Orpheus on the Underground

I received this book today, as recently purchased from the publisher:


and Other Stories
By Rhys Hughes

Tartarus Press 2014

My previous reviews of Rhys Hughes works linked from HERE

*My real-time review of this book will eventually appear in the comment stream below as and when I happen to read it.*

20 thoughts on “Orpheus on the Underground

  1. The Upper Reaches
    “‘Best to stay rational,’ he agreed.”
    A deprecatingly and engagingly self-referential ghost story that lands like an invisible aeroplane upon a runway of non-fiction by brainstorming a new anxiety-genre of whohauntswhom fiction.

  2. Orpheus on the Underground
    “But new fame isn’t what I crave. I still have the old, all of it; and nothing can remove that from me.”
    A thoughtfully poetic duel of fame between myths and modern life, or, as in the previous story, between ghosts as haunters and haunted. Myths (Orpheus and another who is female) happen to be travelling on an itemised rite-of-passage of the London Northern Line, talking — amid mortals like those art students who travel to seek romanticism in Highgate cemetery — of the bits of themselves they seek and what they still possess: another poignant journey through a tunnel (or a endless crater like that in The Old House Under the Snow in the adjoining review of the other new book?)
    Myths are inalterable but adaptable; we co-passengers can only envy them. This book’s author is the Go-Between?

  3. imageThe Gargoyles of Black Wood
    “…so I descended every slope I encountered.”
    …like the ever-linking slopes of Rhysaurian stories I’m currently reading, here with an alchemy of substances into a Jungian prehensile shape around a mediaeval-like Gormengargoyle castle creatures, and not who haunts whom now, but who is alchemicising whom and at what speed of up- and down-sizing? “There is no point running from one’s own madness, for it will keep pace with you wherever you go.” …as if this book is real-time reviewing me rather than other way about.
    [This book is liberally illustrated by Chris Harrendence, creating a wondrous feat of RhysHughesiana as a package equivalent to TALLEST STORIES: a package by David Rix here. And that is meant as a compliment to both artists.]

  4. The Despicable Bungling of Yorick Porridge
    “Yorick proved extremely inept with the sword.”
    I suppose the best thing for me in this story is the name Yorick that summons the concept of our earth as a skull in the Rhysian story I reviewed this very afternoon in the other book. And, also, the concept of the aversionary alley or lane is one certainly to conjure with.
    Other than those two things, this story, for me, is incredibly silly and inept with the pen as well as the sword. Nor did its depiction of Freemasons work (not that I know much about the Freemasons). This is in the same ‘despicable bungling’ class of literature as another Rhysian story entitled ‘Fanny’ that I reviewed some while ago at the bottom of the page here. Sorry.

  5. Behind Every Ghost
    “Irony, irony, always irony; never a glimmer of honest sentiment, of true feeling. Flippancy as a credo,…”
    A ‘spectral chain’ like many such Rhysian chains. A prison of Rhys or Rhythm.
    Here a riveting spyglass through nine lined-up ghosts and I wonder if the author knows there was a real book in 1943 entitled NINE GHOSTS by Richard Malden?

  6. The Ghost Written Autobiography of a Disembodied Spirit
    “I find death thoroughly exhausting. / I haven’t properly introduced myself. Toby Knott’s the name…”
    An ingenious ‘spectral chain’ of an autobiography (with explicit references to loops as well as Knotts), with countless mind-bubbling conceits of tantamount to ghosts behind ghosts, plus the the review magazine of Suicides (cf the ligottus as knot and Shakespeare’s To Be Or Knot To Be, my conceit not this story’s), and Trouser Hermits that remind me of the Bone Idle in the eponymous story from the other book, and much more. Wonderful.

  7. Double Meaning
    “I waited in anxious indolence for his return…”
    A whimless expression of plaintive pride in creating an AI double to help one become bone idle, but when doubles double and evolve of their own volition or become their own source cleverer than oneself, one eventually ends up, I infer, with a theory of everything but the pleasure of nothing.

  8. The Nick of Time
    Following the previous story, one wonders (and it is indeed hinted that this is the case in the text) whether this Mephistophelian pact is conducted by the devil himself or his double. One then wonders whether the devil’s double is God. This is a genuinely ever-anthologisable story – you know the sort, something that recurrently grows on you – with repercussions upon the accuracy of time and its mechanical measurers, immortality and mortality, fame, ambition, a Zeno’s Paradox of invention – and, for me, it is the ultimate expression of ‘Null Immortalis’ (Null Immoralist).

  9. The Bicycle-Centaur
    “The view was bracing but bleak; moorland with mountains in the distance shrouded in thick fog (like warts and bunions looming out of the foam of a hag’s bubble bath).”
    I think I first came across a bicycle-centaur in the Rhysian book about Castor Jenkins entitled ‘The Truth Spinner’. Probably more than any other author’s similar distance that I’ve studied, the distance between Rhys Hughes’ greatest and worst stories is almost infinite! But that does positively say a lot about his greatest stories as well as his worst. Only a rare few fall into the latter category. For me, this is another story that simply doesn’t work; the jokes misfire and the conceits are over the top. Nothing more can I say about it. One day, if I live long enough, I would like to choose a collection of this author’s greatest stories, ones that fit the optimum Rhysaurian gestalt.

  10. I read and reviewed the next story here in 2012:

    [[ The Quixote Candidate – Rhys Hughes
    “I have the impression that all the films he watched became mixed up until they seemed part of one enormous film…”
    Not only that: “Everything he saw from that moment was part of an ongoing project he was directing, every environment was a film set, everyone he met was an actor or actress.”  In tune with Taborska’s earlier ‘spontaneous actress’ being directed…. In the context of this book, this sheds light on humanity as a gestalt of film directions or, in other words, of fabricated fictions, naturally selected, leading to this ‘story’ (inspired by or in unconscious synergy with “The Vanishing Life and Films of Emmanuel Escobada” by Anonymous??) couched as a real-time interview (with the questions unheard)  of a super-hero Quixote’s sidekick – forever. A devilish conceit. However, outside the context of this Screaming book (only 100 of them published?), but in the context of the Rhys Hughes canon itself, I personally feel this is the greatest of his masterpieces (admittedly the greatest that I have read so far but I have read a helluva lot of Rhys Hughes stuff). This story is what I think I must have have been waiting for ever since I started reading his work in the early 1990s.  His “Most Promising Work in Perpetual Progress“. Rhys’ frozen Scream. Seriously so. A Horror without Victims, other than those victims who continue forever not to have read it.  I was such a perpetual victim – till now. (10 Oct 12 – 6.40 pm bst) ]]

  11. imageThe Pocket Shops
    “So heat is about distrusting your neighbours, wanting distance from them,…”
    A new distance between the heat that is RhysHughesiana! And this is an engaging slant on the commerce of Quantitative Easing in physical form. Not Russian but Rhysian Dolls, I suggest.
    Chris Harrendence continues a fine illustrative accompaniment…

  12. The Concise Picaresque Adventures of the Wanderlust Bridge
    “I was not yet infatuated with imaginary perfection, in distant love. Not yet.”
    I do not know how this bridge-narrated fiction about a fiction is quite so touching, but it is. It is in fact a miracle, worked perhaps, not by a Holy Sinner, but by a Holy Drunk who lives rough on this Bridge that was originally built over a Madrid river as it takes its rite of passage to Venice to seek the love of the beautiful sounding Bridge of Sighs, the ultimate sigh being about the nature of its sighs, it turns out. There are many bridges to cross in this story of metafiction and absurdity, while imbued with a sense of its own reference to ‘present-time nostalgia’ aided and abetted by, as just one example, the terse versus the dense in writing fiction. Each sentence in a chivalrous duel with the next sentence. Yes, a miracle of fiction.

  13. The Phantom Festival
    “…each one of my nerves had turned into the string of a sentient lute,…”
    As I read and review these two books that arrived through my door within a day of each other, I feel that I have never before fathomed the depths of this author, although, as you can tell from my past reviews, I have always known they were there to be fathomed. The word ‘depths’ here is being used by me in the sense of ‘heights’, but there is a combined sense of both words, a sense of the holy sinner.
    This is a compellingly methodical ‘rite of passage’ of a story, with the minimum of Rhysian wordplay, and by that contrast with his other stories, one knows that this one is possibly more heartfelt, as we visit, with the protagonist, the WOMAD music festival in Reading (and by reading, too!)… And, in tune with this week’s other discovery (Shelling the Toad, in the other book), we truly feel the sense of music, its nonsense, too, its soul, its core, its ambivalence, its ‘everything’… and a girl friend…
    And the ghosts that this Orpheus book has conjured as a role-play of human interaction like kissing, drinking, listening to music, even toward that level ‘underground’ where Orpheus himself again resides. A great ghost story as well as a seminal revelation.
    The text also shows great knowledge of certain aspects of music unfamiliar to me, but I was certain I heard the music through the words, saw the famous musicians of past ages, as we descended the evocative time-levels of the festival below the festival. A wonderful experience.

  14. Not Looking
    “…dilution increases potency.”
    An engaging story that constructively reminded me, without losing its own originality, of stories by Alasdair Gray. It describes a man with his own law of homeopathic laissez-faire, one that I found actually works within the realms of the story itself, as I stopped wanting to find a meaning for my own life in it, but it turned up from it all the same.

  15. New Improved Recipe for Disaster
    “My poor friend received a bullet in his brain that rattled around inside his skull like a house key in a tumble drier.”
    A pleasant Leacockian Wodehouseparty: an absurdity-skit on the political shenanigans in the UK when banning fox hunting, but here it is ghost hunting, with a reprise of the back-to-back spectral chain and Saki Town, but also adding, inter alia, deflowering housemaids, skeletons in a sort of paper chase, entropic croissants…

  16. imageThe Great Me
    “…my normal head was stolen by a pickface, one of those notorious skull thieves…”
    There seems something appropriate with my reviewing this book separately but also at the same time as the other book that has on its front cover a pickface sitting in a skull it has stolen.
    This coda, too, has a city similar to the city in the other book’s coda, one which is given further pungent reality here, where people’s shadows are brighter than the people themselves. That Bone Idle book has deadly serious horror amid the absurd, this Orpheus beghosted one is more quirky than eerie, but none the less enjoyable and serious for that. It is worth the whole entrance fee for The Phantom Festival alone; any greater stories you will go far to find, unless they are The Nick of Time, Orpheus on the Underground, the Quixote Candidate, the Wanderlust Bridge…
    Having said that, changing heads for jewels in this particular coda is certainly a concept with which to conjure! Our heads and the brains inside are priceless? To increase their value, one needs to cut them to size?
    This author’s brain was never cut to size, judging by his fiction. It’s all over the place as well as marginless, beyond the edges of the book. The fiction of an uncut gem. Best left uncut.
    The metafictional shenanigans in this coda are completely uncut, too, but you can forgive anything when the book ends by addressing The Great Me as The Great You, as it does.


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