Salty Kiss Island – Rhys Hughes


Fantastika Romantique


My previous reviews of Rhys Hughes works HERE

My previous review of an Immanion Press book HERE

When I real-time review this collection, my comments will appear in the thought stream below. (My reviews are currently a little delayed because of domestic matters.)

32 thoughts on “Salty Kiss Island – Rhys Hughes


    “Directly underneath a balcony, they noticed something which distracted them.
    ‘Look at that!” cried Tristio. ‘What is it?’
    ‘An object or an event. I’m not really sure.'”

    Two postmen who ditch letters en masse before delivering them to their rightful recipients thus inadvertently help a woman find not her lost pet or her lost husband but a better husband and no pet at all. There are some wild conceits here, a theme and variations on an anonymous story of the same title from an alternate world in 2001. This is vintage Hughes, a classic, where the old anonymous ingredients regroup with other ingredients to form a new transcending gestalt. The first and last balcony as one.


    An accordionist playing dyncopated music, so he never repeated any tunes. I did catch a snatch of Schoenberg at one stage, but don’t tell the author, as it might spoil his story. The accordionist pushed buttons back into a random order as a conscious attempt to not then repeat the dreams of his beautiful loved one who sleeps her sleep through dreamfully nested slumbers, and the abruptly shocking thing is that the conceits in this work are dyncopated themselves and do not follow on from previous conceits in it (e.g. the sand) and thus they make no sense as a whole, as they do, however obliquely or absurdistly, in the rest of this author’s canon of works that I have read. A fact perhaps explained, as an aside, by these words in the story about our over-dosed world itself:-

    “People wandered about with vacant expressions. They made mistakes in everything. The human race was on the threshold of a peculiar crisis.”


    For all practical purposes and reasons, this story must have been written before the very recent Grenfell Tower disaster – and, although I do not want to belittle that fatal tragedy (a symbol of Brexit and all that is now wrong with Britain) by factoring this amazing work into it, or vice versa, there is a striking resonance with the nature of the towering, labyrinthine apartments here and with those who populated both it and Grenfell… a grace of people, a disgrace of what harboured those people. There are so many remarkable parallels between Grenfell and the ironically high rise Borgesian semi-slum in this work.
    And when one also factors in the love affair via a spanner’s tappings on the radiator systems threading the structure, one has here a monumental achievement of hyper-imagination and an interpretation of social and emotional reality. Even without the Grenfell synchronicity, it would still be a monumental work.
    Its exodus and matrix of fire via the influx of burning lava like the sand in the previous story’s accordion, itself now a renewed symbol in the light of this work. Leaving parts of the building grey, as happened with Grenfell, as part of its residual apparition as a foreboding avatar of our times. The actual poignant romance conducted by radiators is alone worth the entrance fee to this towering work. A Rhysian masterpiece. A spanner for our complexes,


    “Switzerland now has a coastline and does not know what to do with it. It must build long piers.”

    A Colombian is eased into landscape care just as the words – telling you of this and out-slipping even Rhys Hughes’ extraordinary ricochet and flow from conceit to conceit in his other works – tug and hawl and magnetise you by land-mass anchorage and tether-line … while you feel as reader that you are yourself integumented into this actual landscape chiropractice. I looked up at my wife who was sewing nearby when I finished this work and said to her: “Rhys has excelled himself this time.” She nodded, and went on with her sewing.

    PS: Buttons, too, to ease tight tectonics.
    “And when the time to break apart comes, these buttons must be undone, one by one; and so the parting will feel like passionate romance.”


    “Days later we came up for unnecessary air and allowed the currents to wash us onto an unnamed island. This became our love nest.”

    From this love island to a yoni-tryst in a place furthest from the sea and back again, this is a genuinely exultant rhapsody of love and seamen. The narrator in love with a goddess who could morph into a wave or bore, and their worshippers. All mixed with adventures involving pirates, rainbows and alien horizons, while trying to put the sun straight. And a romantic ending on the edge of perfect love.


    “I knew little about the intricacies of astrology but a false discipline requires no precision. I made it all up.”

    This jobbing astrologer gets his come-uppance for believing that there is a goddess passing through his attic room as slow motion starlight but not believing in the empirical science of astrology as a believable (as above, so below) synchronicity.
    [Synchronicity in this context is not the same as less believable cause-and-effect, of course.]
    A come-uppance as to at which end of a body should erotic love start. As above, so below.
    And the nature of starlight itself.
    A bit strained in its flow of conceits. Not one of the author’s best works, but one that made me smile as to the fate of an astrologer who did not believe in astrology.


    “Brinydeep had a smile that was so far beyond simile and metaphor it was exactly like a smile.
    The Chief’s smile was a misshapen canoe on the navigable parts of his face.”

    And that was in the days before smileys, no doubt.
    Rhysian stories of this length were quite common in the days of the early 1990s I recall. But then he didn’t have the assistance of a stowaway reader trying to lengthen it for his or her own purposes. A jealous dreary city reader inserting cabbages into a list of tropical things on a tropical paradise to get his or her own back. Nor a compliant Luís Rodrigues from early Internet days when smileys were just off the ground. I found this story a mishmash. A bit too clever clever for its own good. Sorry. The optimum length these days, I feel, for a Rhysian fictionatronic is that of the one above called ‘The Innumerable Chambers of the Heart.’


    This is masterpiece, an unRhysian one by Rhys. Yet it has what I sense to be a Rhysian soul within it, as if his usual wildly fictionatronic self has become – in almost a quietly religious rite of passage – as aloof, cool, insouciant and languid as the leading man in this touching filmic romance story, a tale of requited and unrequited love, but not necessarily in that order. One with a neat series of quite quiet surprises, and a telling satisfaction at an original tale well told. Quite ironic, my reference to a leading man, there, if you noticed it. To the sound of filmic muezzin. And quiet butterflies.


    A rather stupid story in itself, as if it has soaked in one of its own eponymous words, with the main character eventually randomising ‘herself’ in a dictionary. A tale of sadly unsympathetic transpeople. Not much here to redeem it, I’m afraid. One of those Rhysian flops I have noticed now and again over the years.



    “This was a perfect moment, one of those precious instants when it is both desirable and possible to exist only in the present without former or future cares betraying or troubling the senses. He inhaled her perfume. It was smooth but fiery, like honey and pepper, and he imagined submerged volcanos erupting…”

    This is amazing. Drunkenness drumming with a purpose, despite the known disdain for drunkenness if not for drumming by this author in real life. Not only vintage, but also optimal, Rhys Hughes fiction. This is a mind-stunning ‘Under the Volcano‘ carnival vision (hence the submerged volcanos in the quote), in Brazil rather than Mexico, of a traveller and his love for a mermaid in a tank, a tank that over-enthusiastic drummers vibrate open. He assumes she wears a mermaid costume but he still carries her from bar to bar in obeisance to her rôle. Later he realises she is a real mermaid as she travels to another town, another carnival, in a obeisance to his own sense of a traveller’s soul, on a train that becomes a train YOU WILL NOT BELIEVE until you yourself travel on it by dint of this story. And the love and excitement and sexual overcurrents play you a blinder. This is the stuff dreams are mad on. Yes, mad on, not made on. Unmissable. So far.

    “She had given him the past, not just a memory but somehow as a set of recurring experiences. How to set them in motion again was the one mystery left.”


    “The Traveller stood in the rain on the wet sand and watched the waves…”

    At least I have the waves to wave at.
    The plot itself has currents like waves, as is contended within it.
    This, for me, is a less satisfying mermaid variation to follow the perfection of the first one above. It has its moments, though, its variation upon variations in ‘Cloud Farming in Wales‘, in rainy Swansea, amid a yearning to leave it for sunnier climes, and a self-referential twisting of the plot to various rhythms of whim and literary absurdism, including the inventions of Mondaugen, beach parties with bohemians, mermaid and walrus as beauty and beast romance, an intrinsic darker undercurrent, including an extinct volcano and crags like waves. The giant versions of lovespoon and drinking glass that our protagonist tries his best at in craft clubs, notwithstanding.
    There are linkages here, but all of this really fails to sail my boat. Iceberg or not.
    Is clever clever doubly clever or only half clever? I think, sadly, I know the answer.
    Variation 1 may be the best Rhys Hughes story I have ever read, – while this Variation 2 is arguably the worst (possibly excluding ‘Fanny‘.)


    “Most of our lives are conducted under the surface, in a series of labyrinthine chambers, where we can view screens connected to our telescopes.”


    Much of my own life, too, since 2008, except here the phenomenon is transposed to the ‘dry seas’ of the moon, where the Traveller and his mermaid love are in a nostalgic SF vista of old SF fabricated lunar worlds that I recall reading as a boy, here interspersed, more acceptably than in Variation 2, by disarming contrivances of self-referential authorial matters such as, for example, providing, hilariously, an atmospheric paragraph (of bad purple prose!) that the two air-breathing characters can use at will so as to top up the intake of atmosphere in an otherwise atmosphere-less world.
    The plot about tritons as inverted male mermaids, a questionable portrait of gossiping females living on the moon’s dark side, bubblespeak given a square circle to encompass so as to extend its use as bubbletransport, a real moon landing from history that appears designed to have been seen as a hoax, rock wine, nested yawns, and much else, all a healthy literary hoot. And the ending is highly romantic in an ingenious way. But still not as enjoyable as Variation 1.


    “She might be anywhere and I might float anywhere. Those are the facts. Therefore we will inevitably meet somewhere on the shores of that anywhere.”

    That quote is perhaps the most perfect expression of love in literature, a love sought, found and quited. It seems a shame to spoil that thought by saying there is also lot of business here with props and conceits, including messages-in-bottles, tin cans with talking on string between them, and those (message-in-a-bottle police?) who like to control or even intervene on such communications, sometimes for the global good. Enjoyable fun enough. But concentrate on the narrator’s picaresque quest for romance here if you want rhapsody. And, oh yes, the ability to continuously work on the wording of a message in a bottle if you accompany it – or, better still, embody it.
    And not forgetting the pitiful river in Madrid.

    • Suddenly thought again about rereading all my RH reviews to work out the optimum RH collection. I have never real-time reviewed the three Tartarus Press collections from the 1990s and so I intend to re-read those three books first and real-time review them, thus enabling me to reread those reviews and refresh my memory of the stories as candidates for the optimum collection.


    “…a wordless communion of two souls suffused with identical disappointment.”

    From a gas leak at the gym to a mustard bomb in the pantry, this is an accretively less believable, strange-simile-strewn account of two exes, still friends, climbing in their pantry that once belonged to a woman so old she had cobwebs in her ears. And a twist ending with a surprise cellar that encapsulated a romance that ensued, a romance not necessarily between the two exes. A triangle with two exes and a hypotenuse?
    I am continuously amazed at the endless fountain of conceits and mind-untethered plots that this author sprays. A mountain of them he scales, too.


    “…and I am a traveller, I wander for no special reason, merely to see new places.”

    I am also such a simple, footloose traveller in books; for their own sake; teasing out their gestalts, then waiting to see emerge a gestalt of gestalts by the time I die. Here, I dare not tell you – for fear of never reaching such a death complete unto myself – what lies behind this story of a man who wanders into Andalusia, into history’s diaspora of Moors, treading on ghosts, as the text explicitly imparts, and finding the last enclave of the Caliphate (not sure when this story was written and whether it predates IS / Daesh but if it does predate it, then the implications are manifold and spreading wider even as more people can now read of it here, if not reading the work itself) – nor do I dare tell you of what is its truth, what its decoy fiction, nor of the diversion of a woman who dances near naked in such a setting. Diversions and decoys, they may have worked, if I had not had to write seriously about them. Seriousness is a play of a play, after all. A game of gestalts.

  16. The next piece LOVE KEYS I reviewed here and this is what I wrote about it in that context:


    “…the delight of making the crossing rather than because they really wanted to reach the far side of the water.”

    Each morning I look forward to locking another of these flash fictions into my head for their own sake or their possible, unpredictable spin-offs. A few of the wise or simply aesthetic results reveal themselves immediately, others take days, others will possibly take years, others no doubt forever. Meanwhile, at my now optimum age, the head seems to grow or simply to transform…not necessarily with its own fleshy and bony mass but the accumulation of something far more rarefied that I predict will eventually become the whole of my head. Love Keys is quite another story. A delightful one.


    “, the plays feed without knowing it upon themselves.”

    …as in Averroës, but also here in Chaud-Mellé, a classic Rhys Hughes genius-loci in an ostensibly new classic setting. If you have not entered C-M before, this is the best example I can remember of its ambiance enfolding you with its vertical and lateral labyrinth, alleys, taverns, markets etc. as I sometimes hope my own gestalt labyrinth (of which this review is part) will develop the older I get.
    The traveller here is one of hopeful, if struggly, travel with a woman he calls his niece, but whose face encompasses its own swirling or crackling-lit labyrinth, I infer, whence needs not desires are hawled by the traveller to sell to those he meets. Think of the philosophical implications of needs being provided instead of desires. The ironies, too. There are some thoughtful and/or hilarious transaction results told here while he is in C-M. But is his niece his need or his desire? The ending at first is utterly oblique until it dawns on you what it must mean. Stoical, cynical? Who needs to know?

    “One doesn’t ask directions in a labyrinth without ironic intent.”

  18. The next piece I reviewed here and this is what I wrote about it in that context:


    …and after that almost unbearable emotional experience we are, with effective editorial positioning, now offered a romantic ‘fictionatron’ the airily provocative nature of which I have seen successfully expressed before but only by one particular unique author – until now…

    The Sublime Voyage of Ariana Aragão by EFBEEDEE PASHA
    “…it is a fallacy to assume that ghosts are always older than those they haunt.”
    This is a haunting time-threaded transporting (by conceit as well as by tram and ship) of seeing a balcony, from that ship approaching the harbour, a balcony on the skyline of the city of Lisbon and a glimpse of a beautiful woman upon that balcony, or a black box that seems to be a camera…
    It is impossible to itemise here all the details of this romance, its ‘photon’ palimpsests of time, a crew’s scrimshaw upon sail canvas, altered ambitions or sensibilities of the well-characterised individuals, but I can assure you that you will not forget the ‘perfect being’ (prefigured in this book’s first story and jammed upon by its other stories) that is woven like lace by all these characters and their yearnings and ‘palpable aches’, including yours, upon the very ‘Sighday’ when you read this story, mine being today. It is an inspiring fantasy that builds tracks (diaphanous as well as real) ahead of itself at will.


    “Poe’s raven will be a parrot again.”

    This is a heavily self-referential metafiction with a reader in an active rather than passive role, one that works perfectly for once. A gem of literature which probably very few will ever read, because they are imprisoned in their prejudices.
    The title is an anagram of a real book’s title, a book representing that imprisonment as well as the imprisonment of paradoxical love.
    Involving themes and variations on the concepts of muse and unconditional love – and of writerly liberation for those within its power, even building an impossible bridge between reader and writer as well as between you and me. And, as an aside, I am one of the few people to whom this author once wrote handwritten letters.


    “Love is always its own justification.”

    And so is literature.
    This, for me, is a rapturous rite of passage through the endless forest following the evening star, a projection of the self towards its goal irrespective of the temptations that beset it on either side, here the confused liaison of astrology and astronomy, of the personifications of Venus and Lucifer, even if that goal is simple, the goal of an un-misshapen love for “a genuine woman.”
    I shall not try to interpret it further. It is what it is.

  21. Don Entrerrosca


    “…the house with the most inaccessible balconies.”

    The first story of three about one in Córdoba who seems to be the Jacques Tati of minstrels and troubadours. I sense this story is in my reading DNA, self-referential and of unconditional love where some women who loved him allowing him to serenade the one he truly loved. Too many minstrels and troubadours serenading in the streets, though, make an economic recession worthy of Brexit. And trees who are also serenaded can make paper for love letters. This HTML I write here has itself become more amorous than Snapchat.
    While reading this gem, I happened to be listening to a radio recording from last night – of atonal mandolin music. Honest.


    “…his need to prove he was not the the centre of attention. He did this with the most forceful expression of unobtrusiveness he could devise and the the effort of this emotional paradox occupied all his concentration. But slowly he relaxed enough to genuinely absorb the creativity which he sought out.”

    I heard no serenades from my last balcony, and Don Entrerrosca’s transformation in this story, a transformation from an active troubadour of creativity to just a part of the audience, is a parallel parable to my own withdrawal from being a writer to that of gestalt real-time reviewer, to my new job of hawling the sun from others, dreamcatching their smiles. Or is that blind wishful thinking?
    The tale here of sunset’s unset, a jeered encore, a grey cloak of nemonymity, all very telling, until the moment his ‘futile lute’ becomes a ‘giant lute’ that tickles a beautiful woman’s toes. And much more.
    If I follow all the labyrinths of comparison here with my own case, it would send me mad. It is a parable to die for. A story gem, even in isolation from any such personal interpretations.
    (And I note the third part is ‘The Promised Labyrinth’, as yet unread.)


    “…he had to be everywhere instantly to be absolutely sure of finding his girl.”

    Labyrinth promised, but not yet reached. This third part is suitably exhilarating inasmuch as it uplifts you into a belief that fiction can be enhanced to bring you your promised goal, by a complexly conceited labyrinth of wordplay magic. But I still seek it as Don Entrerrosca does here, seeking an ending he deserves, and he does find at least the hopeful link with earlier mermaids (“some of them single and even tender”) instead of something this fiction promised : the ideal of loved woman he serenaded with his lute across all corners of the fiction map, including across the real map of the world disguised as fiction. Notwithstanding the Lowry spiral torque of carousels and DE’s faster than light glance of attention at the night sky’s roof and the horse steed he sought that needs as well as desires to be at every point in an omniscience beyond omnipotence itself. A poignant goal that not even retrocausality will help me towards without meeting the butchered centaurs. You see, my lute is futile, but I deserve an ending, too. Or perhaps my goal has been reached all along, but, to achieve anything, one needs to think it hasn’t been reached – and never will be?

  24. Tellingly, in view of what I have already written above a few minutes ago, the next piece I reviewed here and below is what I wrote about it in that context:


    A Spaceship in the Shape of a Woman
    They keep on coming, in this book, stories that are real humdingers. Although or because the audit trail of heterosexual gender behaviour is not clear, this story of a Mutiny on the Concupiscent Bounty (startling enough, with men inside a woman as craft) leading to a husband-wife culmination as a sort of farewell lift off is, like the previous story, both poignant and uplifting at once. I look at my own wife of 45 years marriage with myself, and then look at myself and the parts of my spaceship now faltering and I think, somehow, it will soon be time for my own uplift-off into outer space. And I laugh and cry simultaneously. Only great stories like this one can launch us from off vestigial mountains, I guess. Doom it Heavenwards.


    “Valentine’s Day…”

    Telling that the previous entry has a link to a previous review that happens to have been written on Valentine’s Day in 2015. Telling, too, that this is possibly the first of two gratuitously palate-cleansing Codas to this book’s Symphony of Fantastic Romance. Here with fish that French kiss with parasites as tongues (parasites who hate each other), an interruption from Porlock in the writing of this story by a real wife unworthy of being mine, and later by an editor unworthy, too, of being mine if I ever had an editor or agent, that I have indeed never had.
    Reincarnation interactions of coitus and birth based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead are also present as a black-humoured bonus.
    Telling, too, that I read this story on the very day that the news informs me that a new law is proposed to enable us to delete our past on-line personas.

    “Once something exists it can’t stop existing.”


    “I live in an age where vast amounts of information are freely available. Facts can be retrieved in moments.”

    “But it is expecting too much to discover with such little effort the identity of a shadow that is different from the person who casts it.”

    “…a twisted umbra, a misshapen and repulsive outline…”

    Beyond the coda. Charwoman or Charm.
    The word ‘casts’ in ‘the person who casts it’ there is the mot juste, as a caster casts a theatrical play or a fisherman casts his baited line towards the ownerless river. There is also a telling connection with what I just said a half an hour ago above about today’s on-line ownerlessness news item. That shadow that can never be removed. But here the Fantastika Romantique, whether Requited or Unrequited, allows us to dream of different circumstances and other methods of reshaping ourselves, where we are always alter and never ego, or just two dark spirits in effulgent love. And it also shed some light on the ‘misshapen’ taste in the mouth of the Midsummer Night’s Dream story above and resolves it with just one flick of the rod, not its tongue but the fish itself. And the ending of this classic story is a musical ‘dying fall’. If this book was not perfect until I read this story, it is now. This is the ending I earlier sought, the promised labyrinth, if a bittersweet one.


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