Book Review by Rakhi Dalal
Title: Comfy Rascals
Author: Rhys Hughes
Publishers: Raphus Press, Gibbon Moon Books
“The moon was a tomato in the sky, then it was an orange, then a grapefruit, then a metaphor, then it was exactly like a simile, then like some other comparison, then finally it was itself, the moon. The comfy rascals reclined on loungers on the beach and watched it change and pretended it was a weak sun they had tricked out of sunbeams…..”
Thus begins the title story of the collection, which with its brilliant wordplay, focuses on the imagination of things, on moon and Baudelaire, thus first transferring awareness to the realm of uncanny and then almost quietly turning it back to the real world. It is peculiar and subtle, the way it happens. A tale of palpable human helplessness in a cold and dark world as the comfy rascals first laugh and “then shiver at night in their own last desperate resort, an abandoned seaside town”.
Comfy Rascals is Rhys Hughes’ recent collection of experimental short fiction where the stories constantly shift/ permeate to the realm of fantasy from real world and vice-versa, blurring the binary categories of human/nonhuman and natural/material world. Hughes was born in Wales. His first book, Worming the Harpy, was published in 1995. Since that time he has published fifty other books, more than nine hundred short stories, and innumerable articles. He graduated as an engineer but now works as a tutor of mathematics.
Hughes, who sees himself as a comedic writer, uses fantasy and humour to explore unusual concepts which compel readers to re-visualise the accepted ideas of reality, challenging their understanding of the certainties this world offers and the possibilities it may, when seen in a manner unaccustomed to the mind. While some of the stories may unsettle –
“I have destroyed the world, but what of that? Light a candle in my memory and that will be more than enough.” (‘A Deep Breath’)
Some bring a vivid element of the fantastic, like —
It is so cold that the candle flame just froze solid and I was able to snap it off and put it in my pocket for later. When it thaws out I will use it as a hand warmer and then put it back on the wick. In fact it is so cold that the flames of the fire have frozen solid and can be snapped off and used to cut butter, if cutting butter is something you need to do.” (‘How Cold is It?’)
And some others just amuse by virtue of their humour/satire:
“One Socrates in the market square is not a heap of philosophers. What happens if we add another Socrates? Still, this is not a heap. It is two philosophers, that is all. Add another Socrates and keep adding them.” (‘Sorites Speculation’)
Hughes works with human anatomy, sometimes in tandem with non-human forms, and challenges the anthropocentric worldview where everything human has more value over others. The elements of grotesque that he thus makes use of, subvert the notions of ‘real world’ and ‘materiality’ while being playful. He also makes use of spaces inhabited by humans, like homes to question the extent of boundaries we willing create.
One important space that is difficult to overlook in this collection is author’s use of the concept of libraries (Four stories in all), especially in the wake of a tyrannical rule. He employs it to drive home the point that tyrannies succeed when people become subservient to the rule. We witness books being burned but not always.
“Tyrants burn books, but sometimes the books fight back and vanquish the inferno.” (‘The Library’)
Science fiction and mythology are brought into play by Hughes. His stories swerve socio-political understanding and narratives to the realms of the uncanny, the grotesque and the fantastic while displaying a vibrant play on words, thereby alluring with unconventional reads and hence, unimagined revelations.
In the author’s own words –
“Many rascals are too tense to be comfortable. Real life rascals have much to worry about. But rascals in fiction can afford to relax a little in the waves of prose that surround them, gently swirling on the wit and wisdom, bobbing on the contrivance, floating on the syntax. It is nice to be a comfy rascal.”
Rakhi Dalal is an educator by profession. When not working, she can usually be found reading books or writing about reading them. She writes at https://rakhidalal.blogspot.com/ .
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