TALLEST STORIES by Rhys Hughes
Eibonvale Press 2013
Real-Time Review continued from HERE
THE REVIEW CONTINUES IN THE COMMENTS TO THIS PAGE BELOW
16 – The Furious Walnuts
“His fate lay in the hands of some non-accountable reader.”
A new morning, a new page, a new story, and I sense I was being too serious yesterday. Reading too much into the words, I was. This story is metafiction taken to such extremes it actually ceases to be metafiction at all, an example 0f what I shall now call Devolved Fiction (a new revolutionary genre). Inter alia, it tells of a condition or disease involving ‘shelled identities’ and ‘rampant internationalism’, even to the extent of one’s head becoming of a different nationality from, say, one’s feet. (I reckon feet are more important than a head for a writer, if all the words are on the floor (but, then, thinking about it, that takes on new depths if you then factor in the title of this book!))
Devolved fiction about this work: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2013/02/19/devolved-fiction/
17 – The Illustrated Student
“He climbed painfully out of bed, lurched to the bathroom…”
It is now much later in the day and I am in a darker, more serious mood again. Meanwhile, I am often amazed how current-affairs synchronous my real-time reviews tend to be when I actually attempt one, as here. A gun, a bathroom, a girl friend …. But a hedgehog? That last one defeats me.
“…the different ways in which people perceive the same image.”
“…he felt that events had somehow moved beyond his control.”
“A migraine was forcing rainbows through a mincer at the corners of his vision.”
18 – The Story With A Clever Title
“It’s this story, the very piece we are standing in.”
I know it is not a done thing to illustrate one book with a personal photo of the cover of a different book (i.e. this one of ‘At Dusk’ by Mark Valentine), but Rhys Hughes’ works tend to make one do undone things — especially when I visualised something similar in the course of these three (or four, counting the ‘epilogue) stories at the end of TALLEST STORIES’ first part. The mirror’s reflection as reality and what it’s reflecting as reality, too, but different, and the explosion in the mind that results from suddenly realising this. The living Eroica Symphony emerging with its sword from a morass of mirror, seemingly foreshadowed in my own life this morning by a car’s wing mirror… Bang!
I sense that Rhys Hughes is for the Absurd but against the Avant-Garde (e.g. against things I enjoy like someone playing monotonously wrong notes on an untuned piano for some hours as I did once with Cornelius Cardew in the late 1960s) whilst I believe that Hughes is actually bouncing off the anti-Avant-Garde part of his nature by the perverse means of creatively and entertainingly utilising that very Avant-Garde, including Devolved Fiction (devolved to the reader finally in Part One’s Epilogue, leaving the reader fully responsible). Hence the story within the story (‘A Tale of Terror’) about Laura and the monster is symbolic for me of these possibly sub-conscious considerations on Rhys Hughes’ part. But meanwhile, someone from within this ‘Clever Title’ story itself ends up by walking the walk, talling the tall, telling the tale – of the vampire named Unthank in
19 – The Silver Necks
where that image above becomes again someone up to his neck in silvery liquefying mirror… and then we realise we need not have read this Silver Necks story at all because of a deja-vu bomb –
20 – Never Hug an Aardvark
that tells us pointblank about “The man who tricked a vampire into entering Heaven and then secured a day pass to check on its condition!”
And so we leave THE TALL STORY pub for a couple of blank 4′ 33″ silent or blank pages, perhaps abandoning Hywel, Bony-I, Flann O’Brien, Dr Mondaugen, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Anna Kavan, Bruno Schulz, the Faskdhfgasdhian et al so as to read –
Part 2 – More Taller Stories
Now a sort of connecting prologue where Bony-I, or Bony-M as Bony-Me or Bony-Mperor fresh from St Hellena (my extrapolations not the book’s) has escaped Hywel and the Tall Story pub where “words have solid shape” eventually to meet another tall-teller in a country-wayside Welsh temple who barters tales for tales for change (literally and figuratively) the first being one of the other tall-teller’s tales…
1 – In the Margins
of Reality, where biblically sky-dropping ‘plagues’ (I infer) are cross-subsidies of each other along ladders of cause-and-effect disguised as synchronicity, or vice versa. Don’t ask! Don’t go there! A sort of damp, rotty Aickman-like world of tiny husband and wife weather-monitors in a wooden hut coming in and out, not to forecast the weather, but to foretall (forestall, foretell?) something else…
Bony-M’s own bartered tale that follows in the mulch of mirror….
Ending with the Synchronised Shards of an Impossible Mirror as well as hypothesised gradations of Impossibility itself, this section, that I’ve just sent myself mad with by simply (I thought) reading it, ranges from 2 – The Wooden Salesman related perhaps to the ‘wooden actor’ whom I conjured up from nowhere in this review earlier as an example of something I’ve now forgotten – and, vying in the tale stakes, after the unexpected arrival of Hywel in the temple from the erstwhile pub, 3 – Two Fat Men in a Very Thin Country. Chile as a bootlace? Wonderful extrapolations on Old Boots in fact that I would like to share with my own relatively recent Old Boots here and here.
Harry Partch’s MARIMBA EROICA: http://soundartarchive.net/WORKS-details.php?recordID=2958
”Any attempt to exclude the ‘irrational’ is irrational.” John Cage.
4- The Man Who Threw His Voice
“These words fell to earth in a sequence that purely by chance formed the most beautiful poem that could ever be written.”
Quite a feat, as my line of parrots usually drop words that end up like a skull and cross bones. Very cross. Comes from reading too much Ligotti fiction. This longer story within the temple’s framing-device, meanwhile, concerns a plangent quest by Amos for his own voice that he threw and then lost (with a message for Amos judging by the hearsay via others who encountered it and then failed to tell Amos exactly what the message was), a quest involving, inter alia, a bridge visibly in the process of being weighed down by its stone statues, the hooking out of old boots, typically Rhys-Hughesian messages in bottles, a voyage as deckhand then captain, receiving a small share of old booty that was more than enough as he comes full-circle homeward, a satisfyingly quasi-biblical matter-of-factness as the years pass, making me feel mellow and I wonder if life really needs quests for parts of oneself (‘shelled identities’ from that earlier ‘rampant internationalism’), which tellingly brings me to thinking about finding one’s voice as a writer. Such a lifetime quest as a moral to this fable or simply another almost comforting ‘dying fall’ of a message that works better when sought than when found?
The narrative framing-device of the Welsh temple scenario etc continues even to the extent of the publess Hywel now setting up a beer tent (a frame tent?) for tales to continue to be bartered for drinks…
5 – The Sealed Room
This is a Rhys-Hughesian masterpiece preceding a story that I haven’t yet read actually entitled ‘The Masterpiece’. We shall see!
Here in ‘The Sealed Room’, immortality leads to ‘shelled identities/rampant internationalism’-type body-growth to provide all means of existence that the body and mind needs and desires outside of that body and mind. Brilliant!
[As a side issue, but still concerned with that very tentaculate primacy of matter conjoined and separate, there is this quote to point out from ‘The Sealed Room’: “The tale has it that he discovered a plant that would confer eternal life on anyone who consumed it, but that a snake devoured it first. Well I discovered an untranslated sequel on clay tablets.” I read this only half an hour after impulsively (and bravely?) issuing this very short blog post about electronic books here. There is a parallel, subtle but telling. Think about it. :)]
6 – The Masterpiece.
Not necessarily a masterpiece but more a fable about a masterpiece, with ironic overtones regarding the ‘avant garde’ in the shape of a sculpture. This relates to what I see as the Hughes’ “avant garde” anti-avant gardeness that creates a constructive new devolved genre as well as all manner of paradoxes and to my own recent — personally important and resultant from reviewing this book — ‘coming out’ about all my creative years heretofore. [Beside this is a picture of Rhys Hughes from his public blog dressed up, no doubt, for the sake of constructive Absurdity; I used to dress up for the Zeroist Group in the late 1960s (but not quite effectively as that!) for the sake of a possibly destructive Avant Garde… Synchronously, my wife and I have been invited this evening to a ‘Murder Dinner’ and I need to dress up as a flying pilot, presumably like Stringent Strange!]
Meanwhile, ‘The Masterpiece’ turns out to end in the form of (for me) a really effective Horror Story (another of Rhys Hughes’ bugbears: see the Horror Paradox and his ebook Lamblake Heinz…). In fact, the framing material prior to ‘The Masterpiece’ is a goldmine of Rhyshughesian nuggets: “…that living in a fantastical story instead of the real world means we automatically suffer less psychological trauma than flesh and blood folks, and we can cope with sequences of monsters and horrors in rapid succession, whereas you probably need half a year to recover from meeting a single werewolf”. TALLEST STORIES is, by the way, heavy on various forms of what in this preamble are deemed to be “shapeshifters” —
and there is also in this linking preamble a fascinating take on the reinvention of selves … and on Archaeology by digging from below rather than the more common digging from above (cf my own ‘Yesterfang’ novella and ‘Nemonymous Night’ novel as well as TALLEST STORIES’ own ‘words-on-the-floor’ series of conceits…) Just think about it. 🙂
Rhys himself has now since written this publicly, i.e. effectively on both his and my Facebook timelines:
Having thought about it for a day, I think you are spot on with your assertion that I am essentially anti-avant-garde. It never occurred to me before. Most avant-garde creations lack rigour and seem to be achieving through a kind of cheating; I guess I have always believed this deep down. But not until your suggestion, did I realise how suspicious I really am of the avant-garde: the exception being OuLiPo, which has a mathematical basis; and maybe that’s why I cling so resolutely to that ‘workshop’ of ‘potential literatures’… Thanks, Des!
7 – The Hole Truth: A Lie
8 – Entropy
“…supernovae blazed their dying arrogance;”
A double-headed leviathan of quantum imagination. Breathless and overawed by the visions torrenting from the page.
I’ve recovered somewhat by reading the settling auras of
9 – The Time Tunnel Orchid
where – if the author or publisher doesn’t mind – I shall quote the final sentence: “One day I will stoop to take a last drink of nectar from the plant I will afterwards cut down, carry home in triumph and mount in the vase of eternal fame.” This is not a spoiler but an enhancer, where fiction plot give-aways become flower plots blooming beyond themselves, beyond the margins of the page – forebrightened (not foreshadowed) by the cosmic pyschedelia of words that precede this story from the previous two stories: (d)evolving a sort of fancy-dress costume for the reader in a period-costume vision of perfect proportions to match one’s endless, ever-humming life aswirl the now endless, never-human body.
10 – The Golden Fleas
“They make me dance; not to melody which would be welcome, but to pain.”
This fable (not completely unconnected with Jason’s famous quest) has a delicious downbeat, like my own liking for atonal or Avant Garde music that some people see as pain. The beauty of Rhys Hughes is his ability to bespoke emotions to different people without changing the words to fit. Even to my own split personality where one minute I am slowly saddened by the burnished fleas on my reading-skin or laughably laughing at a particularly silly simile Hughes has blatantly pulled from the prose fruit-hat and the next minute I am happy or full of sublimity-admiration at exactly the same things that are couched in exactly the same words.
From the beer tent and its ever-shape shifting beer garden, come poetic or imaginative gems. And from poetic or imaginative gems come absurd pub-talk nonsenses that only extrapolation can rescue.
THIS REVIEW NOW CONTINUES HERE
The four parts of this Real-Time Review:
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