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||The Eye of the Lens
193mm x 125mm
Reprint of 1972 Macmillan Company edition
Distributed by New English Library Ltd
ISBN 0 86130 022 X
|Contains most of Langdon Jones' brilliant Speculative Fiction
stories which first appeared in New Worlds. Mervyn Peake's editor, atypical and radically imaginative. One of the core NW writers together with Moorcock, Ballard, Harrison, Sladek, Butterworth, etc, who so upset straight-laced SF readers of the time. These
stories still read powerfully.
Michael Heslop cover art.
A few copies of this title are still available.
"Reading the book, it is not difficult to understand why, as Jones explains in his introduction, publishers have been reluctant to touch it. Nor is it any surprise, considering their eclectic and iconoclastic output, that it is Savoy of Manchester who have finally rectified the omission.
Only one of the stories could be described as instantly likeable, Symphony no. 6 in C Minor "The Tragic", by Ludwig van Beethoven II.
From this understated beginning the piece continues in its recounting of the life and works of a composer who originally preferred law, and used to study at night by candlelight after his hated music lessons. But even in the midst of such hilarity we are in the presence of a writer of very dark vision. The black humour of Beethoven's overshadowed namesake finds its echoes in the black landscapes of The Garden of Delights, in which a man visiting his now derelict childhood home slips back in time to make love to his mother, all the while knowing it will be the only full moment of his otherwise empty life. Along similar lines The Time Machine describes the final assignation of an adulterous affair through a slowly dislocating sense of time. The Great Clock, the only 'linear' story in the book, portrays a desperately mechanical existence, whilst the title storyin fact three linked piecesis like a collage of madness, enigma and surrealism.
Even at his most conventional, Jones' aims are not those of more traditional writers. He is quite firmly in the New Worlds 'school', whose only common aim was to extend the possibilities of representing experience, and find more worthy areas of experience to explore. In his introduction he discusses the kind of non-sequential writing which he attempts, making clear that he never intended anything but 'experimental writing', whilst occasionally seeming to display a naive puzzlement that there could be any other way for a serious, writer to approach his work.
On the other hand, none of the stories present immense problems of understanding, though they all require work to uncover their depths. The Great Clock is laboriously sequential, Ludwig van Beethoven II is a pseudo-article, and The Garden of Delights employs an old trick of nesting flashbacks, with an ironic twist. The Time Machine and The Eye of the Lens only present difficulties if viewed in rigidly traditional terms: if approached as something like a collage, or a piece of music, and not made to yield up some kind of 'story', they can reveal a great deal.
Jones' work has a stark power, derived largely from the nature of his themes: sex, madness, and a bleak and isolated view of life and death. The Eye of the Lens ought to sell far better than it will, but any reader with more than half a brain will go out now and do his bit to rectify that injustice."
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