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Mr Rinyo-Clacton's Offer by Russell Hoban

Shining golden goblets but
the wine is black water; that's all 
there is now and forever.
It’s been a while, yes, I know. I’ve been around. You still living out by the airport?

Back to books, and specifically the eighth work of the Hobanology, Mr Rinyo-Clacton’s Offer, ostensibly a novel of another Faustian pact, but in reality, more in tune with the perspective box of Samuel van Hoogstraaten, to the illusory calm of which narrator Jonathan Fitch flees in moments of disquiet. Fitch, having lost the love of his life Serafina due to her discovery of his serial infidelity, is slumped drunkenly, a discarded marionette, in Piccadilly Circus tube station. Into this blurred tableau walks the diabolic Mr Rinyo-Clacton, charming, mischievous, disgusting and compelling, who offers Fitch a million pounds for the pleasure of harvesting his life at the end of a year. Fitch accepts and the deal is sealed with some forced buggery.

The money proves nothing like the salve to his wounded soul that he wishes it were. Instead, he seeks out Serafina, only to find that she too has suffered the seductions of Rinyo-Clacton, and now both fear for their long-term health and well-being. Drawn together once more in mutual self-loathing and revulsion, they live unhappily ever after. Rinyo-Clacton’s own search for meaning ends abjectly, and life moves on.

Narrating passively, Fitch is discomfiting and unreliable, perhaps fearful of deeper human interactions, that fear which pushed him from the embrace of his soul-mate and into the arms of a succession of faceless women, he simply shrugs when Rinyo-Clacton shows the cracks in his (Neolithic pottery?) facade and asks for reassurance on Hungerford Bridge.

Seemingly dense with meaning and symbolism, which of course it is being Hoban, laced through with references to art, literature and history (both ancient and recent, lost and terribly current), but only on the surface, an illusion Hoban crafts like van Hoogstraaten with infinite care and attention, a tapestry only a centimetre thick stretched out over the dark ‘goneness’ of wasted existence. I can’t quite explain how affecting this book is, given nothing worse happens than a bit of sex, infidelity and some health-related anxiety, but at a slim 192 pages it feels dense and weighty, and very important. 

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