30 thoughts on “The Seashell Contract – Rhys Hughes


    “There is no pure authenticity anywhere, unless it is faked.”

    Burton tries to impress his Chinese girl friend with his manipulation of chopsticks in a restaurant, asking for longer and longer chopsticks that he still manages to manage whatever their length! Has the author bitten off more than he can chew with this exponential conceit? This ambitious work gives you the answer.
    [“Chopsticks” is a piano waltz written in 1877 by the British composer Euphemia Allen under the pseudonym Arthur de Lulli.]


    “…a lesson in humility,…”

    A second Rhys Hughes classic in a row, each alone making purchase of this book worthwhile (plus the fact that the book’s proceeds are going to a charity.)
    This story is one of those genius works that give off oblique shafts of absurdist wisdom without you noticing them being absorbed by the reading mind as real wisdom. A flashmob lemming surge to humble the sea…. But nothing is that simple, and there is much else here extrapolated into named hurricanes, global warming, perpetual motion energy storage etc etc, all ending on a romantic note, a note which is both ironic and real. No mean feat.

    As an oblique aside on my part, earlier today, BEFORE I read this work, I placed the words below on my Facebook page following Trump’s veiled threat to Iran overnight…

    {{ I recently read this in a newspaper somewhere; please forgive the Goveish source! — “Mr Gove described Mr Trump’s conversational style as being like a river in spate, adding: ‘You throw pebbles into it and sometimes there are eddies and currents and from that you can read what it is that he wants.'” — I, DFL, now feel a giant asteroid, not a pebble, has been thrown…..}}


    “And what would a botanist know about stomachs?”

    If you don’t know about something, you don’t know it is missing. And that is a statement for our times, issued by this stirony about the fallibility of naïve honest belief as part of the ‘nature’ of humanity. Perhaps explaining why believing something is sometimes compared to swallowing it.
    And the ending is utterly rhapsodic.


    “Why does this place mend shoes and cut keys?”

    This is a fine example of a Rhys Hughes childory – where an infantile inquisitiveness leads to a sophisticated one. Conundrums of wordplay and absurdism towards eventual unlocking of as yet unseen truths.
    Here, inter alios, there is a shrug as a worn fur low on one of the shoulders.


    The waters of a wet forest?
    No, this is a neat beginning and end of a story, a story that echoes the loop of its near eponymous palindrome.

    “These eccentrics were very stubborn.”

    It is also a treatise on obduracy by pitching custom for pragmatic reasons against custom for custom’s sake. By the way, can eccentrics be stubborn because eccentricity would seem to portend a fluid behaviour upon the waters of time, an open-mindedness, but, equally, eccentric opinions need fighting for with tenacity if you want others to follow your example. A conundrum that only an eccentric like me could possibly worry about.
    Keeping clean as a perception rather than as a reality, meanwhile, is a fascinating conceit for this fiction and I honour its story with a badge of eclectic eccentricity. Pegged to its nose.
    The above is what my wife makes me use to clean the shower every morning after my shower.


    “(6) To expect ten commandments is a sin,…”

    To expect four corners is agora-phobia?
    Separate sections about things not being as they seem, concerning the pelican as a symbol of Christ (cf the wonderful novella by Leena Krohn I reviewed here), binoculars as a cruel gift to the cyclops, the Armstrong-Aldrin moon landing, and Priest’s Dream Archipelago conjoined by cranes under the guise of Greece as broken crockery.
    This is quadrilateral thinking.


    He uses the “force” of his salsa dancing club to power his raft to Cuba. There are many infantilely naïve reasons for this, and (unlike with the Billie Holiday work) the eventual narrative as well as the ending do not come to the story’s rescue in my view. And in the story’s own terms, it is illogical that he can use this “force” at all. Still, it provides a useful foil for the four agora corners that preceded it.


    An essay that truly stirs the conceit buds. A midway fault-and-default in an otherwise smooth word-baton passing in a game of Chinese Whispers leads to considerations about coincidence and the galaxy itself, with a layman’s example of pizza delivery to help the less cerebrally endowed readers towards such rarefied heights of philosophy. This essay is vintage Rhys Hughesianism at its most powerful, with a default absurdist glitch at delivery’s end.


    “‘A smirk is sharper than a dirk,’…”

    How one gets from King Arthur to a male Queen and other rooky rockeasy endowments, ended by an ending that is as whimsical as a cornucopia of caprices in a galaxy of gambits, I’ll leave the reader to have the delight of discovering without being spoiled by any false moves or errors from me.


    “I dislike arguments but they do pass the time.”

    It is easy to become blasé about the variegated works of Rhys Hughes. But this is possibly one of his very best, a rhapsodic account of a dystopian city journey on an excitable trip towards the bus museum. Rhapsody and dystopia don’t usually go together, but here they are a perfect match.
    And some of you might discard the thought of reading the works of Rhys Hughes, because you are biased against them without having really tested that bias by reading them! Or you fear being sucked into them as one of its objective-correlatives or (tuckerised?) characters!


    “Because I am omniscient, the assumption is made that I consider myself superior to those who aren’t;”

    The author was just talking on Facebook about omniscience in fiction and having just finished this I chimed in! There is of course a face in this book by means of a tiny mirror embedded in the page…
    This is more another wonderful absurdist essay than a story, though, one with new truths.
    Extrapolations upon smugness. Smug ones.


    Five Go Mad In the Welsh Rain. But that’s my story. A reviewer, particularly a real-time one (even a gestalt one!), cannot afford to appear omniscient about the books or stories reviewed, for fear of issuing spoilers. And there is something about the two stories that comprise this single story that needs to be lost somewhere, anywhere other than here. You will know what I mean when you read it. Suffice it to say it features the (exaggerated?) nature of rain in Wales when compared to that in England, leading perhaps to the tongue-in-cheek front cover of this very book.
    The bifurcated stories themselves make a fine gestalt of their encompassing frame, featuring the nature of travelling in a forward train seat as opposed to in a backward one (a touching tale of unrequited love, too) and the inventions of Mondaugen in the second bifurcation. Rain talking, train bifurcating, silence empowering, the inventor is someone whom I am sure I have read about before, specially as my computer autocorrected his name to the correct version!


    “That would be too much of a coincidence.”

    I don’t get the the first joke about ‘feeling himself’, but this exponentially mind-conceiving story — from simple puns (and I love puns, I hasten to say!) to complex twists of truth — is one that implicates the readers into the author’s world of meaningful but ludicrous names of characters towards a teasing side-step of some intrinsically secret almost Godly-omniscient absurdity you have ever yearned for but didn’t realise you did so until now, even while watching the text simultaneously carve abstractions into concrete sculptures galore, and making the monumental momentous.

    “The same boiling water that softens the potato hardens the egg.”


    “Plethora of pawns!”

    I often marvel at how a Rhyshughesian stirony blooms from the lowest to the top rank, like literary alchemy. This again is one of the best, about more facebook mirrors now in the shape of chess pieces, the wordplay of pawn and porn, the promotion at the top rank like the Queen in the Comedy of Gambits from rock or rook, and one of the best conceits ever, this one of an astronomer differentiating between those pinpricks of light, to know the identity of each beloved star even when out of its contextual constellation… Absolutely beautiful. And more. A rhapsodic blend of the crass and the spiritually inspirational.
    The only drawback here is the relatively weak ending, but of course, as I had not appreciated or remembered, a pawn can decide whether to underpromote itself when it reaches the top rank, but never stay just as a pawn. Again a beautiful outcome, so thought provoking, too.


    “It is difficult for a man to refrain from rubbing a chin that is longer than an unwashed foot.”

    But is it the man’s own chin?
    Meanwhile, following the previous work, I now marvel how a RH work doesn’t actually work as well as others of his works? And can he, as author, differentiate the best of his own works from the worst? Don’t get me wrong, this one is not the worst but it doesn’t seem to make the cut. It somehow sags and drifts apart (a bit like ‘The Salsa Raft’). It is a tale of the giant collapsing ear with whispers but not secrets (Chinese whispers?) and the ploy for a man to straddle the date-line. I love stories with no rhyme or reason, but some stories with no rhyme or reason are better than some other stories also with no rhyme or reason. And I am not sure how or why I know how or why this can happen. I DO know, though.


    “Someone has to be the originator of trivial irrational beliefs.”

    Beliefs that, nevertheless, attract adherents.
    Following one masterpiece and one near dud, this is a sort of middling sort of stirony of the Rhyshughesain ilk, with some wonderful conceits, such as a one-trick pony whose type of trick is better than having more than one trick, our five bodily senses being butlers who do not bother us unless they have to do so, and a shop like a character from Samuel Beckett. Other than these and a few other great conceits, this work is a bit flabby and convoluted. Not convoluted like a möbius flightpath, but convoluted like a twisted root that despite such twistedness is lacking distinctive character, unphotogenic and hardly noticed when walking through the forest on the search for pareidolia in natural configurations.


    “It was a sideways move…”

    Sidewise, too. I seem to have already used “side-step” above [“towards a teasing side-step of some intrinsically secret almost Godly-omniscient”] to describe a certain aspect of this author’s fictionatronic stirony style!
    This one, though, is not a classic Rhysian stirony, but an involving essay about a particular dance, a couple’s dance, an essay that is absolutely perfect, one where the reader can feel the dance within the reading soul, and the contact with the partner, and one can tell it is heartfelt. Even the ecstatic extrapolation of this dance at the end becomes real-time. It is THE Rhys work perhaps, one that will dance on forever.
    In a gestalt real-time…

    “I was completely embedded in present time, lost in the moment, fixed in the now, a state we all strive to attain but rarely achieve.”


    “Wandering hands are faster than warnings.”

    Reading stories faster than my realising that I should have been warned against it! This work will genuinely send you mad. No joke. But, be warned, the madness is faster than my writing this review! It is a story that seems to fuse with the air around it, making it full of “Whichever way you prefer” holes. An alternative as main protagonist with alternative advisers and alternative womenfolk to meet his needs, arriving at a giant gestalt that checkmates or trumps my own gestalt. But I like being beaten. If you do, too, everyone wins.


    “…but I also don’t believe the salt of the sea can come together and form itself into a giant,…”

    …or a gestalt? The title made me think of Vivaldi, but then I found I was the narrator, ever gullible as non-omniscient narrators often are in fiction, while the sons of the seas tricked me into believing things that were not true. Which made some sort of sense regarding the synchronised shards of random truth and fiction.
    The rest of it, the mermaid, the origami, the seashells, the messages in a bottle, the hoax phone call, merely the random parts of that gestalt. A tale of literary unrequitedness.


    “Sometimes we must be cruel to be kind, other times we must rhyme to be fine.”

    Despite this work’s engaging absurdist randomnesses and robots (if random they are – Betjeman and Larkin had statues made in their images), ‘The Kind of Man’ is a defiant authorial statement, echoing what he said publicly a few days ago (“I forge my own path, every time…”) in reference to the splendid irony of networking this charity book on a predominantly anti-natalist website.
    What kind of reviewer am I? Not a kind one, I hope. A truthful one, I trust.
    Still, I see myself tagged in this work itself, perhaps thus seen erroneously, but this author and I have for some years been involved in a never-ending duel
    “I can see your giant face looming high over me as you read this story. You are wearing a sneer that I don’t much care for. You believe you are special and the attention you are giving me puts me in your debt. But I have been read before. I sip my cooling coffee smugly. That’s the kind of sip I do. […] I had challenged the face’s owner to a duel.”
    And Trump-Brexit – “I understood a political change of vast importance had turned my country into a prison, a perfectly circular prison…”


    “The state of being inside a woman felt like being outside her.”

    With my above mention of statues of two poets, it seems appropriate that this extrapolation of the kind of man (or woman) a selfie is in modern digital-photographic terms extrapolates itself towards a ‘public monument in the main square’ of 3D instead of 2D, when blended with the historic development in exposing oneself for photography in general, and, to my mind, its development into the future.
    This book has cornered the market as well as yourself.
    Escher as ownerism.


    “a brace of subjects”, an “accumulation” of lost things under the desk, and a garland of stories in this book to cherish, a number of them being genuine stironic masterpieces in the Rhys Hughes canon, well worth backscratchig from their hiding-place in this ironically gloomy seashell of a book. Shoehorning the texts into your mind. Making it fictionatronic.
    A charm of a book, one with a steely stern spine beneath its jokes and overtures of diversity as well as of oneness. A group hug as gestalt. Wordplay as overt loveplay. Conceits as covert jabs and feints. A galaxy of gambits.
    A review as a fawning backscratcher? No, I hope it is a backscratcher as a device for eclectic dreamcatching not only from a single book but also from under the desk of reality and irreality at large. Any pretentiousness, notwithstanding.



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