GESTALT REAL-TIME BOOK REVIEWS
Saturday, January 27, 2018
Stories From A Lost Anthology - Rhys Hughes
THE WHOLE REVIEW OF WORMING THE HARPY, THE SMELL OF TELESCOPES AND STORIES FROM A LOST ANTHOLOGY:
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:
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:
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:
). 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:
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:
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.
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