Book Review: Echoing

Echoing, by Elliot Koubis, is a collection of eight poems and prose poems inspired by the art of Aurelie Freoua. Interspersed with the words are illustrations of Freoua’s work. The aesthetics of the book are a delight, as are the emotions evoked when reading.

An introduction, written by Alfonzo Sieveking, explains the background to the writing. He describes it as sensual,

reaching for meaning in a dialogue with the unknowable […] moments of harmony with something greater than either the poet or the reader.

The collection opens with Influence, which succinctly explores the effect of tradition on man, and man on tradition. This, as in many of the poems, is done using the motif of nature. It is a powerful analogy.

The second work is an untitled prose poem describing a river experienced from underwater. The dance of light through its surface and blurring of all that is beyond offer a new perspective. The strength of the current along with the river’s confluences impact the items it carries and absorbs. There is wonder and appreciation at how all, even man, will be returned to the earth. The last line is breathtaking, heart-wrenching.

Confluence, takes the reader through woodland where the trees form a cathedral whose strength is derived from deep within the earth. There are connections between roots, soil, branches and birds – the cycle of seasons offering growth and nourishment. There is a reminder of their importance, including to man:

So too your breath is bound to the breath of these trees.

The sixth poem looks at the impossibility of knowing even people who are considered close.

Every communication begets a
miscommunication. With every
message sent, I wait to discern your face
through the clearing smoke. We have
already entwined our roots in countless
ways concealed from us. Pick up any
single thread, and we would find it
zigzagging across our flesh like valleys
upon the rock. […]

Despite our intricate maps, the mind cannot
transcribe our magnitude. Our score would be
erratic at best; your touch echoes too much upon
my skin. Trying to know you feels like describing a
mountain: all I can mange are glances, oblique; at
any point upon your height, half of you evades my

The final work in the collection, After Liu Dan, also uses the mountain and its hidden depths to effect.

mountains also have an
inside. They too make sounds, resonate with the steps
that patter upon their surfaces, whistle the whittling
whirr of water, echoing the world outside within
them. They too seem to dream.

These poems remind the reader that man is a part of the natural world (despite his regular sabotage). More than that though is the desire to appreciate nature’s wonder, intricacies and strength. The poems are reflective, alluring and intense. Their impact should be savoured.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Ampersand. 


Book Review: The Goldberg Variations

The Goldberg Variations, by Robert Hainault, is a work of fiction presented in thirty chapters framed by an aria. The musical work that inspired this structure was written for harpsichord by JS Bach in 1741. It was named for one of the composer’s pupils at this time who, at fourteen years of age was already an accomplished keyboardist.

The story’s protagonist is a harpsichord teacher named William Goldberg who, following a successful public recital in London, is persuaded by a lecherous stranger, Jack Borge, to take his talented young student on a concert tour of Poland. The boy, Daniel, is fourteen years old, although the mannerisms attributed to him appear more fitting of a younger child. He is gauche and malleable, easily led by the men despite his obvious discomfort at their actions.

Daniel’s mother trusts William to look after her son and he eagerly takes on the role of father figure on the tour. He hopes that Daniel may achieve the success that eluded him and that, as his teacher, he may bask in the boy’s reflected glory.

Jack Borge is a repulsive character. He is prurient and ill-mannered, making frequent inappropriate observations about Daniel and William. He plies them with drink and tries to take them to clubs where young boys are paid for sexual favours. When left alone, William takes Daniel for gelatinos, the sweetness and innocence of the treat offering a contrast to the disturbing imagery of the time spent with Jack.

The tour of Poland does not go as planned, although William appears first oblivious and then undeterred. The longer he spends with Daniel the less he can countenance being deprived of the boy’s company. He grows jealous when Daniel shows any interest in girls. The reader is left to interpret what is happening, the gradual contamination of the disturbing suggestions.

Like the music, the plot soars and crashes, wave after wave of beauty and melancholy. In a programme note the author explains:

The forms, figures, styles, moods and overall architecture of the piece have been integrated into the novel according to a system of symbols, puns, references, ciphers and plot points that comprise a musicological companion to the Bach.

Although competently written and offering an intriguing structure I found this book troubling. The thoughts and actions were too raw and unpleasant, what is pure overwhelmed by the grotesque.

The sexual fantasies involving a child brought to mind Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice, indeed the book is referenced. However, this tale offers less subtlety, the transformation an intriguing puzzle but too sordid for my tastes. There is much about the content that is clever but I was overwhelmed by horror at the abuse described. It may be ‘daring’ and ‘phantasmagorical’, but was not enjoyable to read.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Ampersand.

Book Review: Recipe for being a Woman

Recipe for being a Woman, by Hermione Cameron, is a collection of twenty-eight poems interspersed with pen and ink illustrations by Louise Armour-Chelu. The poems deal with serious issues yet are often playful in nature. There are plays on words and deliberate use of cliché. They offer a window into life as a woman – the societal demands for compliance and homogeneity, a refusal to acknowledge that individuals ineluctably differ. Subjects explored include grief, misunderstood pain, unrealistic expectations of beauty, and the day to day misogyny with which all women must deal.

The collection opens with the prose poem from which the book takes its title. Written in the form of a recipe it provides a list of ingredients from which the ideal woman may be made. Required are:

– An avid interest in all things feminine: this includes shopping, makeup, beauty/gossip magazines, hair, fashion men
– A simple smile and an easy yet elegant laugh. Apply to social situations: women need not be witty nor interesting, neither do they need to make jokes. It is a man’s job to make the women laugh.
– A boyfriend/partner/husband: only they can truly provide you with the assertion that you are beautiful, and therefore, complete your womanhood

The ingredients list is followed by a method which reminds the cook:

It is important for her to be strong yet submissive if she hopes to fulfil the role that is required of her

Beauty is a woman’s most powerful asset and must, under no circumstances, be wasted.

Once the perfect woman has been baked she should then be consumed.


In Teachings from the Middle Classroom a woman ponders what others hoped for her, what they defined as having it all:

Of course I’d find a man at 18, 20, marry at 25
With just enough time to ‘find myself’ but not enough time
To stray, to lose myself again […]

I’d be skilled in the art of small talk and small matters
And everything that doesn’t even matter

People Like You explores attitudes to those considered other, the arrogance and contempt all too recognisable.

People like you
should be seen and not heard
People like you cannot speak for yourselves
So please:
Stay in the comfort of your own invisible worlds
Please keep yourselves to yourselves
Stay locked in your own invisible cells
Deal with your own invisible hells

Role Models takes a swipe at the beauty industry with its message of never being good enough

Step forward, let me shape you, make you
Break you

Clipped Wings is a particular favourite, offering as it does the picture of one who has achieved the perfection to which women are supposed to aspire.

She is pretty indoors
Pretty safe
Inside her golden cage

Pretty bird
It is summer outside
The world outside is waiting
Why don’t you sing?

The Temple describes a woman who has been protected from the supposed horrors of showing herself to the world, of taking pleasure in her body and the personal satisfaction it is designed to offer.

It gets cold in here

Behind closed doors
And tightly fastened robes

And you can only get so close

I wish I had been told

That the flesh that surrounds
these bones
that the body these bones have formed
is more
Than a locked door
That I am more

This powerful collection is accessible and relevant whilst offering the pithy and incisive structure that makes good poetry such a piercing and satisfying read.

How should a woman be?

so picture perfect, they all look the same

Or perhaps we should not allow those who seek to control us make us afraid of enjoying the pleasures life offers.

I’ve learned not to tap it
But wack it
& suck the life from out of it

Read this collection and feel empowered to be yourself, then grant others the same freedom.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Ampersand Publishing.

Book Review: Tumours

Tumours, by Chay Collins, is a challenging work of fiction to pin down. Narrated in the first person it describes a surreal and disturbing journey undertaken by four companions being paid by a government agency to take part in an experiment. As the story begins the narrator ingests what he describes as spawn from a beast. The effect of this substance is to distort his perceptions. He feels threatened by his surroundings, including creatures encountered. He seeks out tumours that he believes must be killed.

Amongst the four are a scientist and a temptress. Their expedition takes them to a restaurant and then a hotel. The narrator desires sex. Breaking away from his companions he allows his disturbed instincts to guide his actions. In doing so he threatens the veracity of the experiment. His companions are unhappy that their access to payment for their participation may now be compromised.

Interactions are skewed by a mind bending awareness of light and sound. Insights are distorted and frenetically intense. Those encountered are described viscerally although the portrayals are unreliable. The narrators drug addled sensations offer ambiguous interpretation.

The presentation of the prose changes in font, line balance and includes a scattering of blank pages at pivotal moments. These add the the power and distortion of what is being described.

At less than a hundred pages this is a short work of fiction. It provides unsettling, compulsive reading.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Ampersand Publishing.