"...human histories and emotions could never be encompassed by one person. You needed different viewpoints ... to obtain as true a picture as possible."
On page 225 I found the perfect words to describe the content of this book, as these thirty stories take both characters and reader into
"... an alternate world beyond fiction itself into a realm that was even realler than reality..."
with the power to leave the reader shaken, unsettled, thrown off kilter and majorly disturbed. That was my experience anyway -- more than once I found myself having to put this book down before starting it again as I stopped to think about what I'd just read and then to regroup. Here the space between writer and the reader tends to shrink or fold in on itself, making for a jolting reading experience. That is a positive thing, as it is becoming ever more rare readingwise in my case these days, and it is what I look for in a well-written collection of weird stories, which Dabbling With Diabelli most certainly is.
Because there are thirty of them, and because of the involvement on the part of the reader, I won't be going through any of these stories in detail, but I will say that throughout this collection, what starts out as ordinary quickly moves into what I can only describe as fringe territory as the weirdness slowly moves in. A visit to a fair or to a museum, for example, are normal activities for most people, as is a trip to the seaside or a boat trip down a river, but it soon becomes apparent that the author has other things in mind. Unexpected shifting points of view startle and jar any hint of reader complacency. Dreamers dream other people's dreams. Time moves in and out of sync in many cases or has no meaning in others. Unexpected others pop up. Stories shift gears out of nowhere. Benign objects become symbols with particular meaning to the observer. The characters meander through "mental spaces" as they look back, reflect, reminisce, engage in their respective nostalgias, dream or write of their lives.
In sitting down to read Dabbling With Diabelli, be warned: the reader becomes a "full-blooded stalker" and "real participant" in this "experiment in the human art of fiction, " and I found that as such, some mental-rebalancing time was necessary after reading a few stories, or in some cases, after only one. Having said that however, my humble reader's gut feeling is that we're meant to be, as the author says in one of these tales,
"cohering the disparate widepread elements into a composite whole; gaining an organic gestalt of plot from the broadcast kaleidoscope of printed appearances,"with an eye to examining our own often illogical, absurd and fully human selves and the world in which we live through this collection of "human histories and emotions."
The stories in this book highlight the author's offbeat (verging on the avant-garde), often-hallucinatory prose style, which invites you in and then often leaves you scrambling for sanity. That is not something I say idly -- it's days later and I'm still caught up in the mental wake left behind after reading. It is a book not to be missed by readers of the weird -- this is my first experience with D.F. Lewis, but I can easily see that the author is a genuine master of this territory.
Close encounters indeed.
My many thanks once again to Alice and to David Rix at Eibonvale for my copy. I loved every second of it.