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7 Books 7 Days: Monday’s Book

Several Clouds Colliding

by Brian Catling and Iain Sinclair

(London: Swedenborg Society and Book Works, 2012)

To celebrate Independent Bookshop Week, I am selecting 7 books that we sell at the Swedenborg House bookshop and that are also titles that we have produced as a publisher, hopefully highlighting the truly independent and unique spirit of the Swedenborg Society in both fields.

And then, having just spoken about independence and uniqueness, my first selection is a double collaboration! Firstly, between the two maverick authors and performers, Brian Catling and Iain Sinclair. Secondly, between two independent publishing houses—the Swedenborg Society and Book Works—who have both been producing genre-defying titles the past couple of decades in modest and unheralded ways, hypnotically drawing readers to their books, rather than loudly thrusting them in their faces.

SEVERAL CLOUDS COLLIDING co-published by the Swedenborg Society and Book Works, is just such a genre-bending book. Fiction and documentary mix with exhibition commentary and dramatic retellings of Swedenborg’s visionary experiences. Images of curious objects (typewriters, sealed documents, skulls), warped lantern slides and faded faces feature throughout, most in black and white, some in an even more ghostly washed-out colour.

The book has its origins in the Swedenborg Society’s bicentenary exhibition of 2010 and a performance that Catling and Sinclair put on in Swedenborg Hall to accompany it, but it resonates ever stronger and ever stranger twelve years later, mystifying, haunting, challenging its readers, with detailed historical research merging with mythology, fiction disguising fact. SEVERAL CLOUDS COLLIDING shifts and morphs with each reading, like so many of the spirits Swedenborg encountered in the other world.

The book is a great entry point to the worlds of Iain Sinclair, famed for his London-centric writings such as London Orbital, his psychogeographic voyage around the M25, and of Brian Catling, who has had great recent success with his historical fantasy series The Vorrh. And it is a great herald of the Swedenborg Archive series of publications and the ever-varied programme of events the Society stages. The book continues to live and evolve beyond the page too: some of the text boards of Sinclair’s commentaries can be seen on display at Swedenborg House, now part of the permanent collection; and Sinclair and Catling have twice returned to Swedenborg House to continue their performance, in what has become an impossible and open-ended quest to grasp the elusive essence of Swedenborg and Swedenborg House.

SEVERAL CLOUDS COLLIDING was born out of Swedenborg House—could only be born out of Swedenborg House!—but one almost envies the unsuspecting person who stumbles on this chimera by chance in some provincial bookshop, where its timeless oddness will be all the sharper.