Saturday, July 02, 2022

Book Review: Living in the Magical Mode by Phil Smith

Living in the Magical Mode: Notes from the Book of Minutes of a Guild of Shy Sorcerers
Phil Smith
Triarchy Press, 2022, £16

The Blair Witch Project spawned a fashion for found-footage films: this is a found-manuscript book.

"Edited" by Phil Smith, Living in the Magical Mode attempts to tell the story of a book club that turns from Waterstone's special offers to the "English eerie" and such books as Arthur Machen's The Great God Pan.

The manuscript extracts that break up the book's argument encourages readers to take up psychogeography themselves and plot their own routes through it.

And in parts it reads like a satire of such fashionable ideas:

For heaven's sake we used to be a book club. ... Now we're caught up in a never-ending backstory of haunted cultural studies; half the members watching old TV programmes they didn't even like as kids. Christmas ghost story rubbish, cheapo 70s teatime serials...

Yet Living in the Magical Mode also has references. Genuine references. I've checked.

On its weird journey it takes in some of my own touchstones. There's Edwin Muir and his post-apocalyptic poem The Horses.

Muir was in the collection of poetry I studied for O level English Literature. When I become education secretary I shall denounce "cultural vandalism" if I find he's not being studied today.

There's the D.H. Lawrence short story The Rocking Horse Winner, which I also studied at school. It was filmed with a young John Howard Davies who had already been David Lean's Oliver Twist. He grew up to produce Monty Python and Fawlty Towers.

And there's the psychologist Raymond Cattell. A thumping eugenicist, he directed a child guidance clinic in Leicester in the 1930s and was still being published by the British Psychological Society in the 1980s. I know because I set the article.

Living in the Magical Mode ends with a rescued pamphlet on Hauntology and the Quatermass-inspired words:

We all catch the train at Hob's Lane...

Before I catch it, let me say that if you want to know more about Phil Smith's work you should look at the Triarchy Press website or a guest post he wrote for me back in 2014.

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