Sunday, November 05, 2006

At the Molehills of Madness

Just finished chuckling my way through Rhys Hughes' At the Molehills of Madness - a collection of short stories which veers towards the unconventional, swerves perilously close to the bizarre, before hurtling over the precipice into the downright weird.

Pendragon Press have gathered together some of Hughes' darker pieces previously published in obscure magazines covering the period 1993-2003. An interesting exercise.

Sometimes these tales are parodies of horror as in The Fury Machine; sometimes horrible things just happen - I'm thinking in particular of the grotesque amputations, weird deaths and sexual perversions that abound. Mostly though his stories are just VERY funny.

How could anyone not laugh at Uncle Dylan's inept suicide attempts in A Length of Rope; or chortle at the carnage that ensues at Safebury's in Crash with Shopping Trolleys? Hughes' dark humour has many targets but the biggest kicking seems to be reserved for religion especially in Necessity is the Mother, Madonna Park, and The Decay of the Pilgrim.

Throughout ATMOM Hughes mixes up contemporary cultural references with a kind of mock-Victorian style; makes puns that are so terrible they are hilarious ("like students of cunnilingus cramming for their orals"); and employs some rather inspired story constructions. All of which will keep your average smarty-pants po-mo literary enthusiast very happy indeed.

From a Welsh point of view it is heartening that a writer like Rhys Hughes is out there. Someone who is prepared to embrace experimentation, absorb foreign influences and pursue an alternative to the social-realism that has dominated Welsh fiction (in English) for a century.

Although untypical of Hughes' work as a whole At the Molehills of Madness is a terrific piece of cult-fiction that will raise your eyebrows in horror and at the same time make you laugh your socks off.