Extract from SYBARITE AMONG THE SHADOWS
For Dylan Thomas centenary:
After a sinister encounter with Aleister Crowley in a Soho pub, Dylan Thomas visits his mentor Victor Neuberg, formerly the Beast’s principal follower. Everything else in the book follows on from this reputedly true event.
Dylan was standing by the bookcase squinting at the titles. He had grown a little plumper in the year since Vicky had seen him but was still cherubic, his nest of curls tousled, though not by wind, for it was one of those temperate days in early June when London flings off its overcoat and apes Marseilles. Instead, his unshaven chin, bloodshot eyes and rumpled blue check suit, with the telltale bulge in the right-hand pocket, spoke of a night of it. Nevertheless, something in his look seemed haunted by more than drink.
‘Do you think a man can read another’s mind, Vicky?’ he demanded, without preamble, in that singsong voice in which only the lilt was Welsh. ‘I was in the Swiss last night, in cahoots with this Polish girl I’d met at Pop Kleinfield’s. We had put back a few, and she was laying into me something chronic. I had heard that sort of guff before, so I just stood there doodling on the bar. I noticed a man sitting in the gloom. He was staring up at me. Large fellow, thickset, looked like a stockbroker, apart from his head, which was shaven, oh, and the hands, which were very dainty. In one, he was miffing a brandy; with the other, deliberately, as though he wanted me to notice, he took a pen from his jacket and began drawing on a napkin. The cheeky bugger’s mimicking me, I thought.’
‘Shaven head, you say’ said Vicky, trying unsuccessfully to conceal his excitement.
‘Apart that is from a little horn of hair, which I noticed when he lumbered over like an eclipse and tried to hypnotise me with the pin on his swaying tie. It was a large ebony brooch, bearing the head of a stork-like bird with a long bill curved like a boomerang. Moreover, did he stink! There was this cloying scent like cheap perfume. “I think we artists should compare productions,” he wheezed, and waved his drawing under my nose. Bugger me black if he hadn’t drawn the same as me!’
What if the Beast returned and you were not sure if he were the best or worst thing that had ever happened to you?
Sybarite among the Shadows finds Victor Neuburg on June 11 1936 with the poet he discovered, Dylan Thomas. They embark on a quest whose object is Neuburg’s old master, the Great Beast 666; settings, the Surrealist Exhibition, and pubs and clubs of bohemian London; characters, Augustus John, Nina Hamnett and Tom Driberg. Neuburg confronts his demons; Crowley does too. They also meet something far more menacing: MI5’s plot to avert the Abdication.
Praise for SYBARITE AMONG THE SHADOWS
‘McNeff’s novel is so different from anything else you’d normally find on a bookshelf that it should perhaps be a compulsory purchase.’
– Independent On Sunday
To use Aleister Crowley in a work of ‘faction’ is brave indeed. Just his name casts a spell over the page Richard McNeff has faced up to the task with aplomb and realistically recreates him in all his bizarre, mesmerizing complexity.’
– Martin Booth, author of Aleister Crowley: A Life
From Snoo Wilson:
‘Full of fascinating nuggets…..Neuburg’s crisis of identity with AC is very well observed.’