Reviews

Once Upon a Teller Fell
2016

To say this book is exquisite fails to do it justice, yet exquisite is the closest I can come to, in an attempt to convey the way that this story makes the reader feel. Each and every word has been perfectly and beautifully placed, yet somehow, the labour that must have gone into this writing is not passed on to the reader. There is no sense of convoluted trying to be, in either the sentences or the story. And though soothing in its poetry the story has a dark suspense, the mystery of which, though I am more than half way through I have not managed to unravel or guess at. In this tale, the markers and material of time and place disintegrate and reform in a way which manages to capture the true feeling of such an unreal situation. The whole story could be a happening within a few seconds or over the space of long months, and as I read I find myself wondering if the teller is dreaming, or writing, delirious, lost, or if what he is experiencing is actually a truer impression of humanity’s daily grappling than the linear bound reality which holds our perception of living.

The story unfolds in the City of Trees and at the same time in the teller’s relationship with his wife and two children who he is telling the story to, at once or in another time and place, past or future or concurrently. This shifting is seamless with the children slipping into the place where the teller is perhaps via his story, or perhaps through their own playful capacity . . . who knows, who knows! As each character’s ways are delicately revealed layer upon layer I find myself in love with them all.

This is a book to read slowly, to savour, so as not to miss anything, this is perhaps a book to read and then start again at once, when the meaning of what comes before is illuminated by what comes towards the end. Will for instance this passage just read, grow in meaning in the next few pages, or will its relevance be returned to in subtle ways much later:

‘Luck is a rhythm of this place. You can trace it. It’s in the falling of bricks in the empty gaps between people. It’s in the sudden decision to turn the other way, out of the path of a speeding car. It’s hidden in plain sight, finding dropped things on the ground. It ripples along like a stone skimming on water. Sometimes the stone lands in places time and time again. This is where the luck is heavy.’ (p.107)

Once Upon a Teller Fell is deeply searching without being arduous, incidentally philosophical, and poetic in the pin point precise description which evidences the writer’s capacity to notice everyday details with awe and thereby to enchant the reader with the tenderness of living. I so wish I could write like this.

Sylwyn
 
 
Four Kinds of Wreckage (Savage Short Loves: Volume I)
2013

What a wonderful collection of short-short, bite-sized story morsels. This is a fabulous book to take on a train, plane, or ferry ride. The stories are short enough that you’ll never leave off mid-story. The author’s voice is compassionate, passionate, and deep at times. I enjoyed reading a few, then letting my head rest back while I lingered in my mind thinking about the moments in the stories. The author did a good job easing me into his voice. I found the last two-thirds of the book packed with emotion.

Ty Roper
 
 
Disintegration and Other Stories
2012

A beautiful collection of gently crafted stories. Something to recognise in every one. Like a good wine they are something to savour.

Miss J. Hollyhock
 
 
While it is daft to award books star ratings in general, it is particularly so with this calibre of fiction. I began the collection gingerly, finding the opening title story a bit too understated for my tastes. This, however, seemed to be an intentional placement with this body of work. Disintegration immerses you gently into the waters of Seath’s writing. To have opened with something else might have felt too ‘much’. By the time I got into the third short story – Zarathustra Requiem – I was infatuated with the collection. I was in a world of hypnotic colour, where time, place and space weren’t quite important. Seath’s writing has a nice flexibility to it, to begin with I was taken with the economy of language, the subtlety. But this is a writer who changes colour according to the needs of the story. Princess of the Underworld is dizzying and nauseous with imagery (in a good way). The sense of traversing continents, cultures and times reminds me a little of Jorge Luis Borges shorts. I was particularly taken with The Sad Tale of Idira, in Pieces (which I feel I can see in my mind so clearly as though it was film) and the penultimate A Sickness of Princes, which was my very favourite. I suspect I will someday name a pet after its heroine in fact. The collection is by no means perfect, but I struggle to say anything critical to balance my various gushing. This is at turns what I’d consider Literary Fiction, or Magic Realism, or both. It’s for readers with an interest in the human condition, in contemporary folk stories, in alternate poetic realities. I’m very happy to find something independently published of this standard, which is why I’m going for the full five McDonalds stars. It’s by no means up there in the lofty heights of my favourite books, but then again I wouldn’t be that surprised if something he wrote in the future was.

Ms Kirsty Fox
 
 
Seath’s Disintegration and Other Stories is as oneiric as it is sobering — a pinpoint of light in a subterranean place, seeking to illuminate the furtive eidolons of fragile lives. The collection’s mantra — we tumble end over end over endlessly — addresses the wearing down of the self, an endless pathway to disintegration. And as with Cortázar, there is a preoccupation with time — stones, levigated by the sempiternal push and pull of tides, are a recurring metaphor. Moreover, in conjuring up the patina of time, the narrator of The Sad Tale of Idira, in Pieces fears that the town of Idira will disperse completely — a slow descent into a void.

It is also a collection about the synaesthesia of love, where a cross modal path (the sexes, language, etc) is needed to regain what time maddeningly robs from us. This in most evident in Disintegration and has a literal meaning (synaesthesia of color and sound) in The Juice of Five Loves. But ultimately love is entropic; it moves relentlessly toward greater chaos, and Seath asks, ‘what can we know of love though until the process of disintegration begins?’

The journey to disintegration and beyond is meticulously studied in the Kubrickian odyssey called Zarathustra Requiem and A Scryer’s Illness is about a quivering Nostradamus — is he ill or simply an impotent Fisher King? A Sickness of Princes is the longest story in the collection, and like nested Russian matryoshka dolls, each opening to reveal another wooden figurine, we find stories nested within stories. But stories, time, and space in this collection are inherently unstable. Picture, if you will, Duchamp’s nude descending a staircase: can we really tell one ghostly fragment from another?

The collection is also about the delirium of words. The notion that killing a book, as related in A Book, a Death, the Priest and his Belief, can be a capital offense, at par with having killed a man, is placidly beyond one’s ken in the way that a tiger sharing a house with a family in Cortázar’s Bestiary is considered normal. Yet words, throughout this weave of stories, are seen to be multifaceted: they can be drowned; they can be erased (palimpsests — in keeping with the disintegration theme); they can be heavy and indelible — in short, a cat’s cradle of functionality, like the labyrinthine workings of the search for self.

The author tellingly pays homage to Wagner’s opera Tristan and Isolde, where disintegration of tonality, which prefigures the monstrous modernity of 20th century music, is a hallmark. The opera’s opening phrase, a leitmotif associated with Tristan, is notable for a particular chord which is said to be revolutionary, not because of the harmony, but rather because of its extended duration (a caesura of sorts), giving full and languid expression to a feeling of suspension, disorientation, and disintegration — and that’s precisely what Seath delivers in this collection.

Prospero
 
 
Intelligently written and a pleasure to read, I have just finished reading ‘Disintegration and Other Stories’. Thank you, Joel Seath. I thoroughly enjoyed your collection of excellent short stories. ‘Princess of the Underworld’ was my personal favourite.

Luke M. Sutton
 
 

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