Read Playing Possum by Kevin Davey Online


Fleeing from a violent incident in London in 1922, pursued by police and the author, Tom spends a troubled night in the Duke of Cumberland hotel in Whitstable. Demobilised soldiers hold a meeting below his window and a silent movie is being shot on the seafront. Davey draws on local history and literature, songs, films and artwork from the period to produce a novel Eliot hFleeing from a violent incident in London in 1922, pursued by police and the author, Tom spends a troubled night in the Duke of Cumberland hotel in Whitstable. Demobilised soldiers hold a meeting below his window and a silent movie is being shot on the seafront. Davey draws on local history and literature, songs, films and artwork from the period to produce a novel Eliot himself would have enjoyed....

Title : Playing Possum
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9780957363588
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 185 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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Playing Possum Reviews

  • Hugh
    2018-10-18 18:06

    When this book was shortlisted for the Goldsmith's Prize back in September very few people had heard of the book, the author or the publisher. Since then it has also been shortlisted for the Republic of Consciousness Prize, and has gained a reputation as one of the best experimental novels of the year. It is playful, surreal, poetic and richly allusive, and I suspect that I would have gained even more from it if I had a greater familiarity with T.S. Eliot.The book centres on an American poet Thomas Stern, who shares many of Eliot's characteristics, and might be seen as an alter ego constructed from clues in the poems, who kills his wife and flees heading for the Kent coast, but is forced to spend a night in Whitstable where most of the book's events take place. This is mixed up with the story of the modern narrator, and of a crew who are making a film of the story, and the police investigation, and events keep switching between the various perspectives often several times on the same page. The language is also a playful blend of Eliot, slang, modern neologisms and jazz poetry, and the whole thing is quite a dizzying mixture, but a very pleasant and entertaining one to read. Other subplots involve the painter Otto Dix, the films of Charlie Chaplin, the history of Whitstable itself and the rise of socialism in the British politics of the 1920s.Those who look for them will find all manner of allusions to real events and people - I will not attempt to compete with the excellent and very thorough reviews by my Mookse friends Paul, Gumble's Yard, Neil and especially Jonathan, all of which are much more detailed and perceptive than my paltry effort.

  • Paul Fulcher
    2018-11-08 18:00

    Re-read after its deserved inclusion on the outstanding longlist for the 2017 Republic of Consciousness Prize for 'gorgeous prose and hardcore literary fiction' from small, independent presses. First time round, I focused in my review (see below) on the macro aspects of the references in Playing Possum. 2nd time around, and prompted by Jonathans brilliant review ( I was equally struck by the sheer level of detail in the text.Taking one early paragraph, which I chose to look in to pretty much at random, a sighting of the fleeing Thomas walking down a street: Thomas slides between buttered cones of light draped around the streetlamps by Grammatte (sic). Otto transforms them into patterned shellburst on black stalks.- No drum fatalistic? No geranium?- I don’t understandThe detective should be highly intelligent but not superhuman.First time round, I simply let this pass as description. Now, researching it reveals:Walter Gramatté's (NB the different spelling, I suspect a small error on Davey's behalf) Street by Night, painted in 1922andStreet Lamps, the 1913 painting by Otto Dix (who plays a key role in the story)And the drum fatalistic and geranium? Those come from TS Eliot's own "Rhapsody on a Windy Night", whose first verse reads:Twelve o'clock. Along the reaches of the street Held in a lunar synthesis, Whispering lunar incantations Dissolve the floors of memory And all its clear relations, Its divisions and precisions, Every street lamp that I pass Beats like a fatalistic drum, And through the spaces of the dark Midnight shakes the memory As a madman shakes a dead geranium.As for the "highly intelligent but not necessarily superhuman" - these come from TS Eliot's own 1927 rules for detective fiction from The Criterion. It is followed, in the original, by the admonition that 'we should be able to follow his inferences and almost, but not quite, make them with him,' which serves as a good summary of this novel. Upgraded to 5 stars for the sheer inventiveness. Original reviewI won't lose Tom. I already know where he is going. I bought my ticket ten minutes before his arrival, certain that he would make his way to the Albermarle Hotel in Cliftonville, a refuge high above the English Channel. It's the kind of spot where credulous people kid themselves they can see France. An airy and well to do resort, it's somewhere Tom has played possum before.In its 5 years of existence, the Goldsmiths Prize has raised the bar of British literary prizes, leaving the Booker trailing in its wake, and this year’s very strong shortlist maintains the standard. But in a list of big hitters and clear stand-out novels, that contained four of my original 8 guesses ( plus one obvious contender (Shark) I’d overlooked, the stand-out surprise was Playing Possum, a novel so below-the-radar at the time of listing that it wasn’t even listed on Goodreads.Playing Possum is Kevin Davey’s debut novel, although he has written non-fiction, notably co-authoring Moscow Gold? The Soviet Union and the British left with Paul Anderson (more on that later), and is published by the small independent press aaaargh! Press co-run by Anderson:Aaargh! Press was set up by cultural revolutionaries to transform the world – one word at a time. Actually, it’s an alternative press just like all alternative presses – but we’re trying to do it with the technology of the age. We’re unashamed libertarian socialists, but most of all we want ideas to come out to play.This wonderfully quirky Youtube book preview gives an excellent flavour of this fascinating and deeply involving novel: Possum tells the story of an American-born London-based poet, Tom Stern, who in mid -1922, kills his wife Fanny (manslaughter? murder? or just a wishful fantasy?) and then flees the scene of the ‘crime’ to the Kent coast. ‘Tom’ (or Thomas) is obviously meant to be TS (Thomas Stearns) Eliot. Slightly less obviously Fanny is Fanny Marlow, a pseudonym used by TS Eliot's wife Vivienne Haigh-Wood Eliot when she wrote pieces for the literary journal, The Criterion (, which TS Eliot created and edited and Valerie named, (Eliot boasted: “it will present in translation writings of foreign men of letters, whose work should be better known in England"). Immediately we realise that Playing Possum is playing a literary game. TS Eliot did have a very troubled relationship with Vivienne but certainly didn’t kill her. But he did kill off her literary alter-ego after complaints about a particularly gossipy piece she wrote, Diary of the Rive Gauche (, the July 1925 edition containing a Jeffrey-Bernard type note that she was unable to continue “due to illness”.The novel is timed around TS Eliot’s famous modernist poem The Waste Land, published in late 1922 in The Criterion, but mainly written in late 1921 and early 1922 while convalescing with Vivienne in Margate, staying at Albermarle Hotel in Cliftonville ( and then in a sanatorium in Lausanne under the care of Dr Roger Vittoz ( In the novel, Tom flees the scene of his crime to once again return to the Margate hotel, pursued by our narrator. But the scene as they both arrive at Victoria station showcases another aspect to the novel – our narrator is making the journey in the present day, 90 years later, retracing Tom's steps, but somehow his time and Tom’s from the 1920s are co-mingled in a present tense narration. Thomas enters a smoke-shrouded chaos: coal porters, luggage porters, rough sleepers, horses and distressed livestock, automated announcements, mailsacks, uniformed staff, sushi bars, label stickers, Southern Rail apologists, queuebusters with wifi dispensers, fruit sellers, trolley pushers, commuters, milk cans, Chinese tourists, commercial travellers, an Italian crocodile, clover kickers up to haggle mortgages, womankind with hatboxes, rent boys in designer swag, parasols and bonnets, police officers in stab vests with strap-on semiautomatics, infantrymen slouched by carbine stooks.…I won't lose Tom. I already know where he is going. I bought my ticket ten minutes before his arrival, certain that he would make his way to the Albermarle Hotel in Cliftonville, a refuge high above the English Channel. It's the kind of spot where credulous people kid themselves they can see France. An airy and well to do resort, it's somewhere Tom has played possum before. As our narrator opines:Tenses are mythologies, futile attempts to fix time and sequence, faked coordinates for points that don't exist. Tense past and tense future present as imperfect. Although due to industrial unrest (more below), Tom doesn’t make it to Cliftonville and instead spends most of the novel in Whitstable.The Waste Land was a key modernist milestone, playing much the same role in poetry as Joyce’s Ulysses plays in the world of the novel, and indeed TS Eliot’s review of Ulysses (“‘the most important expression which the present age has found”) was one of the first to acknowledge its genius ( And in the novel, Tom carries round a proof copy of Ulysees. The Waste Land is described to the narrator by a schoolteacher:In the aftermath of war, the traditional sources of authority were weakened. The modernist cut-up, the medley of competitions voices reflects this. Unattributed voices, a patchwork of quotation. What holds this poem together and how? You boy." The answer the teacher expected … time.And in Playing Possum Davey follows a similar approach, although with different threads running in parallel, creating a wonderful kaleidoscope of voices and a text brimming with imagery, allusions to The Waste Land (a local story of a suicide of a sea captain – death by water – being an obvious example), local Whitstable history, political history (with the 1926 general strike brewing on the horizon) but also different mediums – film, music hall (particularly Marie Lloyd), detective stories (the narrator and Tom are both reading Agatha Christie’s The Mysterious Affair at Styles, the plot of which relies on double jeopardy) and modern art (see below).As the narrator says:I was on the brink of a yawning gulf between painting and the cinema, storytelling and gaming, music and dance. As mentioned previously the novel blends, as if contemporaneous, the story of Tom in 1921, and the narrator following in his footsteps 90 years later. But Davey also works in, again in wonderfully intertwined parallel, an account of the police investigation of and later trial of the ‘crime’ (one that contains acknowledged echoes of the Crippen case, even down to the murder taking place at the fictitious ‘Crippence Court Gardens’) and that of a film being made and then later watched of the events.I’m sure I missed many if not most of the references packed into the novel, but I had great fun spotting what I could and following them through outside of the book. Some examples are below. I did occasionally find myself wishing (as Sara Baume has done in her Goldsmith’s shortlisted book A Line Made by Walking) that the author could perhaps have provided his own appendix of references, but one suspects he was forewarned by TS Eliot’s experience with The Waste Land (from T.S. Eliot, "The Frontiers of Criticism," (1956) I must admit that I am, on one conspicuous occasion, not guiltless of having led critics into temptation. The notes to The Waste Land! I had at first intended only to put down all the references for my quotations, with a view to spiking the guns of critics of my earlier poems who had accused me of plagiarism. Then, when it came time to print The Waste Land as a little book - for the poem on its first appearance in The Dial and in The Criterion had no notes whatever - it was discovered that the poem was inconveniently short, so I set to work to expand the notes, in order to provide a few more pages of printed matter, with the result that they became the remarkable exposition of bogus scholarship that is still on view to-day. I have sometimes thought of getting rid of these notes; but now they can never be unstuck. .. I regret having sent so many enquirers off on a wild goose chase after Tarot cards and the Holy Grail. One of the cleverest features in Davey’s telling is how, in the novel’s world, the 'murder' is captured in two famous paintings - ones which actually exist but which (of course) weren't of TS Eliot killing his wife (as he didn't).The Menaced Assassin by Magritte (called The Murdered Menaced in the book): And Otto Dix's Lustmord paintings – the German modernist painter (who actually is not known to have met TS Eliot) acting as a scene-of-crime-tidying (but not before painting a picture for the historic record) accomplice in the novel. The best known (and somewhat graphic) Lustmord is here ( The book refers to 'London Lustmord' which produces only one direct hit on google but which seems to be the picture described: also play a key role. During the time in which the book is set, a film was being made in Whitstable - Head of the Family ( – and the cast and crew form characters in the novel.There are also frequent references to Mabel Normand in Race for Life (, believed to be the first movie to feature the device of a damsel tied to the tracks by a villain, and to her later career as a collaborator with Charlie Chaplin (whose 1921 The Idle Class - - is also featured in the novel) and to her rather lurid personal life – her husband was murdered in early 1922 ( - the murderer was never found) and in 1924 her chauffeur shot a millionaire oil broker with her gun. There are also several nods to the Soviet director Eisenstein, fitting the political themes of the novel, albeit his film career took off in 1925.Political history indeed plays a key role, as per the mise-en-scène for the envisaged film of the events of the book:It's a period piece more or less. Put a plate on the gramophone, Second Hand Rose or Jonson bellyaching over a muscle mislaid. Add more coal to an open fire that's taking in the hearth. Find a tray, electroplated, arrange a silver teapot, jug and china cups on it. Place the salver on a lace tablecloth. Source a hardwood dining table, chullo chullo, or fabric, tray and tea will crash to the floor. That's it. Select a date in 1922, the second quarter of the year. Insert in it a telegram, or, better, beneath the masthead of a newspaper. Create headlines. Plan for a British Broadcasting Corporation. Birth of the Irish Republic. Chaplin back in Lambeth. Formation of Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. That kind of thing. Gandhi arrested. Railways returned to rightful owners. The hooves of horses should tick quickly through the streets below, outpacing the clock on the mantelpiece. There are more props in the cupboard by the door. As previously mentioned, Davey has previously co-authored, with the publisher of this novel, a book on the relationship between the British Left and the Soviet Union (“as members of the democratic left, they believe that communism was a disaster for left wing politics. It tied the left to tyranny and the lies and disillusion that went with it”) – indeed an update taking in Corbyn and McDonnell can be found here:’s journey to Cliftonville is interrupted by striking railwaymen and his time in Whitstable coincides with a (historically documented) protest by the local workers, with their grievances described in sympathetic detail. The protest takes place around the war memorial. Poppies were worn for the first time at the November 1921 armistice commemorations and the leader of the protest cries:Keep your paper flowers I say. We want a job for every poppy that you lay on that plinth. It also wouldn’t be a 21st Century political conscious novel without some (in this case) gentle banker bashing. Tom, as TS Eliot indeed was, works for Lloyds Bank and in one of the 1920s meets 2010s moments, on arrival in Whitstable is mistaken for ‘Fred the Shed’ (sic) ( and heckled by the locals.And Davey blends in some wonderful local history both in his vividly described setting (see and with a range of local anecdotes such as the real-life and tragic tale of Lady Elizabeth Grace and Sir John Holdsworth Dimsdale, who appear as characters in the novel ( The Goldsmith’s judges are to be congratulated for their discovery: it is a remarkable novel and fully worth its place on the list.

  • Gumble's Yard
    2018-10-15 16:00

    RE-READ DUE TO ITS LONGLISTING FOR THE REPUBLIC OF CONSCIOUSNESS PRIZE- It is quite obvious that we do not all of us inhabit the same time- It is quite obvious to me that we do- We don’t- We do- This is going nowhere- Can we agree on a point of intersection- Shshshhhhhhhh! In the dining room, in the yard, in the auditorium, here on the page, wherever and whenever we read, we experience the simultaneity of the non-simultaneousTenses are mythologies, futile attempts to fix time and sequence, faked co-ordinates for points that do not exist. Tense past and tense future present as imperfect - What’s your source? Do your dates tally?- It’s pastiche. Don’t underrate itPlaying Possum was the surprise entry on the 2017 Goldsmith Prize. It is published by the UK small publisher Aaaargh! Press, who describe themselves as “a shoestring operation, but we can run to producing an e-book every couple of months and a paperback every year or so with a bit of luck …….. there’s no subject-matter that’s barred, but we’re socialists of a countercultural, libertarian bent and we ain’t planning straight policy pamphleteering.”The plot of the book is perhaps best explained by the Goldsmith judge’s citation90 years after the first publication of The Waste Land- and perhaps far too late – a modern day protagonist seeks proof of a murder and flight. A fictional investigator pursues a fictionalised – and murderous – T.S. Eliot from London towards a perhaps fictitious night spent at a hotel in Whitstable in 1922. The aftermath of his deed may have been immortalised in a suitably shocking painting by possible accomplice Otto Dix The quote with which I opened my review captures one key element of the book – the intermingling of tense and sequence, and the “simultaneity of the non-simultaneous”: our unnamed investigator is retracing TS Eliot’s (Thomas/Tom in the book) fictional journey after a fictionalised murder of his real-life partner, some 90 years after the imaginary murder and journey took place; however at the same time he is present in many of the same frames as Tom. A classic example of this is when Thomas (pursued by the investigator) arrives at London Victoria – a station at the same time set in the 1920s and the 2010s.Thomas enters a smoke-shrouded chaos: coal porters, luggage porters, rough sleepers, horses and distressed livestock, automated announcements, mailsacks, uniformed staff, sushi bars, label stickers, Southern Rail apologists, queuebusters with wifi dispensers, fruit sellers, trolley pushers, commuters, milk cans, Chinese tourists, commercial travellers, an Italian crocodile, clover kickers up to haggle mortgages, womankind with hatboxes, rent boys in designer swag, parasols and bonnets, police officers in stab vests with strap-on semiautomatics, infantrymen slouched by carbine stooks.Another other key element of the book is its liberal and complex use of allusions both to literature (most notably links to “The Waste Land”, but also references to an Agatha Christie mystery) and to other art forms. The fictional murder is linked up with two real-life paintings, one by Magritte and one by the (to me much lesser known) German painter Otto Dix – these paintings are later taken as evidence in a trial for murder which takes place many years later and seems to be interwoven in the plot. There are also detailed references to silent cinema of the age – Charlie Chaplain, a real-life film shot in Whitstable at the time when Tom is there – and at times also the action of the book is explicitly witnessed as though part of a film (either by allusion to an audience watching the film or by imagined filming instructions). The book also features conversations overheard in a pub.Nearly 50 years after its publication, the original drafts of “The Waste Land” were found, and published – and it was found that the poem had an initial title of “He do the Police in Different Voices”, which was quickly discovered to be taken from a quote in Charles Dickens' Our Mutual Friend and is an admiring reference to a boy who reads out the papers to his illiterate employer. The working title was taken as capturing the spirit of “Waste Land”, with its range of different voices, mixing overheard conversations with literary allusions and quotations (as well as quotations from more popular culture, albeit many of the more popular cultural allusions were cut from the final version of “The Waste Land”) – of course the same technique that Davey is using here. Further it is hard not to see this original title as providing some form of inspiration for this book with in fact police and detective characters forming an important part of the story. TS Eliot, in his own literary publication Criterion (which is frequently referenced at the start of the novel, and even, as or her reviews here set out, provides a literary justification for the fictional murder of Emily's wife) included a list of rules for great detective fiction, rules which Davey systematically seeks to undermine in another example of the layered approach to this novel. third element of the book is its link to the politics of the 1920s – as Tom (and the narrator’s) visit to Whitstable, and the filming of the silent movie take place at the same time as real-life protest by local workers. Themes which come out in that protest and in overheard conversations of the locals include: anti-European sentiment, the need for a fair wage, anger at the treatment of ex-servicemen, the impact of the forces of global capitalism and multinational banks on local communities and the working class, a cry for nationalisation of the railways, industrial activism (with a threatened series of co-ordinated strikes), the somewheres versus the anywheres.A simple look at this list, and a comparison to the last year or so in UK politics, immediately of course makes the reader “experience the simultaneity of the non-simultaneous” in the political sphere.A final element of the book – threaded through all of the above is the town of Whitstable and in a nice piece of meta-fiction, the investigator and sometime narrator claims to have been employed by the local business community of Whitstable to prove that TS Eliot did indeed visit the town (and one assumes took inspiration for his poems from there) as they could cover his fees from the resulting “proceeds from a marketing drive, events, merchandise, possibly an annual festival marking Stern’s visit to the town”.Overall a complex book – one ideally placed on the Goldsmith list given its innovative approach. This is a book which will reward multiple re-reading or perhaps more specifucally, in depth readings of each page or even paragraph, as almost every metaphor, image, or choice of vocabulary in the novel turns out to offer up hidden complexities and allusions. The reader themself turns literary detective, or even finds themselves engaging with other readers on a combined investigative quest. I can only commend the reviews of Neil, Paul and Jonathan on this site. All three have uncovered a host of literary clues and mysteries in the novel. However I think all three would acknowledge that has largely been achieved with the extensive use of Google and therefore I would argue could be said to involve the use of literally (and literary) superhuman powers, and the slight uneasiness this induces in me (should an intelligent reader really be forced to rely on such a distance to truly and fully appreciate a book) was I think echoed by Eliot himself in the detective rules above.The detective should be highly intelligent but not superhuman. We should be able to follow his inferences and almost, but not quite, make them with him As an alternative to the use of Google, I was instead tempted to follow up on the various allusions in the book, by reading the poems, studying the paintings and viewing the films – to see what additional links I could discover for myself, without superhuman assistance. However an article in the 1971 New York Review of Books persuaded me against that. The article explains the literary furore that followed the discovery of the original drafts of “The Waste Land” and the inspiration for its title. It was revealed that the poem was originally to be called He Do the Police in Different Voices, and this was soon identified (TLS January 1, 1969) as derived from Chapter XVI of Dickens’s Our Mutual Friend, in which Sloppy, a foundling, is employed by Betty Higden as a boy-of-all-work and reads aloud to her from some paper like the Police Gazette, apparently imitating the characters ………….. But the result of this new discovery was to give a new priming to the pump of the Eliot industry. It was now said that, in order to grasp The Waste Land properly, it would be necessary to study not only the books which Eliot mentions in his notes, but to reread the whole of Our Mutual Friend. Is Sloppy the same person as the Tiresias of the poem? Does not water, especially the Thames, play a recurrent part in both Our Mutual Friend and The Waste Land? Is the dust mentioned in The Waste Land not connected with the dust piles of Mr. Wegg?Eventually after months of detailed correspondence in the letters pages, a correspondent asked for a halt to what he saw as a misguided search for the "true" meaning of the poem, and at least in my interpretation, called for people to simply appreciate “The Waste Land” in and of itselfA great deal of criticism of Eliot assumes that a quotation from another work implies that the whole of that work is to be borne in mind while we read the whole of the poem and that a complex unity will finally emerge from this accumulation of associations…. My argument is that Eliot often uses the quotations and echoes more locally than thisAnd overall I think this letter (from nearly 50 years ago) points at the best way to appreciate this innovative and striking novel – as one to be enjoyed in its own right, as one where a complex unity will not emerge, but as one where quotations and echoes have been used locally (in this case I think in two senses of the word “local”, given the Whitstable heavy nature of this book).

  • Jonathan Pool
    2018-10-23 10:06

    Playing Possum is my favourite read of 2017, so far. Kevin Davey has written a debut novel of scholarship, wit and social movement. It’s a work of historical fiction which at (only) 185 pages is an excellent way to discover this genre of writing.Playing Possum is shortlisted for the 2017Goldsmiths Prizefor literature, whose panel are to be congratulated on bringing this novel to wider attention. I believe Playing Possum has a real chance of winning.Playing Possible isn’t easy to review, but not because it’s a particularly difficult book. This is a book tailor made for the Spark notes or Shmoop type of study guide. A significant part of the joy in reading Playing Possum is to be had in personally spotting and connecting the myriad references and asides.The first Goodreads reviews (Paul, Gumble and Neil) set a high bar for thorough explanation and summary. Consequently the essence of the book needs only a brief resume from me.Playing Possum is ‘about’ TS Eliot, and Whitstable. Its ‘about’ detectives solving crimes and grisly murders. It’s set in a duality of time; 1922 and 2012 (and points in between). The author loves cinema, and his left wing, socialist beliefs are also given due coverage.When reading Playing Possum it doesn’t particularly help if the reader tries to order events sequentially. Events are not meant to be taken literally.The wrap around structure is straightforward. TS Eliot, forever associated with great poetry, and with a distinguished career as an editor and man of essays, was also a seriously engaged enthusiast for detective, mystery, fiction. Playing Possum is the imaginary story that TS Eliot would have written had he been a crime fiction writer.At the very start of Playing Possum Fanny says to Tom (TS Eliot and his wife): Fanny“More tap-tap-tapping into the small hours while I shiver in bed” TomI’m afraid I must… Tap-tap-dinkLast night Fanny heard bees, possibly hornets, nesting beneath the bed(4)When we reach the final page, Playing Possum ends:Tap-tap-tap Bellissima locomotiva Tap-tap-dinkFanny: ” Tom are you there? I can hear bees. Tap-tap-tap dink. ”What are you doing out there?”Tap-tap-tap-dink. Going right on to the end of the lineTom’s typewriter has reached the end of the line; the train has reached the end of the line (which it didn’t manage to achieve in the narrative!). Fanny has heard bees as in H.F Heard’s beekeeper in the detective thriller ‘A Taste of Honey’ (a book enjoyed by TS Eliot).This is how Kevin Davey writes; layers on layers. And it’s so cleverly integrated.The reader is a detective too. Not in trying to work out if a murder has taken place, but a detective in identifying the pointers and clues placed throughout the book by Kevin Davey, on every page.Davey makes no secret of his writing objective in that readers are asked to engage in researching the multiple, parallel, storylines. I jot down names as Thomas upends his glass. Later I search for details on line(94) I edit and check for sources on line(148)The Eisenstein quotation in the prologue both points us in the research direction, and embeds 1920’s film techniques as a theme in its own right; “I see quotations as outrunners on either side of a galloping horse”Eisenstein admired Walt Disney and the fluidity and mobility of the characters. Kevin Davey sets up his multiple stories, and multiple, shifting storylines. This is not sequential storytelling.Playing Possum has references that are clearly signposted, and others where the reader has to dig deep. These are some of my favourites James Joyce: Ulysses1922 was quite a year for literature. The Waste Land was published, so too, Virginia Woolf’s first modernist book (Jacob’s Room)andUlysses . The respect for Joyce by Eliot is well known. Kevin Davey makes reference to Ulysses throughout Playing Possum in a variety of different and subtle ways:Ulysses is first referred to, not by name, but as “The book with the ‘Greek flag’” (5). In honour of Odysseus Joyce was at pains to use the correct Greek blue. This was a difficult undertaking and the journey made Joyce and/or his publishers to the legendary Shakespeare & co, booksellers, in Paris. Throughout Playing Possum Ulysses and Agatha Christie’s “The mysterious affair at Styles” are interchanged, as the modernist writing and the detective genre cross over.A direct quotation from Ulysses ” ‘ fairy boy of eleven, a changeling, kidnapped ” (79); referencing Bloom’s son, Rudy in Circe.Tom and our narrator engage in their most ‘direct’ conversation in the Duke of Cumberland. The whole exchange is laden with double meaning, and rounds off: ” “Two drunks with keys, that’s what we are. I’m tired Tom. In Dublin there were two without.” Davey pays homage to the wanderings of Stephen Dedalus and Bloom in Ulysses, in Dublin ” (155) Putting Whitstable on the mapIn the light of Davey’s constructed story around his adopted town, Whitstable, perhaps there’s room for other towns to have their own chronicler?Sir John Holdsworth and Lady Dimsdale (148)Bradshaw’s guides from 1866 (on Whitstable). (64)Albemarle Hotel, Cliftonville (66) Eliot (Stern) never stayed in Whitstable. This forms part of the detective thriller plot. For Kevin Davey,in parallel, it’s of much greater importance and regret that this cannot be proven “”The guest book is now missing. Long lost. A vital piece of evidence…. Its as if Thomas Stern was never here”(66)”Documentary evidence of Stern’s visit would have benefited local traders by at least £ 250,000 annually that’s twelve and a half million in total”. The ledgers are missing!(66)Davey solves this for purposes of our detective thriller, and for Whitstable’s benefit, when Conan appears on the very last page (185) and declares “”It’s the register you were looking for. From the Duke” ””The next Brighton, that’s what Whitstable could be” (108)Dublin has its Bloomsday each June in honour of James Joyce. Eliot to become Whitstable’s adopted son ? TS Eliot: The personGeoffrey Grigson“Grigson said he never heard Tom laugh. I’m guessing Grigson was a bore”(12) A poet himself, and literary critic, Grigson reviewed Eliot in ”Recollections”London Library“I was a husband once again, and properly so. President of the library, Was it going to end like this? – Maybe those who stand proud have no sure footing”(36)In rapid sequence Eliot’s presidency (of the London Library (1952-65) is moulded into the husband/wife thriller, and rounded off by a quotation from Lucius Seneca.Eliot’s friendship with Bertrand Russell was compromised when Eliot was cuckolded by his supposed friendOnce he had walked in on Bertie…. Bertie’s closing drumroll. I am vitally needed there, he would write(75)Each in his prison like Bertie, the charmer, the toff with the lot who helped himself to more(165)Ezra PoundEzra has a nose for what’s coming Tom. For what’s new(143) I would stay and become a successful writer, another Henry James, but with better shaved prose. (20)Eliot had told Virginia Woolf, his friend, that he and his wife Vivien, were so incompatible that he could not even imagine shaving in his wife’s presence Selected humour and madcap asidesSome investigations of Playing Possum produce answers that are funny, bizarre, macabreCats in a morgue“Cats are not permitted in this building under any circumstances. Whenever someone dies….if a moggie does get in, it starts with the face. The cheeks and nostrils usually. Especially when it’s not being fed(47)Song lyrics;“turn around bright eyes(99) “ sheeeee stood there laughing. I felt the knife in my hand and she laughed no more(59). Kevin Davey is part of a club that includes Will Self and Salman Rushdie who bring pop lyrics into the narrative!Channel Tunnel ”The tunnel is outlandish, Mr Stern, an ill-conceived swindle…. The usurers behind Sir Arthur Fell are not welcome in Kent “(106)Duke of Cumberland. Culloden. Butcher “The Duke’s the superior of the two (public houses) sir. Plush and pleasing they say. I wouldn’t know. Many calls it the Butcher.The Butcher? Why’s that?Culloden sir” (64)When I visit Whitstable, which I plan to do in the light of this book, I will not be able to resist asking for directions to “The Butcher” and find out if that is an acknowledged reference among localsChinamen commuters, milk cans, Chinese tourists…(29) ” A group of Chinese students enters the bar…”(119)How and why is this relevant? Robert Knox, a mystery writer and Catholic Priest, belonged to the “Detective Club” (including, also, Agatha Christie). Knox drew up the 10 Commandments of Detective Fiction, in which number 5 stated that “No Chinaman must figure in the story”. The Golden age of detective fiction was the 1920s and 1930s; the concept of “fair play” was the idea that a receptive reader would have a good chance of solving the mystery. A very appropriate wrap around for “Playing Possum”Chapter titles.A SNOWMAN BLEW HIM AWAY. Perfectly bullet points the detective thriller, William Desmond Taylor’s shooting, and the Hollywood cocaine trade at that time (1922)LAST NIGHT I GOT LOW DEAD (loaded)AGON(y) classical Greek for agony in tragedyMr Kevin Davey introduces himself, appropriately for a story in which film production is central. His Hitchock-ian appearance is as “Davey. The draper”(108). Apparently he’s a gabster, wearing a lapis lazuli…!!!???Playing Possum is such a multi layered, cross referenced book. I could have written this review in ten different ways. Much material I’ve left uncovered, and there’s plenty more to research and, hopefully, hear about from other readers.Of the questions I’m left with, these are the ones that most frustrate me:• Why does the director of “The Head of the Family” appear throughout as Manning HAYES and not Manning HAYNES?• What does goo get the Jodrell (34) mean?• Who is Wilton, the soccer boss slaked in Lake Gourich?(141)• Why Charley Roscuro? (it must be something other than the Tale of Despereaux)

  • Neil
    2018-11-10 12:10

    Now re-read, as I indicated would happen at the end of the review below. Since I wrote the first review, Jonathan has written an excellent review of his own that points out the plethora of links and references in this book. As with Paul's and Gumble's Yard's reviews, Jonathan's is well worth reading. with the mass of links that Jonathan has pointed out, I think we would all recognise that we have barely scratched the surface.It is the links, references and cross-references that give so much cause for interest in this book. Well, there's also the plot with its collapsed timeline (it is simultaneously 1922, now and many points in between), and its mix of "real" action and a movie of the action (the movie being both edited and watched as we read the book).It's a book that could stand several more re-reads and would reveal new delights each time. This time, I particularly noticed some of the references back (the lighting engineer who receives a telegram, for example) and a multitude of Biblical references that didn't stand out so much first time through.A re-read confirms this as a 5-star book and makes it more likely to be my "book of 2017". -----------------------------The man behind me in the cinema leans forward and whispers - It is quite obvious that we do not all of us inhabit the same time.- It is quite obvious to me that we do.- We don't.- We do.- This is going nowhere.- Can we agree on a point of intersection?- Shshshhhhhhh!In the dining room, in the yard, in the auditorium, here on the page, wherever and whenever we read, we experience the simultaneity of the non-simultaneous.Tenses are mythologies, futile attempts to fix time and sequence, faked coordinates for points that do not exist. Tense past and tense future present as imperfect.This is not a long book, but it is one of those books that could take you a lifetime to understand fully. It’s a detective story, sort of.At the time of writing, there are already two excellent reviews of this book available on Goodreads. You can read them here: I recommend that you do read them. This is a book that cannot be spoiled by reading reviews but, in fact, is probably helped by collecting some background information. These two reviews are both extremely well thought through and capture a lot of what is so unique and enjoyable about this book.I thought long and hard about how to approach a review of this book and I quickly realised that all I would do would be to replicate what Paul and Gumble’s Yard have already written. Better, I think, to point you towards their reviews and then record just a few of my own thoughts.The "plot", such as it is, is relatively simple. It is 1922 and Thomas Stern (evidently representing T.S. - Thomas Stearns - Eliot) apparently kills his wife, Fanny (might be murder, might be manslaughter, might not have actually happened) and flees the scene heading for the coast in Kent. He doesn’t make it to his preferred destination, but ends up in The Duke of Cumberland Hotel in Whitstable for a night. Here, he is witness to 1920s politics in action. There’s a bit more to it than that, but you can read about it in the reviews linked above.Where it starts to get complicated is that the book is narrated by the author who is following the same escape route as Thomas, but is doing it both in 1922 and 90 years later. Hence the quote at the start of this review: one of the things this book does that makes it slightly disconcerting to read it to collapse time. We have events that clearly, from our perspective, happened before or after each other, but which are presented here as concurrent. In fact, it is almost impossible to explain this because the whole concept of narrative normally involves things moving from one action to another according the the rules of time, but these are completely ignored here. And not only do we have all these events collapsed together, but we also have a movie being created as we go that is also part of what is happening, so some of the action turns out to be scenes from the movie.I find it almost impossible to explain what is being presented to us in this book.Another key element of the book is the literary references it makes. I decided early on in my reading of it that I would need to re-read the book at some point soon and spend more time looking at the references. For example, in just a few pages towards the end of the book, I highlighted"What strange fish has made its meal upon thee?" - The Tempest."Behind the banner trails so long a file of people" - Dante in Hell, Michael P. Riccards."Arise ye pris’ners of starvation!" - The International (L’Internationale)."As a practical way of running Russia, something may come of it." - a reference to Bolshevism via "T. S. Eliot and Dante" by Dominic Manganiello."They are not long, the days of wine and roses" - Ernest Dowson poem."And in the morning I wished it had been evening and in the evening I wished it had been morning and I had no rest, but trouble on every side." - The Liturgies of Quakerism, Pink Dandelion.And then, just to add to the confusion:"I wave a six-inch nail at him. He looks baffled.- Take that out. No one will know the reference- People sometimes like what they don’t understand."So, the book knows it it making multiple references outside of itself. This one is possibly to Laszlo’s Millions by Jon Elkon.I was reminded of two other books as I read this. Firstly, Richard Beard’s Acts of the Assassins (another Goldsmiths nominated book) which collapses time in a vaguely similar way (Jesus’ apostles are being murdered in first century Palestine surrounded by people on mobile phones/tablets who catch planes etc.). And secondly, David Markson’s Reader’s Block (and subsequent further three related novels) which consist ENTIRELY of references to other works/facts/quotes.Take that final quote: People sometimes like what they don’t understand. That perfectly summarises my feelings about this book. I didn’t understand it. But I know that I want to re-read it. And I know that, even in my incomprehension, I thoroughly enjoyed every baffling sentence!

  • Doug
    2018-10-17 12:12

    3.5 stars, rounded up after reading the excellent reviews of my four fellow M & G group members (Jonathan, Paul, Neil and Gumble), whose far more erudite reviews you should go read and eschew this one. Although I pride myself on a modicum of intelligence, and am comparatively well-read and well-educated (without the benefit of a classical education, alas), my knowledge of Eliot is limited and more firmly fixed on his plays than his poetry (given my own field of endeavor). I have also never managed to get through Joyce's 'Ulysses', which might have helped here also. Luckily, I took the time to read the Wikipedia entries on Tom & Viv prior to this book, which surely helped - although there is such an overabundance of references, that one could spend hours and hours just hunting down the clues - which having just read Sara Baume's equally referential and Goldsmith nominated 'A Line Made By Walking' and Googling each specified work of art - I wasn't eager to do. [Baume's tome rates first in my rankings of the Goldsmith nominees for this year, although I'd have to say this fulfills the dictakes of innovation a bit more - and I haven't yet read the eventual winner, H(A)PPY]. So I found this alternatingly fascinating and frustrating, and since I read more for pleasure than edification, I somewhat begrudged this book for making me feel so stupid (and here is where I embrace my fellow reviewers, as even though they each found far more references than I ever could, also admitted defeat in finding them ALL). I WAS pleased that I caught the double meaning of the title - i.e., the reference to Eliot's cat book, as well as how the expression 'playing possum' refers to pretending to be dead, and the book centers on a supposed murder that never actually happened. Additionally, much of the politics and local color employed here were also beyond my ken, and thus held little interest for me, and so I found the sections of the book that focussed on those elements a bit languid. Despite these reservations, I DID enjoy much of the book, and it was semi-fun to be thrust into the role of literary detective, alongside the novel's author/narrator, and I may very well find myself going back and doing a more thorough excavation of the clues at some point. Finally, my unending gratitude to Jonathan for providing me with a copy.

  • Robert
    2018-11-06 18:20

    If you would have told me that one day, I would actually like experimental fiction, I would have laughed. It seems that the more I read novels which explore writing from different angles, the more I prefer them to 'conventionally' written books.Playing Possum, if I understood it correctly, is about a fictionalised murder that T.S Eliot commits. To complicate matters all the actions in the book form part of a movie. To complicate matters more the text switches from the murder, the investigation, the making of the movie and the director's problems that he encounters. All different perspectives are on the same page, broken up by brief sentences. There's more. The reader also learns about Whitstable, the art of cinema, meditations on the name Tom, train trivia and a ton of puns, wordplay and alliteration, mostly with nonexistent words. Although the book is primarily an exercise in form, there is a small jab at how the film world is becoming more commercialised and it could be seen a spoof of crime fiction..Is this novel a handful? In a way yes but once things make sense, and they do you have a thrilling and inventive book. I have never read anything like this, the closest is maybe, Eimear McBride's 'A Girl is a Half Formed Thing' but this one is more challenging and the text slowly veers into Pynchon territory a couple of times. Definitely a novel that benefits from second and third readings.If you are a fan of unconventional novels then it is worth making the effort to acquire Playing Possum. At the moment it is on the tiny Aaaaargh Press but I think that a bigger publisher will want to take the risk in order to give it wider distribution. Anyway how can one not resist reading a meta-meta-detective tale???

  • Ian Mond
    2018-10-27 13:11

    Playing Possum should be a book that makes me feel small and ignorant. It’s only after I finished the novel that I discovered that it’s main character, an American poet who murders his wife, is actually a version of T.S. Eliot. I’m simply not well read enough to have joined those dots. (For one, up until 10 minutes ago I had no idea what the T and S stood for, now I know). There are other literary references ranging from Christie to Joyce. Ulysses was published in 1922 and so was The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot. The year is so important for the fiction that was published – and the reaction to that fiction such as Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway (1925) that earlier this year Bill Goldstein wrote a whole book about it (The World Broke In Two).Although I didn’t pick these nods and winks, some more obvious than others, I still really enjoyed Playing Possum. With its fluid sense of time, merging 1922 with 2012, as if to imply that the more things change etc… and its fascination with Chaplin, the almost rise of socialism in the UK, the changing face of the countryside, the allure of silent film, and, to top it all off, a savage murder that proves to be the catalyst for what follows I just went with the flow. The language, so interesting and unexpected, the moments of absurdity and farce, the piling on of anachronisms, the utter lack of expectation, all of it coming together to create something that made me smile, that felt fresh and new even when it sometimes tipped over into pretentious gibberish.

  • Jackie Law
    2018-10-15 18:06

    “It’s pastiche. Don’t underrate it.”Playing Possum, by Kevin Davey, is a clever and playful murder mystery written largely using quotes from and references to other artistic works. The dialogue is script-like, interspersed with narrative ensuring the action required is understood by the players. Many of the characters appear to be based on real life subjects. An audience watching the film being made is mentioned along with scenes that will subsequently be deleted. This unusual structure required a degree of reader awareness. I have no doubt that I did not appreciate much of the amusing cleverness.The protagonist is Thomas who is married to Fanny and living in London in 1922. They argue noisily and regularly, much to the chagrin of their neighbours. One evening an altercation goes too far and Thomas pushes his wife causing her to hit her head and become disorientated. What he does next is portrayed in the manner of a silent movie with the speeded up action and comic touches of panic and escape.Ninety years later a man is engaged to re-investigate the murder. Interested parties in Whitstable, where Thomas flees, hope to use whatever is uncovered as a draw for tourists. The man retraces Thomas’s footsteps, researching locations alongside evidence and reports from the original investigation. The story is told as if the two men are travelling together, the differing timelines irrelevant.“In the auditorium, here on the page, wherever and whenever we read, we experience the simultaneity of the non-simultaneous.”Kent in 1922 was struggling with the aftermath of the recent war. Soldiers had returned from the conflict to find they lacked homes and work. The country, struggling financially, was trying to cut wages, an action being contested by the growing Labour movement. Thomas ends up in Whitstable rather than Cliftonville, where he was heading, due to workers protests. As ever, the wealthy have little sympathy for those in need.Back in London the body of a young woman is discovered. Thomas and Fanny’s neighbours become concerned when they are able to enjoy a peaceful night in.A film crew are at work in Whitstable at the time Thomas is staying but show little interest in the various troubles brewing. There are many instances where the action turns meta.“Why isn’t anyone making a film about this – the postwar crusade of our picturesque proletariat?Tom is thinking what would be the point? Hope doesn’t come from people who march in step.”The tale is divided into sections with titles that would be typical of those that appear on silent movie cards used to switch scenes:INTERLUDE: IN A BARMAKE THE BANKERS PAY!THE KILLER RETIRES TO HIS ROOMThere is a bedroom scene with a hotel maid, where body doubles are employed for “The usual hayroll”. Much of the action takes place in two hotels facing each other, pictures of which are included on the inside covers of the book. Like much of what goes on they existed, a real life basis for this fictional retelling.Thus we have a murder, the hiding of the body, an escape by train, an unscheduled stopover in a hotel, a night of passion, an arrest. All of this is presented using literary and cinematic references in the style of a silent film. It is clever and fun but a tad confusing due to the merging of timelines. Much enjoyment may be lost if the references are not recognised, the cleverness understood.I am wary of a work of fiction that relies on the reader having prior knowledge. The story may work without but its essence would be missed. For those familiar with the arts over the last century, creatives lives as well as their work, this will doubtless be a romp to be relished. Those without such knowledge are unlikely to be as impressed.

  • Amy Alice
    2018-10-29 11:09

    Fiction, Goldsmiths Shortlist 2017, DNF 87/185Nope, nope, no.I basically was interested in looking at all of the shortlisted books, but in the end I was not interested in either this book, or the Will Self book. However, since this one was quite hard to get hold of, given that it is by such a small publisher, I got excited and bought it when I found it, and this is not a good reason to buy this book.A man, TS Eliot we are supposed to assume, commits (or does he) a murder, and runs away, staying at a Whistable hotel en route. This is 1922, but he is also accompanied by the author who is re-opening the cold case 90 years later. So there are scenes where the two timelines are merged, with either the author looking at horse and carriage, or the protagonist staring at CCTV. Alongside this, there appears to be someone making a film of this, so randomly there will be snippets of the filmmakers talking. None of this is sectioned off, so you're constantly feeling drunk, eavesdropping on various bits, and having different people merge. This is the point. But my God, why. Such hard work, got to page 87 and couldn't bear the thought of another 100 pages. I loved the first 10 pages, but once you get the point of this set-up, there was no point for me to continue. If you love a pretentious read, or particularly enjoy TS Eliot then go for it.

  • Livvy Hooper
    2018-10-14 13:10