Katrina Palmer’s diverting book consisting of End Matter, such as appendices, addendum, attachment, epilogue, postscript, postface and maps serves as the documentary vestiges of a missing book. This book is immediately open to conjecture and the consideration of Portland, its history and stone. Following J.H. Prynne, the reader should be prepared to work outside the immediate text of End Matter in order to fully enquire beyond what remains of the missing book. End Matter accounts for the loss of Portland stone, one key to its history, through the work of the Loss Adjusters, responsible for accounting and balancing the material and historical shifts of the island. This peculiar angle offers great fun and some insight but crucially ignores the quarry stone owners, such as Portland Stone Firms active since 1700, and their exploitation of the quarrymen and their families. It does though afford a questionable narrative involving a writer in residence on the island, a rogue Loss Adjuster, a Carniter of the Court Leet, the deviant daughters of a quarryman and a convict in some unreliable stories. This offers Palmer the opportunity of filling out a fiction in the appendices and takes the form of Loss Adjuster reports:
Ostensible Format of Loss Adjuster’s Minutes For General Meeting No. –
Retrieved From The Memory Archive
Further To The Loss of The Rogue Loss Adjuster
Further to the Discovery of The Writer-in Residence’s
narrative: ‘The Rogue and The Carniter’
This is achieved very much tongue in cheek. Thus:
Data under investigation should be spoken aloud in the office, each Adjuster taking a paragraph in turn, interspersed with interpretation.
In this way a compressed and layered history can be formulated.
The Loss Adjusters are able to comment upon the illogicalities of the writer’s narratives, which offer a potted history of the island. In fact, the island’s history and that of the quarrymen and the stone buyers is quite complex and far from uniform. There is a local saying that the reason the Houses of Parliament exterior Portland stone is chipping away is that the owners when pricing the blocks, with a mark used to place the stone frontally, would turn them around and change the agreed price to make more money. There were decades of acute depression in the Portland stone market and times when the industry almost disappeared. However, the quality of the stone was always the preferred one for the country’s most important buildings such as Buckingham Palace, St Paul’s Cathedral, the National Gallery, the British Museum, the Cenotaph, and the Bank of England.
Palmer’s angle is to look at loss and absence as the most striking feature of Portland stone through the work of the Loss Adjuster’s material representations of the displaced landscape and the compensation accrued in the form of buildings elsewhere. This avoids dealing with the social relations between quarrymen and the buyers of their labour, complicated yet further by the variable quality and uses of the stone and its exact constituents. However, this may be the missing book, and that is where the book’s attraction lies.
The narrative in the appendices offers an alternate reading of what may or not lie in the book of the reader’s imagination. If some readers know little of Portland they may think that there are tales of piracy, shipwrecks, sea fishing and romance connected with the island.
Palmer is good on the harbour, its forts, and the prison, opened in 1848 as a convict prison. The Adjusters note the equation of Portland stone removal and intake of prisoners on the island. There is an absence of the indigenous Portlander’s cultural distinctiveness. They are, in my experience, quirky and adaptable people. Consider the poets, such as Tim Allen, Jack Clemo, Cecil Durston, also a master stonemason, Richard Mason and Louisa Adjoa Parker, connected with or from Portland. End Matter, in the end, is a clever work of fiction rather than a deeper social-historical working of the island’s materials. The Loss Adjusters appendices have been made into an audio walk, with field recordings, and are available for download at http://www.artangel.org.uk/projects/2015/end_matter/about_the_project/end_matter and the Quarryman’s Daughters has been broadcast on BBC Radio Four. The book has some generous photographs and is beautifully produced. It is a notable work.
David Caddy May 28th 2015