01/01/2011. Contributed by Neale Monks
pub: Pendragon Press. 178 page enlarged paperback. Price: GBP 7.99 (UK). ISBN: 0-9538598-8-6.
check out website: www.pendragonpress.co.uk
This collection of short stories by the Welsh writer Rhys Hughes is a strange but entertaining combination of horror and absurdism. While the stories typically centre on such shocking subjects as murder, suicide, incest and necrophilia, they are of such an absurd nature that the tone is generally more humorous than obscene. In fact, Hughes' style here is very much characterised by his consummate skill at precisely describing insanely implausible situations.
The title of the book is of course a parody of the Lovecraft novella 'At The Mountains Of Madness', but despite that, this isn't a collection of mythos or cosmic horror tales. Instead, it's a collection of twenty-five stories ranging from straightforward pastiches through to squibs based on weird situations or subversive wordplay. There's no overarching theme that connects them together, but they're all pretty similar in style. Without getting too lit-crit about this book, it's probably fair to say that Hughes has a distinct voice of his own and rarely strays very far away from it.
Nonetheless, the stories are brief and funny enough to keep the reader entertained. Even the longest stories merely stretch out a single idea across nine pages, as in the case of 'The Gibbon In The Garrett', a story about a man who has his genitals removed and replaced with a gibbon. Inevitably, inexorably, this particular narrative climaxes with a gag about a man spanking his monkey. Others reveal a sudden twist at the end, as is the case with 'Lunette' and 'The Fury Machine', where the final lines reveal something that should have been obvious from the start but wasn't.
Although most of the stories are played for laughs, this doesn't hold true for them all. 'Madonna Park' is rather more angry and troubling than the others, involving a safari hunt for Madonnas (of the Christian rather than the pop sort) cloned from drops of blood taken from a miraculously bleeding statue. Like the other stories, the central conceit is clever in its way, but perhaps more than any of the others this story underlines Hughes' wilful rejection of what the mainstream might consider good taste.
Pendragon Press have done a good job getting this volume of stories into print, and for those who like this sort of thing, Hughes' collection will doubtless amuse and entertain. Definitely good value at GBP 7.99 and recommended for all who enjoy black humour and don't mind taboo subjects being not only tackled but thoroughly beaten into submission.
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