to pirate my work.’ Apparently the hepatologists were the worst.


H. Rumbold, Master Barber said...

I'm forming the National Stick Association to promote the inalienable right of the People (some) to Keep and Bear sticks, paddles, brickbats, cudgels, coshes, rods, canes, knuckle-dusters caestus, strigils etc. of whatever caliber open carry or concealed. I will accept any and all contributions from manufacturers of said items and will smack any politician who doesn't promote this policy over the head with a Big Stick. The solution to Stick Violence is more Stick Violence and they can take my Stick away when they pry the Swazzle from my cold dead oropharynx. I am not a nut.

Ignatz Mouse

rhwombat said...

Hepatologists ARE the worst. I speak from personal experience. Lumenal gastroenterologists (AKA black snake specialists ) are subliminal shits, but since they only communicate in grunts they are no threat to other subspecialties and can be safely ignored. Hepatologists are cunning buggers who think and publish quickly. Hepatologiae delenda est.

Another Kiwi said...

Sir, a few points are raised by this exhaustive review.
1) It never ends well when the library Pixies are sent to scour the shelves. A preliminary report tells of finding Greenish Hugh's Tomato paste sandwiches which he will leave in the Inspired Botanical section next week. The pixies vouchsafe that they are not paid enough for this job and does it come under section 4.4.23 of the Hazardous Tomato Substances Act? Because if it does you will not believe the overtime.
2) The attempted categorisation of Mr Punch, hereafter known as That Little Bastard,overlooks that fact that he may, indeed, be a random facet of imaginativium and pop into and out of our fictional lives in an unexpected manner like a pot roast in the middle of the road. While you are looking at at said potroast That Little Bastard is shouting "Putcha, Putcha, Putcha" and hitting one with his stick. Which is a diabolical liberty.
3)There is a good reason that no one knows what hepatologists are. Some sort of Jazz musicians, I think. Which is directly related to the father of Peter Grant, the "Rivers" hero.
Yrs Sincrly
The Usual Suspect.

rhwombat said...

Dear TUS - re 3): You mean that if you have to what hepatologists are, then it ain't hepatology? I thought that was herpetologists (named after Herpes, god of panic).

Emma said...

This is my favorite set of four comments on the internet.

Also, I tried to read Rivers of London one time but I quit because it was boring and the narrator was a dickhead. If it's an official Riddled Book Club selection, however, I will make another attempt upon its person (its bibliality? its bookness?) for the aggrandizement of god and country. (It can't be worse than Astra & Flondrix.) (<< That is a literal statement of scientific fact.)

Have you ever heard of The Punch Escrow? Me either.

Smut Clyde said...

"[Book recommended by Smut] can't be worse than Astra & Flondrix."

"Hold my beer."