Link Arms With Toads! – Rhys Hughes

I’m due to start below another of my gradual real-time reviews, turning leitmotifs into a gestalt. A book I recently purchased from Amazon. And it is entitled:-


by Rhys Hughes 

A story collection

Chômu Press 2011

Link Arms with Toads by Rhys Hughes

There is no guarantee how long it will take to complete this review, whether days or years.

CAVEAT: Spoilers are not intended but there may be inadvertent ones. You may wish (i) to take that risk and read my review before or during your own reading of the book, or (ii) to wait until you have finished reading it. In either case, I hope it gives a useful or interesting perspective.

All my other real-time reviews are linked from here:


The Troubadours of Perception

Le ciel est triste et beau comme un grand reposoir.

Fresh from this book’s publisher’s recommendation of Karel Capek’s War With The Newts, I now take stance to spar with the arch fiction-strummer of them all – one who can equally pluck complex tunes from pun and conceit: Rhys Hughes who wields philandering texts of  the most fantastical word-ploys and absurdic logic – and his rakish prose continues to delight me after having started reading it over twenty  years ago.  And this tutelary flirting story cuckolds one reader for another. The trouble of amour. But never dour. Then the triumph of amour. Turn and turn about. One minstrel journeyman whose destination is never reached.  Or is reached too soon without knowing. (22 Jun 11)

Number 13½

“…the talent of uttering seemingly meaningless, yet oddly affecting sentences.”

There is a title of a book mentioned in this story that made me laugh out loud this early morning: no mean feat. And we have all forgotten what laughter can do for us. It’s a strange effect, but try it. Real laughter, that is, not forced or mock.  Meanwhile, this is a scilly story: one with an intrusive narrator, a plot concerned with matters not outwith the scope of the Large Hadron Collider (which didn’t exist, I guess, when this story was written) – a M.R.-Jamesian puckerdillo with competing shipwrecks and figureheads symbolic/parodic of today’s toxic scorched-earth policies of the Euro-Zone.  It’s pure delight.  And a ghost in a painting is a ghost indeed.  A whole one. Thank goodness. (23 Jun 11)

The Taste of the Moon

Not ofsted, ofgas or ofwat, but some form of ofspice organisation that mind-bubblingly crowds curryhouse images / puns / prayers into a noumenon for a religion of fiction, followed by Hadronic split lentils (my expression not the story’s),  rivalries between spicemen and unrequited love. ‘Mazing stuff, not chilly, but real hot.  “…a side dish of Piston-Walla” makes me think the author must know that one of my favourite composers is Walter Piston. And a close textual exegesis with the hero’s name  – Mondrian –  more than just hints that the author thinks the reader in general is – or I in particular am – someone whom beatniks once derogatorily called a square and whose best effort to change that charge of being a square is by overlapping a number of geometric rectangles with each other below uniformly cumin-stained colours. Or by treating Rhys Hughes fiction titles as retrocausal spoilers. (23 Jun 11 – four hours later)


“Lines that are clean on a page turn dirty on a street,…”

Not only retrocausal within stories but from story to story, it seems, as this tale of UK local council Gaddafery — in a Flash Gordon / Kafka mode (if it is possible to have such hybrid revelling in hybrid fictions) — blends seamlessly with the end of the previous story. Starting in an effectively atmospheric Joel-Lanean Birmingham, it suddenly takes off into all manner of SFish parodies … and abstractions made concrete (and vice versa) – a hallmark of Rhysian fictionatronics, with towns as ingrowing heavenly-bodies or art deco aspirations of Fritz Lang… Three dots in any text shows something elliptical … that is rarely found in this book… because it is one giant ellipse that outblanks blanks. Feats of imagination as glancing-fangled aircraft – here one minute, gone the next. Until you find yourself inside one.  (24 Jun 11)

The Expanding Woman

“I was once addicted to her fresh wit and menthol sense…”

A linguistic duel amid a Whovian plot … with touches of Aickman and larger than life channel-hopping… Love it. (24 Jun 11 – four hours later)

All Shapes Are Cretans

“The shape that a person creates during their whole lifetime simply by moving: imagine its complexity! But the mind of God can grasp this figure as easily as a human can visualise a circle or a square.”

So speaks a character in a dysfunctional male M.R.-Jamesian relationship between intellectual types, forming an effective Socratic philosophical dialogue, one with touching Rhysian sensitivity (a sensitivity that is more common in his fiction than sometimes thought) – harking back to the story about Mondrian … and, at least for me if not for the story, the geometry of Astrology and the Stars (transits, aspects, Pythagorean harmonics, mansions, Zodiacal sines).  Wonderful, simply wonderful. (25 Jun 11)

The Innumerable Chambers of the Heart

“Rival firms had worked independently on the designs, which were finally superimposed on each other and constructed simultaneously.”

creating a sort of mis-planned palimpsest of a block-of-flats – but with romantic plumbing. Another touching story with human depth by cold distance (a depth giving the lie to any self-criticism by the author if not by his readers) … with a very clever crescendo of a gradually clarifying if cleverly clouded ending.  The aforementioned depth, by the way, is volcanic like many male-female relationships conducted outside this story if impugned within it. (25 Jun 11 – two hours later)

Pity the Pendulum

“Whole days were passed in scratching myself from the soles of my feet to the crown of my head, though there were always regions beyond my reach.”

Although ‘Cretans’ above is possibly my favourite Rhys story ever, this is probably the most important (so far).  A substantial, highly honed and stylistic horror story, honed and honest, but more than just that. A tale of Inquisition Toledo (I have been to Toledo a few years ago where my wife had an accident – but that is by the way with regard to this review) – a story about the dungeons of labyrinth-configured self. Mechanics of clockwork entropy as Clive-Barkerian tower-altruism, as it turned out, in face of the the walls and rats closing in.  And it was as if I had turned up as the story’s ‘you’ to save the day, as real-time reviewer, real-time rescuer, and, somehow, with great readerly sorrow, I failed. I still do.  This is a small miracle of literature. And I sense I have only yet scratched the surface of Rhys. (25 Jun 11 – another 4 hours later)

333 and a Third

“The stars were lamps on poles.”

I sense I have reached nearer to the noumenon of Rhys with this.  A C.S.-Lewisian / Dickian possession of a cupboard as living-quarters that leads to dispossession whatever its reach of reality. A poignant search for an essential Proustian self, disguised as fictionatronics? And the ending is the neatest I’ve come across for ages.  I sometimes laugh out loud when reading Rhys, but never burst into real tears. I nearly did here. (26 Jun 11)

The Candid Slyness of Scurrility Forepaws

“I added a single fly to every pot,…”

A mighty apologia to us for the electronic Rhys from the printed version – also as a chaos theory of a successful suicide reversed. This story is beyond review. Just has to be read. And I am taking a leaf from its moral ethos with another sly link, as you may now have seen, en passant. (26 Jun 11 – three hours later)

Ye Olde Resignation

“How escargot! How Victor Hugo!”

After the previous story’s flies in the jam, I can conceive of having nostalgia for Paul Weller even though I didn’t like him or his singing – nor did I predict future nostalgia about him – especially at the time of his heyday. Here, indeed, Rhys explores the nature of nostalgia – in fact taking his fiction into overdrive with vast eye-rolling tsunamis of nostalgia – and ofnostalgia (sic) officials in dysfunction  – and so boldly does this story go, I feel I’m already in the future (a future written by some future form of the past’s Eugene Ionesco) feeling nostalgia for this very moment of writing my review about it by means of good old-fashioned retrocausality (well it will be old-fashioned then if I have anything to do about making it fashionable in the mean time) – and I am trying hard to love this story in my own form of overdrive – in an attempt to catch up with its bombastic conceits about how far back nostalgia can actually stretch (to pre-historic times? Or even before that?) while, the story being so well-written, I don’t really need to try too hard. (26 Jun 11 – another 3 hours later)

Castle Cesare

“From the balconies of our highest turrets the entire firmament was accessible to our curiosity…”

But do we ever reach the last balcony? Not according to this story, as the hero protagonist – in a 2oth century East European literature flavour of a mediaeval fable – becomes a cross between the ‘Russian Doll’ hero (my expression not the story’s) from ‘333 and a Third’, plus Robinson Crusoe, Lemuel Gulliver, Doctor Who and a solar-systemic Phileas Fogg and ‘you’ or ‘me’ by fictionatronic empathy with an orrery degree in endless imagination…… Indeed, I can’t imagine  how big Rhys’ imagination must be to create this insular-picaresque fiction (seriously), but it seems central to some fabrication ‘magic fiction’ that I shall christen here, officially for the first time, ‘fictionatronics’.  A fabrication that only Rhys can bring off.  Ever chasing the noumenon but thankfully never reaching it because, if reached, it would become less than its unreachable essence. (27 Jun 11)

The Mirror in the Looking Glass

“His other hobby is to worship the moon…” (the ellipse three-dots: sic)

Despite my comparative tunnel-vision, I do sense this story would have been better titled: “The Mirror through the Looking Glass”.  This brief story has another ending to die for.  Following fabrication brought to life. (27 Jun 11 – two hours later)

Oh Ho!

“Because people like ghost stories, and refuse to stop telling them, ghosts exist.”

I hope that is not a spoiler, or DO I?  In any event, it’s the first line of the story and it is impossible, I maintain, for first lines to provide plot spoilers. This story starts with a fascinating digression on the nature of ghosts. (Can you START with a digression, though?) The story is mainly about the nature of bullying, however, and of relentlessly being bullied from the poignantly, fearfully, agonisingly empathisable point-of-view of another form of the ‘Russioan Doll’ hero as he struggles, through life, from Narnian reality-cabinet to Narnian reality-cabinet. Or that’s how I read it – which is important. The stories in this book make crafty use sometimes of the ‘intrusive narrator’ technique.  I applaud that. Meanwhile, Rhys, I’m the groundbreaking ‘intrusive reader‘. Oh Ho! what have we here then? (27 Jun 11 – anothr 3 hours later)


“I have no patience with paradoxes.”

So says tantamount to no-one, but can patience be played with them, I ask? I’m glad I fortuitously read this story so quickly after the previous one as they are ‘companion pieces’ (poignantly so): ghosts and bullies (enemies) vis a vis the assuagement of loneliness produce the perfect paradox.  This is ‘The Christmas Carol’ in spades. [Incidentally, for those who mistakenly believe Rhys can’t do deep character or poignancy should read this book.] (27 Jun 11 – another 30 minutes later)

Hell Toupée

“…the spades and forks that had been stabbed into the soft earth of flowerbeds and left to turn to seed.”

This is a long story where Rhys goes into overdrive over overdrive, peppered with outrageous puns, word-ploy and plot-turns, a fact that is perhaps the point of the whole story, one that novice readers may find hard to forgive. But I can forgive anything, even the author getting his own back on me at the end of this story for my playful (yes, it was playful) bullying of him when playing the intrusive reader, as I did in my review of ‘Oh Ho!’  This story itself crosses gardens and garden walls via other labyrinths from a wig emporium to a non sequitur shop, via a balloonist’s own present of a non sequitur to the protagonists, protagonists who include a yeti named MeMeMeMeME (symbolic of Rhys poignantly and seriously tussling with his own Proustian self in this book as a whole) … and, much to my amazement as perpetrator of ‘NN’, there is a magic carpet that ingrows like hair and a Wing in the Ground!!  And much else. A tour de force.  And it also causes me to realise that my whole general method of real-time reviewing (i.e. the ‘leitmotifs to gestalt’ method) is one huge (losing?) battle against non sequiturs!!!!

“Stars high above, but no moon, just an oblong of black where the moon should be, a flying shadow.” (27 Jun 11 – another 90 minutes later)

Inside the Outline

I couldn’t help but think of Beyoncé’s amazing headlining performance on the Pyramid Stage at the Glastonbury Festival last night when reading this story. A shadow of a shadow is the person itself. And only the words of the story can do justice to their own deep meaning. The outlandish characters’ names are just a credence of clearwater. So, forgive me, while I let the show roll on without me … and while a troubadour strums and plucks in the more reflective parts of the glitz, dirt, halo and long shapely legs:

“It evolved into a pseudo-religion with a fundamentally fanatical fanbase.” (27 Jun 11 – another 2 hours later)


An intriguing (for me, Ligottian) story of Coppelia in Chaud-Mellé – who creates human doubles as clockwork puppets, if not Russian dolls.  I just imagined Beyoncé having thus created the whole 175,000 strong audience (or weak audience) last night just for the TV cameras and her fans back in the USA…  Or Rhys his intrusive real-time reviewer and his million unseen readers and even more unseen readers if this ever becomes an ebook.

This is one amazing book. As Rhys himself has said elsewhere,  this book is the perfect introduction to the breadth of his fiction. I shall now read its Afterword entitled ‘Romanti-Cynicism’ for the first time, but I do not review non-fiction. So here I end the review, while hoping for my own replication (or perception) as the handsome troubadour I truly am.

“…the book of mad inventors would require an extra page…” (27 Jun 11 – another 3 hours later)



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4 responses to “Link Arms With Toads! – Rhys Hughes

  1. Posted yesterday by Marion Arnott on the TTA Forum:

    Norman MacCaig

    Stop looking like a purse. How could a purse
    Squeeze under the rickety door and sit,
    Full of satisfaction in a man’s house?

    You clamber towards me on your four corners –
    Right hand, left foot, left hand, right foot.

    I love you for being a toad,
    For crawling like a Japanese wrestler,
    And for not being frightened

    I put you in my purse hand not shutting it,
    And set you down outside directly under
    Every star.

    A jewel in your head? Toad,
    You’ve put one in mine,
    A tiny radiance in a dark place.


  3. I’ve used ‘fictionatronics’ above as if I knew what it meant – and I thought I did!
    But I’ve just discovered that it’s a genuine neologism!

  4. Just noticed Oh Ho is a palindrome.

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