Tallest Review…

Posted: May 8, 2013 by douglasthompson in New Titles, News, Reviews, Tallest Stories


Kate Onyett has reviewed Rhys Hughes’ masterpiece Tallest Stories over at Sein Und Werden Magazine. Kate has written in great depth about the book, indeed to a length probably longer than some of the lightning chapters themselves! This is all good, and we thank her wholeheartedly. The tricky art of paraphrasing starts here, Kate writes:

“This collection isn’t about speculative fiction as platform for socio-political debate. This is taking speculative fiction in its purest form, and stretching it until it squeaks: this is fiction about fiction and the form of it, while bouncing up and down on its tensile limits.

This highly humorous reading experience is Hughes’s biggest work: sixteen years in the making. He explains, in a suitably dry (as he admits) post-script, his point. He wished to create a grand story-cycle that had connections and references between all stories at every point in it with stories from any other point. Thus cometh this book: a testing snippet of a bigger cycle he wishes to work his entire oeuvre into. Reading the sixty-two short pieces: stories, asides, extended puns and shaggy dog stories, one comes across moments that feel almost like extra-textual shout-outs and in-jokes, causing a smirk of appreciation. But on reading again, one realises that the reference is an in-joke to the rest of the volume…

Hughes here is at his most sprightly; a scamp, a will o’ the wisp, a charlatan and trickster, playing with the essence of narrative itself. Claiming by the end that it is possible to stretch the fabric of narrative reality, and by extension what that reality means to us, as reading, thinking, self-describing beings, by the stretching of tales. He elongates them into the tallest balustrades of nonsense possible to prop up an ambitious idea…

According to Hughes’s logic, if a pub is where tall tales are told, a pub that encapsulates the entire universe must thereby contain all tall tales. Therefore all tales in that universe will be tall: ergo emotional, fantastical, wish-fulfilment, metaphorical and parable; describing for the tellers what they wish to be, or what they think people would be better off being. And if the book is meta-fictional, it is suggestive that there is connective truth here; that this universe of tales is our universe, because we have been caught by the characters reading their book; we are complicit with them…

Oh, it’s a clever book; it is bouncy, cheerful, with some really good groaner jokes and puns, and some genuinely moving stories. Of the latter, The Urban Freckle and its tale of literal urban decay, Corneropolis and its lonely seeker and The Smutty Tamarinds and a man’s desperate search to be accepted stand out as particular examples.

It is perfectly possible to ignore and refuse to engage in Hughes’s mind-games and simply enjoy the book entire as a work of exploded, flexibly weird surrealistic fiction. This is, after all, meant to be a book of nonsensical wisdom. It contains exactly what it says on the cover: tall stories; not to be taken entirely seriously. Yet by their very nature, these make for a sparkling collection of vivid snippets, proving that tall writing is valuable for its very kaleidoscopic variety and beauty. This book is full of enough ideas for a handful or more of writers. By keeping the stories short and the subsequent pace brisk, as well as not engaging fully with moribund depths of ‘meaning’, leaving any such to be found by interested readers, Hughes has created a book of deceptive shallowness. Beware a Hughesian puddle- for it inevitably will leave you soaked to the neck!”

Please do read the review in its entirety at Sein Und Werden.

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