A Review of Steve Moore’s Somnium

SomniumA Fantastic Romance by Steve Moore.
ISBN 9781907222061
Published by Strange Attractor Press 2011.

Steve Moore’s Somnium is a rare and affecting novel where all is not as it seems. Even its sub-title, ‘A Fantastic Romance’, is allusion to an archaic meaning, linking it with the Medieval genre of allegorical dream-vision and to notions of chaste courtly love, rather than modern pulp-fiction.

The novel concerns the night-time explorations and excavations of a troubled writer – Kit Morley – who is withdrawing from the “stink” of 19th century London to the parochial wilds of rural Shooters Hill. As the book opens Morley is at a crossroads in his life, he is ensconced in grim solitude at The Bull coaching house about to embark on writing his first novel, also called Somnium, under the tutelage of his chosen muse – the ever-changing moon.

Using Morley’s diaries as a framing device we are drawn past the corporeal shenanigans of The Bull into the moon-enchanted world of the indolent Endimion Lee, an Elizabethan courtier and the protagonist of Morley’s novel.

In somnolent wonder the narrative wends and winds through dreamscapes and visions, reminiscence and déjà vu, erotic and celibate, fabricating as it goes a subconscious and subterranean Somnium, an oneiric palace where the moon is worshiped in her many forms. The palace is envisioned progressively within each dream and fugue, marbled walls rising in darkness, halls and chambers emerging from ruined shadows into fine gleaming detail. There is even a vast library of moon-related fantasies, an “unending array of liminal never-written dream tomes”, where both Endimion Lee and Kit Morley find copies of their own, as yet unfinished, versions of the Somnium book.

Moore’s evocative descriptive powers readily bring to mind intricately detailed archetypal lunar images. The bone-white marbled architecture of the dream citadel ebbing in the moonlit gloaming conjures the landscape of the Moon tarot trump. The underlying theme of initiatory resurrection, rebirth and reincarnation contained in the tarot trump is evident in the novel’s structural motif of the multiple rewritings of Somnium found in the lunar library. The theme is also explored in the interplay between the first-person narrator – Kit Morley, the fictionalised Endimion Lee and “S” the future shadow of the author of the current book.

The plot-line becomes a compelling mobius strip, without formal chapters. As layers of story within story, dream within dream, book within book are built up and burnished, the hard outlines between author, writer and fictional character meld and coalesce. Similarly, the women in Morley’s life – his sister, his lover and servants – merge and overlay his encounters with moon deities. Gazing at Cynthia, his lover, Morley envisions “Diana, sometime naked, sometime clad; sometime queen or charming child. Here Diana, there Selene: three-form Hecate, magic, stern and mild. Sky-girl, huntress, night lamp, priestess, all of these she was and more”.

For me the book expresses an unfamiliar, specifically masculine, take on moon goddesses; encompassing both the erotic and the chaste, both the domineering and the child-like. Although Selene is shown as multi-formed, tripartite even, there is no mention of the ubiquitous moon / menstrual correlations, which as a woman were my first entry into lunar gnosis. In this way the book pushes at the boundaries of my own expectations, draws me into other surprising conclusions; in a celibate courtly dream world unrequited physical love is idealised, unfulfilled incestuous yearnings become purified, a thought-construction that is complex and strange in the twenty-first century.

Finally completed five years ago, drawn from decades of detailed personal dream diaries, the book was published by Mark Pilkington’s Strange Attractor Press at the end of last year in a beautiful hardback limited edition. In an afterword Alan Moore, (no relation) long-time friend and collaborator of Steve Moore, expresses his unfounded doubts that the book could find a publisher in the current profit-driven climate of the book industry. It is no surprise that the book was picked up by the independent Strange Attractor Press, who with their solid reputation for high-quality occulture publications, a fine back-catalogue of unusual and counter-cultural books, and their eclectic and thought-provoking Strange Attractor Journal, seem perfectly placed to bring the Somnium project into manifestation.

Although not a populist book by dint of its tone, content and distribution, it has a captivating quality that will attract some and repel others. For me, Moore’s prose is exquisite and alluring, swelling with subtlety and suggestion, and it will bear repeated reading.

“May not the stars be plucked and set into a sparkling crown? The tails of comets wove into a scarf that trails all sequinated through the sky?”

Jean Dark
June 2012

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