Last week I tuned into the online launch of Pauline Melville’s ‘The Master Of Chaos’ – a brand new book of fables… courtesy of her Scottish publishers, Sandstone. The award winning author is not keen on the term ‘short stories’…. it kinda lacks the magic and, in the case of this fresh and totally absorbing volume, I definitely agree.
Though Zoom style events have become the norm in Covid… this potentially illuminating conversation between Pauline and Margaret Busby – her good friend and Britain’s first Black publisher – was fraught with techno blips. Pauline is more at home in the Iwokrama rain forest in Guyana than on the web and it seemed somewhat apt that at each pivotal moment of the reading she would vanish into the digital ether only return to pick up the thread on another continent or in a different city or in a different dimension. Brilliant!
Back in 2019 via #SNC100 I had revisited in the story that Pauline had penned for us after an encounter with Brazilian songstress Flora Purim. However, it was a more recent encounter with Alexei Sayle – who had worked with Pauline on the 80s alt-comedy series The Young Ones – that I was able to renew a friendship that goes back decades. All I had to do was find a red Nissan Micra.
Pauline Melville is a one-off. She has lived life and radiates enthusiasm for the absurd… she was thrilled at the story of Bolsonaro being hospitalised after a ten day bout of hiccups. She has roots in Guyana – both African and Amerindian – and in the Old Kent Road. There’s also a Scottish connection. Pauline is a traveller and a fabulous story teller. Both her first book Shape Shifter along with the prize winning Ventriloquist Tale are stamped into my consciousness.
On our first catch up – in what felt like a decade – she immediately informed me of this latest volume. I couldn’t wait to grab a copy and while awaiting its arrival I couldn’t resist ordering a couple of copies for friends… spread the word baby! Upon the book’s arrival I immediately hunkered down and demolished a few stories. Salman Rushdie is right… this is “a virtuoso performance”. The reader is transported. Fourteen fables for the times which span Georgetown, Glasgow, Yarmouth (& Hamelin), Petersburg, Buenos Aires, Grenada, Czechoslovakia, Syria….
Expect to encounter the unexpected… Pauline is a radics… her friends range far and wide across the cultural and political spectrum… and her visions reflect an openness that shuns dogma replacing it with a huge dose of humanity, often laced with a spritely and fierce humour. In The Dostoyevsky Room a group Russian intellectuals and writers ponder a grant from the EU. It’s a classic. One Guyana tale deals with fate and spans Georgetown and Lewisham while the other fizzes amid nature and introduces us to Uncle Tommy and Uncle Horace , the chief Arawak speaker of the Pakuri Village. There’s the dark shadow of the political prisoners and the discovery of a fascist murderer. The Fable Of A God Forgotten drop us into a visceral, all night, physical and mental fight for one’s life. On a suicide tip you can join a conversation between Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary in a room… waiting. There are tricksters and angels.
Welcome to the world of Pauline Melville. Dive in… and I definitely benefited from googling Hamelin and Ocelan! It’s the perfect read for yet another globally turbulent summer.