Click through for a review of Norman Lock’s LAND OF THE SNOW MEN, the ninth in this full-press review series of Calamari books.
I love the way that Norman Lock writes. He has a way of building aggressive sentences with languid vocabulary, of pushing me through his works like two gentle hands on my back.
“We went blind with looking. Not all at once and not all together, but slowly, one at a time until we clung to each other like the toy monkeys in a barrel we played with as children. There was terror, of course. Consider where we were and what it meant to be in such a place, without eyes. But, curiously, there descended on each of us peace, the peace that comes to one who enters from a vast wasteland into small rooms. The landscape with its appalling limitlessness all at once rushed forward to meet us. Things that had seemed distant were now close–brought within range by the powerful contraction of the horizon. You had only to put out your hand.”
Here, in this his only book with Calamari Press, Lock has done a kind of magic trick that he lets the reader in on, a Penn & Teller moment in literature:
LAND OF THE SNOW MEN is Lock writing as a mock-editor, having ‘recovered & edited’ the supposed remains of George Belden’s journal. & the fictitious George Belden is said to have written these journal entries ‘while undertaking a commission for the Philadelphia Explorer’s Club, Antarctica, 1913.’ However, as Lock in his faux-role explains, though Belden claims to have been on the original doomed journey of those explorers, he in fact was not, & was only perhaps a traveler on a later journey to that same destination. Furthermore, Belden is said to have gone insane during this expedition, was committed to an asylum upon his return, & these recovered journals were found at that particular estate after his death. By these turns, LAND OF THE SNOW MEN is a snowball in a snowball in a snowball.
“Day in and day out, the picture outside the window is the same–a lonely, whirling chaos of snow. The picture with its ice cliffs and icy spires suggests portals or prosceniums; but there is no tension, no feeling that something is about to happen on a bare stage, but rather that something did happen, at the very beginning of time, never to be repeated. I spend the daylight hours, sketching Piranesi-like prison settings–empty, chill, and fabulous.”
Lock already wonderfully mixes the poetic with the concrete, a feat not easily done, so what this extra premise does for the reader is setup an even more layered reading, one where underneath every moment is another, & so on – a book akin to nesting dolls.
& whether or not you get wrapped in the idea of the mad man’s pretend journal from a trip that was not what he claimed, & may never have been, recovered & edited by Lock, with illustrations also recovered & re-defined by Derek White, LAND OF THE SNOW MEN is still a biting & joyous read. The way in which Lock uses language is simply one word next to the other, an unassuming accumulation of phrases that lead the reader to a profound literary joy.
“‘Antartica is!’ he shouted. ‘It is out there!’ He pointed to the window beyond which there certainly was something white and empty-looking. ‘And in here as well.’ (He meant the room in which we had gathered in anticipation of yet another slide show of Ponting’s travels–this time in China.) ‘But where Antarctica is not is here!’ He tapped his forehead twice. ‘Unless you let it seep in like a cold draft!’ Having worked himself up this far, he could only sputter in conclusion: ‘If you people want to suffer, for Heaven’s sake, do!’”
Check out LAND OF THE SNOW MEN here.
Next up, TRILCE by James Wagner.