WORMING THE HARPY AND OTHER BITTER PILLS 1995
THE SMELL OF TELESCOPES MM
STORIES FROM A LOST ANTHOLOGY MMII
My previous reviews of Rhys Hughes HERE
My previous reviews of Tartarus Press HERE
When I finally dreamcatch these books via a re-reading of them, my thoughts will appear in the comment stream below…
I have already reviewed the later Tartarus here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2015/01/09/orpheus-on-the-underground/
WORMING THE HARPY AND OTHER BITTER PILLS
CAT O’ NINE TAILS
“They are slimy scoundrels to a man and woman; swarthy, bristly, leering and jeering rogues, scourges of obscure compass-points, bright blue with lewd tattoos.”
A cat called Herodotus tells of his nine lives to the narrator, while he washes, up, the narrator not the cat. But there seems to be a sort of washing up by both of them, the beginning of a writing career and its end. Beset by rogues.
A tale that, in already perfect Rhysian style, excels some of the best of this author’s later work that is still ensuing nearer towards the end of his life. This story itself, as it turns out in retrospect, is the cat’s own tale of its ninth life and first death. Its combined recounting and cause, via a möbius absurdism. And all of us who will one day fall into our own soup from the top of the crockery we have stacked.
WORMING THE HARPY
There is a quality about this that seems more wild, more mosaical, than this author’s later work. It has the readerly quality of not understanding it all but knowing that one does understand it deep down. Maybe it has a vintage wine quality when decanted from this old book. I dread to think what an ebook reprint will do to it, other than dilute it, EVEN if the ebook text is completely unchanged from the old book, which naturally it will be/is. The Jazz player called Dizzy where constructive improvisation depends on entering an alternate world – and a father and toy-maker daughter – a place called UmberScone. The two villains on giblbets. It all SEEMS like real long-lasting literature. It has the bespoke hang of good style that only old books can have, in a time before we were politically correct. Books that are rare and hard to find.
Reprinting destroys them.
“You remember the outcry last year, after that spate of attacks on children. “
I appear to have a rare lettered copy of this 1995 book:
Thanks Des! The story ‘Worming the Harpy’ in this hardback edition has a crucial scene missing that was reinstated in the paperback edition. The paperback edition also has an extra story that should have been in the original hardback. Plus some other mistakes have been corrected there too. It was so long ago (almost quarter of a century) that I wrote this story and the others in the book that it feels almost as if they are no longer mine…
The signature and dedication is interesting. I had never signed books before. I didn’t have a proper signature. It was many years before I developed an ‘authorial’ signature. On this book I just wrote my name because I was taken by surprise. I never imagined I was supposed to sign books… 🙂
Thanks, Rhys. Very interesting, I intend to review this original hardback at face value. It seems to have a magical quality steeped into its pages that any straight reprint or revision would find hard to reproduce. (My reviews of all three early Tartari are likely to be in very slow motion.)
Cross-referenced this conversation with Rhys Hughes here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2017/08/11/a-country-still-all-mystery-mark-valentine/#comment-10422
THE FALLING STAR
“Plodders with the pallor and ambitions of tadpoles attempted to outvomit pretentious book-reviewers and voluptuous editors from Sidcup.”
Rhys Hughes was ridiculing me for my reviewing even before I became a reviewer. As to the voluptuous editors…?
I am glad to see that Rhys was just as intent on wild conceits and madcap connections to the nth power even in those early days. He has ever been optimally consistent in writerly fictionatronic excellence if not evolutionary in it. A story of the narrator’s battle with the park keeper over the Star Pearls of a meteorite falling in the park. A battle of words. Well, that was unavoidable. But also of body-parts and paradox. Ending with the truth of the pearls’ ownership.
As an aside, the park-keeper is called Mellors. Is this the same man as the one in Lady Chatterley’s Lover? Only clue is his “thrusting hips”.
“There would be yoghurt and honey, moons and daffodils, chimes and rhymes.”
This very night: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-40909057
Perseid meteor shower.
Mellors is definitely the same Mellors as in the Lawrence novel… 🙂
I loved intertextuality back then (as I still do).
The tadpole was you (someone absurdly once compared you to a tadpole); the pretentious reviewer was me; and the editor from Sidcup was Pam Creais, I can’t remember why I put us in this particular story, other than because I have always liked Tuckerization…
I missed the meteor shower last night because I live in Wales where it is always cloudy. I will try to view it tonight instead…
I was the tadpole, not the pretentious reviewer? Who’d’ve thought it!
“The drone has resolved itself into a little boat with an outboard motor.”
No wonder the boat could enter the Opera House’s attic, being a drone. Of course, drones did not exist when this was written.
Quasi modulated like one of my favourite operas mentioned in this story: Moses and Aaron by Schoenberg. The first time I have seen it mentioned anywhere! Moses was borne on water. And this is a prophetic tale of global warming and flooding, where the Phantom of the Opera meets Quasimodo who is in post-alchemical beautification, as we can all be, given the transcendence of fiction, if not of Dr Dee. A nifty conceit that flooding does entail the world being left to only those who happened to be living in Ivory towers and other high places, when the flooding came. And there is a beautiful joke in its last sentence…
THE GOOD NEWS GRIMOIRE
“But I am digressing.”
There are too many things I can tell you about what this substantive story contains, the story I can foresee this author having worked towards as the future end goal of all his writing. It has a madness that is smooth and raw at the same time, with apposite and conflicting similes galore teeming through your brain. Names taken from famous and not so famous Gothic Horror novels and long-chinned fiends and a grimoire with inbuilt flask and mixed methods of use, and a truth that shines out through all the fictional lies and various machinations and characters. How can I do justice to it? It seems to be a ready-made like one of Duchamp’s, a ready-made in the form of a complex moving dream that was meant to exist even before it existed. A rightness of expression filled with manifold wrongnesses, and vice versa, making you think you are dreaming the reading of it, a notch clicked into a new reading dimension that both makes you sleep and makes you wake at the same time. I felt all these things genuinely and I am trying to express what I felt in the best way. The thin man put in a wishing well, just as one example, escapes but then escapes back to it. But I am digressing. I’ll leave you to read it.
Written in early 1995 when I was the poorest I have ever been. I literally had no money at all and no food. I knew I had to survive a week without eating. I decided to write a story and try extra-hard at making it better than my previous work. ‘The Good News Grimoire’ was the moment when I *consciously* decided to attempt to take my work to the next level. This doesn’t mean it actually turned out better than all my earlier stories, but the determination that generated it has stayed with me ever after. That’s why this story is a watershed for me. 🙂
Wow! Thanks, Rhys, for that insight.
“The true art of disguise, he maintains, is more a matter of poise than looks.”
A telling tale of the highwayman Robin Darktree who keeps up a denial about all the increasingly modern things happening around him to change the braggadocio of the road and, thus, changing his job – things such as railways.
Telling and poignant. A prophetic portrait of self? I would have said pathetic as well as prophetic, but the former word doesn’t seem to fit. Pathos, the root of ‘pathetic’, is paradoxically not so pathetic in itself.
“: foolishly romantic, arrogant, profoundly sad and almost comic.”
(Perhaps ‘sad’ has also changed its meaning since 1995?)
This story has become the very first chapter of my novel in progress, THE CLOWN OF THE NEW ETERNITIES, which I really need to return to writing…
Started The Darktree Wheel here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2019/04/26/the-darktree-wheel-rhys-hughes/
I am having a sabbatical from much of my reviewing for a couple of weeks.
I am sporadically breaking my reviewing sabbatical by dint of a brief nonce…
“My lusts are stubborn barges on a curry-sauce river: they pole their gondolas upstream, against variety’s spicy currents.”
That perhaps should be ‘bargees’ not ‘barges’?
A story that leaves a bad taste in my mouth, as if the narrator, if not author, has plugged the reader onto the end of his penis and used the result to mount his bicycle from the rear. A Cheating-Box as tank-engine in word form; a Beckettian nightmare which Beckett would disown. Perhaps this author’s greatest story. Or his worst. The fact that I can’t decide which – and that I have discounted anything between those polarities – must mean something. It is strangely Rhysian and not-Rhysian all at once.
Yes it was ‘bargees’ originally but a typo in the hardback meant it came out as ‘barges’. In the paperback many such mistakes have been corrected.
To come clean, we had a public conversation about this in 2005: http://nightshadebooks.com/discus/messages/6/1601.html?1112302866
Another quote from this 1995 published story:
“It had been difficult to fit all of Mark’s solid frame into the constricted rectum of the asinine singer, but I had somehow managed it.”
A CARPET SELDOM FOUND
“Please do not take my head. I work with my head.”
A substantive, arguably important Rhysian work. Found art as a Turkish holiday and a handkerchief sized carpet taken back by Lawrence to England where his girl friend had left him and he and his co-workers in a boring job, a carpet taken back along with the carpetseller’s curse, a curse that cursed itself, it eventually seems, by the labyrinthine autism of limbs of the nightmarish loom rooms in Turkey, with the later expanding carpet and invoice and Lawrence’s own threatened limbs and dreams, including his head as another limb, all this turning out, for me, with the carpetseller’s own concomitant dream now today explicitly a then prophetic symbol of the IS state or Isis or Daesh…
Spontaneous Deconstruction, with dreamcatcher and hawler built in.
And one of the best Rhysian jokes ever, using the word ‘stumped’ … and the most telling Rhysian view of a relationship as an extension to his ego being denied planning permission! Gulp!
“There scarcely seemed to be an area that was not a means of access to somewhere else.”
“But I was helpless, as weak as a fly in a web; as utterly doomed as a snowflake in a female undergraduate’s first toaster.”
A sad man, seeking his first woman, mistakes a chimney on a Jersey beach for one. But not before kissing ‘her’ and falling down its flue or channel towards what he takes to be the sounds of Hell. Some theological quandaries …. as well as a few silly jokes in this work, even laugh out loud ones against my better judgement, except nobody laughed out loud when this story was first written, I guess. Now, twenty odd years later, we have to laugh out loud to dissipate the world’s misery. Joyce and Julie Andrews, too. And a chimney-brush to die for. A sort of throwaway happy ending when he becomes a “soot fairy.” Throwaway is not a million miles from what you should do with this story.
ONE MAN’S MEAT
“I can love you heart and soil. I’ll be your slave, your mother, your mistress. A real turnip for the books!”
Another of this book’s stories that left a dirty taste in my mouth.
THE MAN WHO MISTOOK HIS WIFE’S HAT FOR THE MAD HATTER’S WIFE
As variations on Oliver Sacks and Lewis Carroll, this is probably the author’s strangest ever story, under the influence of influence itself I guess, in tune with “Observing the observer of the observer.”
I am not sure I remember whether I accepted the invitation to the banquet. I suppose I would I have remembered if I had. Or whether I indeed received an invitation before reading about the event in this story. I cannot indeed remember reading it before. I wonder if the influence of that volcano was what Lowry was under?
“Alice is playing the harpsichord, to calm her nerves. Her fingers fly over the keys, building up a dress of notes which cling to her naked body.”
But note the mis-spelling: “Allen”.
The author states elsewhere that this story was influenced by the style of Donald Barthelme. I haven’t read Barthelme for many years and so I cannot usefully counter-comment. I do recall that I read him as a result of a recommendation from Rhys Hughes and do recall appreciating his work. I ought to take him up again.
CELLO I LOVE YOU
“During the Schoenberg – played to appease the mob – I began to dismantle my adapted umbrella.”
A most touching paean of love to the cello and not to the woman who exploits it with her bowing and scraping.
This is one of Rhys Hughes’ greatest works and has stood the test of time and memory. The green hams, notwithstanding.
WHAT TO DO WHEN THE DEVIL COMES ROUND TO TEA
“There is a smörgasboard of suppositions; a veritable goulash of guesses.”
The devil comes round if the plates are round, I guess.
A very telling piece of advice that continues to resonate with meaning upon meaning – amid this beginning back in the early 1990s to this author’s now seasoned delight in an ever-teeming fictionatronic sandbox filled with literary ‘sand’ from even longer-seasoned legends, a menu of legendary creatures and fairy stories. Here the Devil who I suspect has gout.
ARQUEBUS FOR HARLEQUIN
“This was a terrible mistake, I know; the world requires no more fiction. Motion, the breath of engines, is more important than emotion, the mist of maturity. I have entered wordy swamps crowded with fools,”
Crowded with fools, indeed: a telling prophecy of the more shallow swamps today. This nagging debate with self regarding choosing writing over engineering is couched in a beautiful, yet constructively resistant, texture of thesaurian prose. The tale of Diggory who admits he cannot write of relationships – until he wrote The Black Dog of Zero? Hah, that is my version of Harlequin’s spurring arquebus today, by saying that and thus retrocausating the handwritten dedication shown above!
“Will the stories be sufficiently different from each other or will I be harping on the same theme? An interesting question.”
ÉCLAIR DE LUNE
“At once I picked myself up and became stoutly pragmatic — burning my poems and finding profitable employment selling life-insurance to the employees of the Kingdom Noisette Engineering Co.”
Of course, I was fighting this battle with myself in 1995. Seeking the same insulating-cable that would take me from one to another. Still the rest of this story – that I have just meticulously re-read without previously remembering anything in it – has nothing to do with me. The tensions between the polarities of the soul, however, are also mine. But I already had my cakes and eating them, just like Brexit has become. And I also noticed the subtle reference to Stockhausen and the more obvious one to Satie. And that Éclair’s sponge in the bath had a filling! And that it was not a bath at all. The tensions between being a ghost (and thus dead) and being alive were also not lost on me. But the raisin d’Éclair of this long work was completely lost on me, otherwise. But I loved the killer pun at the end. And music as the rhythms of cell division. And, oh yes, the strict rules of duelling, not forgetting the real people in it like Mark Xeethra Samuels and Rosemary Gibbet-Pardoe.
GRINDING THE GOBLIN
“Women no longer wore undergarments? Then the gates of Heaven were always open!”
Ending with the cat from Cat o’ Nine Tails, this Chaud-Mellé story (if a city’s mad, it can die, if it can die, it can become a ghost) seems a sort of sequel – Mark Xeethra in common – to the previous story, also with the Udolpho patisserie. But it’s more like the Paris of the King in Yellow, with communes and agents, except here it is in Austria. I do not pretend to have mastered this story, but luckily I am also mad can die or become a ghost, too, like this whole book that has instead become a cult classic. But how many readers make a cult? Eliza Pippins or Mary Poppins, notwithstanding. Her umbrella adapted like the one in Cello I Love You? And the sewers in this mad city rife with harpies. Turmeric as ground goblin for the Devil to take?
“The anarchist himself was kneeling in front of the hearth, feeding papers into the grate. But there was no fire to receive them. The leaves were sucked up the chimney with great force. I rushed to his side. ‘But these pages are blank!’ I protested.”
Book’s dedication: For Charlotte
THE BANKER OF INGOLSTADT
“I remember attempting to galvanise a dead horse when all my friends wanted to do was arrange flowers or tie ribbons in their hair–”
A rolling conceit-to-conceit classic of this author, with a probably unique style for the year 2000 when it was published, and only this author has maintained such a supreme level of fictionatronic absurdity since then. My theory is that this author’s work is a living banker, a slightly flawed gestalt experiment still in 2017 on-going, one-off, but the flaws make it perfect, and not at all so that one can unscrew the works to see how they work. The tale of the would-be student (of colour and female gender) and the would-be racist and misogynistic banker of her grant has possibly become its own Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein’s monster. Frankenstein was Mary Shelley’s monster, the actual monster being Frankenstein’s. This book of telescopes is the author’s own monster towards hopeful fiscal self-reliance – and telescopes, if not necessarily their smell, are central to another Shelley, Percy Bysshe’s PROMETHEUS UNBOUND, a major work that for me puts a new meaning on this book, for the second decade of the 21st century. Next decade, there will be yet another meaning to uncover, I’ll be bound.
“My rooms are very secluded. They have never known a female presence. Even the fleas are exclusively male.”
TEN GRIM BOTTLES
A Rhys Hughes Welsh pub talk story, where a stranger tells locals, including the incognito village poet, that he is the egoectomist of poets. Collects their egos in bottles. If these bottles drunk then the poet’s ego mutantly affects the drinker by thinking they are a poet. To cut a short story short the last two sentences seem to indicate that this poet-fiction troubadour himself called Rhys Hughes, given time, may yet attain the status of creative genius. I reckon he already is, but you are not a creative genius until a quorum of the public believe so, too. And thus I now write stories, too, sometimes with horror trappings galore and other wormy tropes. Or was that something I used to do, before I met the egoectomist. Or the cannibal under the bridge, Billy goat gruff notwithstanding.
Thine eyes are like the deep, blue, boundless heaven
Contracted to two circles underneath
Their long, fine lashes; dark, far, measureless,
Orb within orb, and line through line inwoven.
— Shelley (Prometheus Unbound)
“The Italian republics did not like former pirates settling in their towns.”
I say this a lot. One day it will be true. This is the story that moves into Rhysian overdrive that overdrives beyond my mind’s previous measure. An overdrive of simile and conceit and utter meaningful madness of meaninglessness, where an ex-pirate called ‘Ceti opens a barber-shop in an Italian town. No way I can do justice to it here. It sort of flows, leaving a story to simmer in a sump it has made for itself in your brain.
THE BLUE DWARF
“But, unfortunately, this is the real world; life is a sour cream poured on stones.”
A told amoral fable where those told it join in with quick fire changes of their trousers and souls. I am beginning to think some of these stories in this TELESCOPES book are seen via orb on Shelley’s orb or through the wrong end or genuinely iconic. I seriously suspect, over time, since 2000, that they are becoming iconic like the stories of Grimm or Hans Anderson. Given a quorum of readers.
THE PURLOINED LIVER
“Instead of placing the glass to his lips, he held it under his cheek and lowered his prolapsed orbit into the murky depths.”
Making the eye smell of real ale. At first, from the title, I thought this would be a skit on Poe, but instead it’s a Monty Python type journey into Shropshire with the names of beers and villages outrageously believable. A long-cut to the motorway around the theme of girl virgins being more easy to burn than other people.
THE SQUONK LAUGHED
“A constant stream of tears from two enormous eyes had worn deep furrows in his cheeks; his lower lip curled down to his feet, which protruded directly from his neck, as if the rest of his body had fled this source of misery.”
And if you think this is sad, wait till you face the debate between two such sadnesses – with the ulterior motive, admittedly, of kidnapping a wife disguised as a blunderbuss. Edward Lear-like iconicity in the shape of something quite different. Guns can sometimes be like smelly telescopes, I guess.
It seems more than just synchronous that this afternoon I took a rare trip to the cinema and saw ‘Victoria and Abdul.’ Dench was monumental. The film was both funny and moving. And now I happen to read this, where the traditional telegrams are sent by a Queen not a million miles from. Victoria to all THINGS as well as to all people that become hundred years old, even to the the tradition itself!
It all seems to fit in. Gestalt real-time reviewing has come of age, too, with its own, if premature, hundred years telegram.
THERE WILL NOW BE AN AS YET INDEFINITE SABBATICAL IN REVIEWING THESE THREE MIGHTY BOOKS. I HOPE THIS PARTICULAR SABBATICAL DOES NOT RECEIVE SUCH A CONGRATULATORY TELEGRAM FROM OUR CURRENT QUEEN.
Linked the Queen Victoria reference here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2017/09/06/knuckbones-marni-scofidio/#comment-10646
DEPRESSURISED GHOST STORY
“You have beaten me to a pulp, but I shall beat you to fame.”
I was born in Colchester, my parents’ home there, and, as a reader, I now have a beard, and susceptible to avalanches of meaning. This is a high-ranging tale of acrophilia, climbing rivalry, discussion of spirit and body, of geography and ghosts, plus namewords used in the old-fashioned anonymous way disguised with end to end en dashes, ordinariness as miraculous, a number of self-aware footnotes and a reader’s missed footing.
They don’t write them like this any more, since the heady days of the turn of the century. ‘A Scorn for Stress’, being my suggested subtitle for it. A story where I found a literary E——.
I have tried to read this and then decided to check whether anyone had reviewed it in the past. It seems not.
I could not understand any of it. I was hoping to be the first person to review it, but even I have failed to become that pioneer. I sense nobody could ever have READ it, let alone reviewed it, except perhaps David Rix who republished it. I leave it for better reviewers or readers than me.
THE TELL-TALE NOSE
“Truly, she was the quietest mandolin player on the globe, and as I have already intimated, it is the barest sounds which I cannot bear.”
I think I can safely say this is not only a Rhys Hughes classic it is a classic per se in all literature. An obvious skit on the famous story by Poe, it goes into realms of puppetry, recondite urges of concealment, and strange behaviour. It is worrying and hilarious all at once. With this author at the height of his powers at the start of his writing career, an acrophiliac-literary height he has since sporadically maintained.
To clarify, as this story was first published in 2000, it was not necessarily written at the very beginning of this author’s writing career! Possibly it was the middle (so far)?
A GIRL LIKE A DORIC COLUMN
A shy story about stalking Pickfaces on an underground train switching heads for personal gain.
Another sabbatical from smelling telescopes, while I read this author’s newest book WORLD MUSES.
THE ORANGE GOAT
“I hungered to find the alchemical formula for pastry — the philosopher’s scone.”
Awhile since I picked up this book and I am faced – nay, graced – with a real force of power in words perhaps beyond any Rhysian work before or since. A work to work up to not from. You need training in reading Rhys before expecting to fully appreciate this one. An alchemy, in itself, towards both gold and constructive dross in literature, telling of the narrator’s grappling with loss of his loved one and the loss of a tooth, with the long-term rival for this love, and with getting rid of squatters, as part of creating the perfect blueberry pie. And that only tells you a small fraction of this story’s equation.
NOTHING MORE COMMON
“There was a woman asleep on the bed, her face contorted with mighty effort, as if she was digging a pit in her dream.”
Ghosts are nothing? First appearance here of Captain Nothing? And Rosemary Gibbet-Pardoe and Mr Longhorn. Meanwhile, Mr Bloat is helped to collect a tin mine to take back to Porthcawl while staying in a hotel elsewhere that seems to house some mutant version of MR James’ Oh Whistle!…Damn I just wrote a plot spoiler before I could stop it. Might as well go the whole hog and tell you fog is the ghosts of dead tin-miners and Waverley houses a large number of novels by Scott, some he never wrote but intended to.
Like Thanatology Spleen, I am afraid this is another work I just could not get into. Some stories like Spermaceti Whiskers of potential similar ilk I can allow into my sump and it does pay some relatively immediate dividends. Not so Muscovado Lashes. Perhaps it will do so as a delayed reaction. But how long can a delayed reaction in literature take – weeks, months, years?
A PERSON NOT IN THE STORY
“‘Never mind him,’ whispered Emyr, ‘that’s just Mr Homunculus, local poet, embittered and drunk as a study-toad.’”
I recently stayed in a pub/hotel (named after its local poet of yore) where the WiFi pin was ‘OurLocalPoet!’ The pin included that exclamation mark as part of it! This story is about Dr. Pin who goes backward to Holdall, sorry he goes forward to an Eisteddford at Lladloh which is not the standard Eisteddford but I am sure it must be full of local poets as well as Druids! This story teems with ideas, and Pin is an engineer looking for Kingdom Noisette another engineer who turns out, I think, to be an automaton, and everything reminds me of of an Ealing Comedy as much as an MR James tale. But above all it’s an iconic Rhys Hughes story, at the root of such stories, complete with Lost Hearts, whistles, and cake-tins as cogs. And a finale fit to swaddle you with an MRJamesian bedsheet become a collapsed marquee. And much more.
BRIDGE OVER TROUBLED BLOOD
“There must be fifty ways to cleave a lover.”
And that cleaver seems connected over a whole generation of this author’s writing to the scythe on the cover of his latest book? Except it being 80 lovers there? Meanwhile, this is an incredible love story; a vision of Sapphic or Lesbian love I have never seen in literature before, even if with the bathos of what was inside it. Not Simon and Garfunkel inside Mrs. Robinson’s brazier or brassière so much as some godawful songs and a bridge that tapped into her exploitation of students’ blood during her job as a University counsellor.
I cannot possibly convey to you the words, conceits, wildnesses of a story that should have stayed in my mind more powerfully than it actually has over the years. That delayed reaction I mentioned earlier? Perhaps I was then more interested in Arkham than Fictionatronics and did not read it properly till now.
Thanks Des! A good example of one of my comedies that have annoyed so many fans of the serious ‘weird’ over the years. I remember getting a lot of flak for this one, not so much for mocking the Lovecraftian elements but for doing so by bringing pop culture into it. I was berated for being ‘postmodern’ — the ultimate sin! 🙂
BURKE AND RABBIT
“For the sake of my buttonhole, I pounced on one with a scythe.”
…an orchid in that quote, but later a sickle is referred to in connection with the decapitation of a woman called Rhowen Clot, one of this story’s many necrophiliac lovers of its narrator. There are Biblical cut-ups, too, akin to this author ‘s interest in OuLiPo, I guess. As a whole, it is another Lladloh classic whose mayor once he has shafted all the town’s women – including the hilarious encounter with Bigamy Bertha – is himself mine-shafted! Towards Hell or Llanelli (the town where my father was born). And there is also mention of iOLO Machen, “a panophobic Shepherd.” Plus a cat called Pushkin whom I think I have met before? A mean trick in extending the women whose pussies were to be serviced by the mayor to those already dead like Rhowen Clot. “And they won’t be available till the Last Trump!”
Most of these stories so far are so utterly rich, I sometimes need sabbaticals to regroup my critical chutzpah to match the book’s own mighty chutzpah!
I shall return here in a week or so to continue this marathon review,..
THE YELLOW IMP
“My notion was for the barbs to stick in our destinations, the three points of existence, and for the turning wheel to gradually pull them together, so that the planet was no longer triangular but folded over like a samosa.”
A wonderful Dunsanyan hawling of pulleys in a psychogeography more in tune with the pub chains of Welsh villages and pastoral Christian care than with leylined land-grab madness, gnoled and knurled and gnarled and with impish Romance to the most beautiful of Welsh lasses now travelled to meet me in that Welsh shadow called Shropshire. Whitby, notwithstanding. So rich with Lladloh coincidences as miracles, or vice versa, so rich it sends me constructively insane upon this dark December morning.
“Each oval cobble on every road is a protuberance on a whole body, not a separate element. The environment is integrated with itself. It is one.”
The gestalt of wood and flesh, a body with two skeletons of bone and furniture. Anarchy and wild madness sent through the reader as part of a gestalt real-time review the story itself conducts about arguably philosophically explained self-perpetuating crowds from merely seeing them as undoppler gangs, before I had even invented such a concept of gestalt real-time reviewing. “The life of a craftsman among ruffians is difficult.” As some authors also have discovered since the invention of the internet which was only in its infancy when this story was published. “We are fathers between blinks.”
THE HAUNTED WOMB
“I’m not here for small talk, but I’ll briefly mention the time the clock of Salisbury cathedral was possessed by the spirit of a sundial.”
Where do I start, other than with that non-sequitur? A woman’s womb possessed by the ghost of her past lover as discovered by her new husband on the wedding night being the source of this ensuing Rhysian audit trail of events and characters. You can only describe something like this story with itself – and never before has this been truer. The end of reviewing as we know it is thus built into its start because all future reviews will BE the things being reviewed themselves. Each review with its subject-matter ready-made in its womb? Which in the end brings us back to – where do I start?
From the haunted womb to the haunted clock…
MISTER HUMPHREY’S CLOCK’S INHERITANCE
“Chaud-Mellé was an urban pit more gloomy than Ipswich—“
If you are a new reader of Rhys Hughes, then start with this one. It combines all the complex skills and conceits of his best stories AND with an engaging accessibility. Arguably, his central masterpiece whence all else stems. If I try to describe the plot of this licker of antiques or tell you of its secret, possibly unreliable, narrator who is only revealed partway through, you might be deterred. And if I wanted to demonstrate its mind-blowing wordplay, I would be spoilt for choice and be forced to quote the whole story. Which brings me to what is hidden in the grandfather clock, but, too late, telling you that has already spoilt the surprise, because inside is this story itself. Unless I have covered my tracks by becoming an unreliable reviewer to match the rhythm of something in my soul that has been infected by years and years of reading all the books of Rhys Hughes – or of licking them?
THERE WAS A GHOUL DWELT BY A MOSQUE
“Omar liked to imagine that his attic was a cave beneath a garden —“
Probably the most successful Horror story written by this author. I actually felt a frisson of genuine fear while reading it.
THE PURPLE PASTOR
“Our Planet was no longer scalene, but it still wasn’t round, and it was my fault, so I had the responsibility of tucking up the loose corner, which was flapping in space, to make a parcel, a world-pie containing the future. To be blunt, the task seemed to be beyond my talent, which is modest and clumsy, but lovely Myfanwy had faith.”
A Mr Pastry Parcel of Pies, Pasties and Pastors, a continuation of the unravelling or ravellling of the turban in ‘The Yellow Imp’, a wild grappling with ungrappleable things between Wales and England. Absurdist psychogeography in the round. A “cake-tartarus”. And a “letter-bomb” that made me wonder if these are now obsolete with the full-blooded arrival of the world-wide web? “But perhaps I was muddling two meanings of the same word, a bad habit which I hear can now be kept in check in a Prague sanatorium.” Get thee to a punnery!
THE HUSH OF FALLING HOUSES
“Before I reached my own aloof building, I was buttonholed by Padgett Weggs, the postman.”
So that’s what happened to Padgett Weggs. My father was once a postman, so was my father-in-law. And with this next wild Lladloh story also containing a character called “D.F. Lewis”, it only seems appropriate that an hour before reviewing this, I was quoting from ‘Journal of a Disappointed Man’ by WNP Barbellion here; it is a book recently recommended to me by Rhys Hughes, and what I quoted from it today was a meaningful lesson for life by several men hawling a pile on the pier. Here, in the Rhysian work, the protagonist is hauling things from the sea at the edge of a pier. Today, he hauls an astrolabe that becomes astrologically significant, along with subsequent exorcism, in trying to divert the apocalypse of Lladloh. Much absurdism and rich wordplay and now familiar characters continue to engage here, too. And in those old days, I, too, was a believer in astrology, while Rhys himself was always an astrological sceptic.
THE SICKNESS OF SATAN
“Why was Swansea elected for the venture?”
Because of its future in missing out on the City of Culture accolade. A student lodger to help with a couple’s budget and the arrival of an advert through the letterbox for a local Indian eatery that turns out to be at the address of a church, a mind-eater of a story reaching levels of religious philosophy that will make death and its aftermath seem relatively simple by comparison. Sickness making eschatology deeply scatological? Or vice versa?
Which end of the telescope is the most smelly?
“Odette told God that the student deserved to die, because when he broke wind in the bath he leant over to bite the bubbles.”
“Are you cousin to squonks?”
“Squonk? What sort of word is that?
“Name of a creature. A weeper from Pennsylvania.”
A mighty novelette based in Spain that if the book has not already sent you creatively mad, this will now utterly destroy you, triangulating many of the previous wildnesses and eschatologies and raw flesh-eating scatologies but in unimaginable female-chivalrous adventurous overdrive – and my gestalt real-time reviews have long publicly acknowledged the need for many of us to triangulate the coordinates of all hyper-imaginative literature, but here the work itself triangulates some of the other story titles from THE SMELL OF TELESCOPES (a vastly under-noticed book deserving of a permanent literary monument) while using actual geometrical diagrams printed within the pages of OMPHAGIA ANKLES. And talking about that ‘weeper of Pennsylvania’ regretting that the State had voted for Trump in 2016, and this work first published in 2000 pre-evokes the Brexit-spawned Trump himself in the form of Ugolino who, among other things similar to what Trump has so far done, morph-magicks geography itself akin to the promised Mexican wall and false crowds at his inauguration – and the potential phenomenon of North Korea as an item of an Atlas’s fake news? And he destroys the scribbler Humberto, too. And he no doubt tweets still today. A remarkable prophecy of our times…
PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS A RUSTY BUS
“But Swansea has finished with all culture: it has packed away its pulleys and chains.”
Its hawsers and hawlers, too. Only last month in 2017, this 2002 published story (that also incorporates the Lladloh Mythos mentioned above) fulfils its prophecy when Swansea lost (by being sent to Coventry) its bid for being our next City of Culture … bearing out this narrative’s cruel and probably justified campaign against the phenomenon of Dylan Thomas being at the zenith of Swansea’s so-called culture. The failure by the married couple of protagonists to kidnap this dead poet for this story – only managing to kidnap a bus named after Dylan Thomas with a huge suppurating liver as its engine and a nude Lladloh baker trapped inside it as a new poetic conduit for that dead poet, which was not enough to save the day for the future culture nor to harness for the anti-Dylan Thomas cause the autonomous reader of this wildly hilarious story beyond transposing him or her from the past to the future without really getting through to him or her to understand this story better, even on a second reading.
I previously reviewed the next when re-reading it in SALTY KISS ISLAND, as follows:
THE LUTE AND THE LAMP
“…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.
This starts with a hilarious meeting of the male narrator with a fortune-teller who was not a fortune-teller at all, but an electrician. But you knew that already.
The main thrust of this classic Hughes story, meanwhile, is of an endless Tunnel of Love that – in its rather ramshackle fairground – summons a deep meaning for a couple’s love as well as one’s own self-love. But now, a clink on a glass, and I am off to read out my toast to this story that is this buttering-up review of it.
JOURNEY THROUGH A WALL
“There is a real hunger for the supernatural, the belly aches for bread spread with spooks.”
A romp with phantom phantoms, friendly rogues exploiting the spaces between molecules to become Fake Nudes, no, Highwaymen as hitchhikers and drivers and traffic cops of the modern age, feeding the lust for ghosts to haunt you.
One of them is on a quest for Thor’s nail. Just that. No reason why not. Shrugs. The raison d’être of this fable remains invisible to me. Thus, a phantom moral? If not exactly a moral phantom.
THE MARSH CALLOW
“A gestalt sprite. The king of wisps.”
You know, I wonder how I could forget some of these stories from reading them fifteen years ago. This one, in particular. From the phantom phantoms in the previous story, we arrived eventually at a “gestalt phantom” in this story, having followed a woman guide to the marsh and its will o’ the wisps between the surrounding four towns, knowing all its safe routes like a cockle and tide guide on Morecambe sands, I would say. The actual step by step process of this story builds images of mass movement, impinging margins and overlapping ghostly siren wisps into a gestalt wisp, and eventually overlapping human natures within overlapping towns. Greed and estate capitalism transcended by a beautiful literature of the spirit, with its own devious bluffs, I sense. Or am I being naive and callow?
STORY FROM A LOST ANTHOLOGY
“Shrugging, I let him go: you try to help folk but they insist on failing in their own manner.”
A story with this book’s eponymity except for the singularisation of ‘Stories’, and I never appreciated the irony of that till now. A Lladloh story that perhaps should have been in another anthology with the smell of telescopes. Smelling things closer up. I find this author’s Lladloh stories generally more confusing than others, sometimes crossing a line between a constructive confusion and a destructive one. Here a Troubadour with the Cat called Pushkin, and the songs he sings and the characters he meets in a tavern. Full of Welshicles and names of places like Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndroblllantysiliogogogoch.
“I watched as the fellow sitting by the coffin stood and shook hands with the hauler,…”
LESS IS MORE
More is less, too, as the moral of this genius work seems to prove. When I say genius work I mean genius work, a vignette of reincarnations and future retrocausal incarnations, its “single germ” being equivalent to that instable glitch that I identified here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2017/12/16/wound-of-wounds-an-ovation-to-emil-cioran/ a few days ago (a book in which this same author also appears.)
“It’s not a firm but a wobble.”
Now THE ultimate hawling story, with a glance at “even profits from whimsy.” Cross-reference the first two reviews here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2017/12/25/the-demons-of-king-solomon/#comment-11457
The hawling (in addition to two mentions of ‘hauling’ specifically), is the ‘letting go’, with pulleys and grapples, in respect of sacking or firing or making redundant as well as of catapulting elastic bands in an elastic band business TwangsRus, backward to Russia, melting, too. A mighty jape ‘n words. A skit on business practices. That last bit about a jape ‘n words is my original observation, but that’s what this ultimate-wordplay story is, till it lets me go….
THE MACROSCOPIC TEAPOT
“We wrote a lot of new material, fused it together into a suite with inaccurate literary and philosophical references, changed the name of our hitherto anonymous band to a single blank space,…”
I THINK I have just made the reacquaintance of my all-time favourite Rhys Hughes story, a story out-doing all such previous favourites because, presumably, I had unaccountably forgotten, over the years, about this one! It reminds me of the visiting performing musician and of the hotel where he stays in Ishiguro’s classic THE UNCONSOLED. And the strangely unexpected appearance of the eponymous teapot in the ending is wonderful, an ending that even out-does the Ishiguro. Maybe, they deserve each other. A perfect synergy.
“Then I hurled myself on the mattress and stared at the dead eye of the antique television standing on its own legs in the corner. It had a perfectly round screen set in a wooden case.”
“‘Ghosts are not solid,’ he replied. ‘They are like clouds. They are like childhood memories or friends who no longer write letters. They are no more tangible than stars in the daytime or hours lost on a sea voyage.’”
You will agree, an exquisite quote from this story, lying fallow all these years since when I must have first read it. A three-part tale of one telling a tale to two travellers who are unappreciative listeners and want some explanation of how a presumably unsolid ghost can be cut in half. An ingeniously oblique telling of the three parts, a birth of a homunculus as if by a Frankenstein process, its vanishment in the first part and rediscovery in the third, with the Civil War haunted by ghosts with soldiers as worms on the battlefield as the second part, and although maybe different Civil Wars this FALLOW is in remarkable assonance with Philip Fracassi’s SHILOH (recently reviewed here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2017/12/16/shiloh-philip-fracassi/). Do read both of these works together and you will not blame me for telling you to do so; you will appreciate it better than those travellers appreciated the story to which they listened within this story, I am sure.
“I was jealously guarding a secret which even I did not know.”
… the secret as to how this plague was named …. because it turned our cells into stone with infection lit from the constellation Cancer or because it made you move sideways? This clever retrocausal-Pygmalion story involves much cell-searching and waste disposed crumble-remains from statues of once living human beings, disposed into the emptiness left within existing pre-plague tombs… a battle against self in a kill-or-cure as an avoidable cruelty. It is ironic, meanwhile, that the potential cure is contained in a book (a gestalt of all its cerebral and physical ingredients as a book in itself) that is found by the now soul-searching protagonist while also searching the emptinesses in those existing tombs that he is rifling to double up on those entombed in it. Ironic or highly crucial to our understanding of ourselves beyond any irony? This story’s own mentioned “trump card” to reverse the most abject Pig-Alien of them all?
I have already reviewed this story here: https://nemonymous123456.wordpress.com/322-2/ and below is what I wrote about it in that context:
Pyramid and Thisbe
“But vampires do not give birth to live young. They lay eggs, spherical and black as cracked leather.”
…one of which hatches out into a vampire called Desmond! Meanwhile, the horror here is not so much in the highly intriguing and extrapolatory horrific concepts of Vampire gestation-lore and a wild flight cosmoswards to compete with the conceptual intricacies in ‘The Ditching’ while trying to obviate some *real* ditching into a “silent and mindless void”, a void threatening such vampire creatures as it also threatens default-paranoiac human beings like us, I guess — yes, not so much horror in all that, but, for me, in the actual act of trying to imagine the type of person who could possibly write such a story as well as end it disarmingly with such utterly outrageous wordplay. I need a firewall between me and such a conception of an author with just a chink to peer through to savour his prose images surreptitiously as well as safely. (16 Sep 12 – 10.30 am bst)
[I note that, in relation to ‘Southbound Satin’ above, the words Absurdia and Absurdians already exist in a different context. I hereby change them to Absurface and Absurfacers by retrocausal decree.] (16 Sep 12 – 2.20 pm]
THE LOVER AND THE GRAVE
“—when there is love even a ditch will seem like heaven.”
Even a ditch with mosquitoes? Meanwhile, this is a bit of a mishmash of a picaresque paramour and his consequent coping with his lovers’ angry husbands and fathers, and with scaling balconies “rose between teeth, ode and song behind on tongue.” Coping, too, with inverse Pygmalion plagues caused here not by Cancer or Crabs but by those pesky mosquitoes. And committing capital crimes of necrophilia and suicide…
All retold from words on a gatepost.
To be continued shortly.
THE EVIL SIDE OF REGINALD BURKE
“Well, malaria caught me…”
An amazing story now in hindsight, one that is so utterly mad without context, it becomes potentially THE Rhys Hughes classic if factored into a universe of preternatural forces that radiate from the gestalt of this author, one force being of a weak backdrop to a mighty feat, or vice versa. Then, social ineptitude and transformational heroics, a Hyde Park and Monkey Jekyll, a way to harass and to coddle at the same time, to turn into the carpet we all walk upon nemonymously at night or to murder people with their corpses now inside the murderer’s head but the corpses not always in mental form! And eventually a specific conjuration of malaria’s cure in the penultimate paragraph of page 170.
Real life Rhysian malaria coincidence subsequently emerges: HERE
ASPARAGUS ON THE TOOTH
“A craftsman of any type who fails to create will by all the laws of symmetry be too incompetent to destroy.”
One of the big wisdoms of the Rhys craftsman himself. Writing is a craft, a bridge between the small and the big, between two cities of both those sizes, between the mind and hidden realities. But if we manage to cross one bridge to seek out truth, will we be allowed to cross back with it? Is it ‘all’s well that ends well’ or ‘sod’s law’? This story tells of plaited asparagus spears, of rafts become warships, of democracy become planned vote-rigging and back again. It all fits together and then falls apart again which allows it to fit together again, and so on. As para-guess and tongueless lie and off-kilter truth which no guesses nor lies can hope to reach.
A LANGUID ELAGABALUS OF THE TOMBS
“Nor shall I return to the Welsh hills. I remain in flatter regions.”
Starting with this author’s perhaps love-hate relationship with the Land of Our Fathers, this morphs into possibly the most amazing story he has ever written, a mind-boggling philosophical treatise converted into or from the Rhysian child-like naivety of mischief and enquiry that I have noted in his subsequent work. The Nature of God, of Horror literature, and of much else concerning the Nameless and the Ineffable. A comic farce, too, one of seeking hidden libraries, forbidden books, some pornographic – some books Nameless or Blank, or both. In the same year as this book was published, I simultaneously published Nemonymous Two that contained the world’s first blank story, and I proffer ‘Nemonymous’ as another word to be contained in the list of ‘Nameless’ synonyms given in this story. However, meanwhile, the nub of this INCREDIBLE work is the solving of why someone committed suicide by snorting gunpowder and then lighting it. The ramifications of that mystery I cannot possibly cover here, nor the satire of Academia and Religion and Demonic Theory and Horror Literature. Or a tale that seemingly writes itself. And, oh yes, parched parchments. And much more.
“Even the gods can forget details. Indeed they are more likely to, for they have more time in which the images may fade.”
Indeed, also, I must have been too callow and naïve when I first read this book in 2002. I was not then ready for such stories as this and the previous one; I was then as yet unripe enough to be a Rhys reader. OWLBEAST is a mighty work that I can now, like a foundry, forcefully forge and not forget. It starts as the protagonist’s striking arrival at a ceremony, an ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ sort of experience as, in what we later discover to be an owl costume, he arrives amid other seemingly more ‘knowing’ ceremonialists than himself. A priestess is a significant force here and he wins her costume Tontine competition, after which he tells a fantastically entertaining story to the gathering of his supposed Owl Mexican-flavoured godhood, and of his crossing of the seas by walking on their seabeds, having given up plaiting rafts from asparagus and other vegetables… His Eyes still Wide Shut as the others vanish off. Amazingly, they did not enjoy his story, it seems, as much as I did!
TIN IN THE SOUL
“, making me feel as diflas as pechod, which is to say dejected.”
One of those often frustrating Lladloh convoluted, mad wordplays, with a gamut of crazy character names, and reprises here of the Tunnel of Love, and music played on tin and other metal instruments including Charpentier. Rhysian stuff that readers suffer like some suffer my own nemonymities, retrocausalities and gestalt triangulations! Somehow what I remember about this one, among other things, is a manjuice wand being dipped in cider. Or did I get that wrong, too?
COCKATRICE AT THE DOOR
“‘Artistic temperament is a capricious, cupidinous force. Mine insists on turning this block of chalk into a dozen boiled eggs.’
She shrugged. ‘Can’t you do them from imagination?’”
A strongly controlled, while feeling wild, extrapolation of fine art Aesthetics, for example, the nature of model or agent – here Cressida Ludo – and the sculptor Rodin Guignol. Plus the way the local authority looks after artists, and the need for free gaudy trousers or suede shoes, the transactional analysis of the business of art itself, and the seeking of love in remote lands or a cockatrice “below the equator…”, all debated or reflected back at him by Cressida, paradoxgalore-wise by a taking ad absurdum of this book’s Pygmalion themes, the effect of making real things as well as people into sculpture by turning them into stone, not here by plague, and back again, but with the world enrocked by a Cockatrice’s mirrored glance, his blindfold gone.
Is this constructed art by unpretentious skill or found art as an installation shape or an ingrowing stony apocalypse? This story is a near masterpiece teetering on the edge of all three.
“What if a bird is perched on the web?”
ROBIN HOOD’S NEW MOTHER
For me, an irredeemably silly story of a bored Nina, Queen of the Amazons traveling with her advisory god in a jar to England to meet Robin Hood. A sort of be-buried-where-the-arrow-falls Carry On film. Rarely do I meet a Rhysian story I cannot redeem, after many years of reading and reviewing them. I think this is only the third one.
THE NEW GIRALDUS
This starts with a quote –
“The Welsh people rarely keep their promises . . . The only thing they really persist in is changing their minds.”
Gerald of Wales
With my being half Welsh, I keep half my promises, and only change my mind when I see a promise is not in the interests of the person to whom I made the promise. My Dad was born in 1922 (and lived his early life) in Llanelli, and so I believe Llanelli is far superior to Portmeirion, and not only because it sounds – if only when pronounced in a half-Welsh way – like Cthulhu.
This story I sense is a highly sophisticated prophecy of the nature, if not the details, of Brexit. Sophisticated but paradoxically absurdist and ironic, with bounce your head off the wall wordplay. And it supplies a neat quote with which to end this marathon review:
“I crusaded against crusades.”
These three books, ostensibly once read by me when they were first published, are a mighty revelation, and with my lost memory, their stories (some the author’s most fundamental) have come up as if they are new, sharing a culmination of some long rite of passage just finished. The whole gamut provides its own lost anthology of mountainous memoryless proportions but with my gestalt-targeted real-time reviews, now enshrined by electronic googleable links to all the titles of stories no longer lost, if lost they were. Indeed, I think they have been, undeservedly, half-lost, at least. Now no longer, as they now seem to me to be half-found at least. I leave all you others to take over and complete the task of wholly finding them. Found art, not at least but at last … give or take even a cockatrice’s influence.