Skip to main content

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. 

Comments

How's about that then?

Fup by Jim Dodge

If there was a comfort-food version of a book for me, then this would be it. It's funny, touching, humanistic, and features so many quotable quotes that its trim 120 pages could be represented in its entirety on some such authors' quotations page.

We're introduced to Tiny on the occasion of his mother's death, lured into a treacherously fatal situation by, of all things, a duck, while her 4-year-old son sleeps in the car where he wakes to a terrifying solitude. Meanwhile, we're treated to a potted but entertaining history of Granddaddy Jake, Tiny's grandfather, into whose care by fair means or foul (no pun intended) he is finally placed. But the titular Fup duck comes along only once Tiny is fully grown (and how!). A lost and lonely duckling, much like Tiny, she's discovered shivering in a freshly dug post hole, which betrays the attention paid to it by Tiny's nemesis, a wild hog called Lockjaw, who enjoys tearing up Tiny's fences just as much as he …

And The Ass Saw the Angel by Nick Cave

Someone told me this novel, now nearly thirty years old (holy crap), Nick Cave's first and, possibly, his best, began life as a screenplay when he was still touring with The Birthday Present. That seems equally plausible and implausible. It is a wildly cinematic novel, narrated in flashback by the hermetic mute boy Euchrid Eucrow, who slithered into the world as one of a pair of damaged twins, the only one who survives the neglect of their first day on earth, and is vividly, viscerally visual. But it's also complicated, wildly imaginative, and at heart, finds a safer and more permanent berth in the gently revered world of literature than in the ever-changing and perfidious zeitgeist of cinema.

The story goes that Euchrid, after throwing himself into a bog into which he slowly sinks as he narrates his tale (to whom? and how?), was born, mute and unloved, into a truly Southern Gothic existence, mother a moonshine drunk, father a mean, bitter animal trapper, his community a severe…

Absolute Pandemonium by Brian Blessed

As soon as I began reading this, I immediately regretted buying the hardback and not the audio book. Blessed starts with an instruction on how to read this, his sixth book and the first in twenty-two years that hasn't been about mountain-climbing, and it's to imagine sitting opposite Brian and having him yell his life story at you as a series of long, rambling but gently themed anecdotes. Which as I understand it was how this was written–James Hogg, Blessed's ghost-writer, must be a brave man of renowned endurance.
And it certainly helps to have this framework in mind when you read it. With his sonorous bass-baritone booming in your mind's ear you can't help but chuckle when he describes punching Harold Pinter, who was 'in a heightened state of celebration,' down some stairs, or telling his co-stars on The Trojan Women that rather than make love he'd prefer a big shit. I can't help but imagine that hearing him boom these tall tales directly into my a…

The Minotaur Takes A Cigarette Break by Steven Sherrill

It might be twelve years since I first read this novel, drawn to it as I was at the time by the obvious and, I thought before reading it, gimcrack gimmick of having a mythical beast as the protagonist in a story about love, loss, rage, impotence, hope in the dust-bowl of Raymond Carver’s middle America. I picked it up again recently because of the confluence of two events – one, I found my first naive review of it in a stack of old clippings from a newspaper for which I wrote nearly ten years ago, and two, because of the unexpected loss of my friend’s brother, a man who despite his own issues, once pushed me to explore new horizons (both personal and chemical) and whose favourite novel, he told me in 2007, paraphrasing the microcosmic line “Maybe he sleeps, maybe he doesn’t”, was this very book.
It feels a very American novel, if I can put it thus and betray my own prejudices, given it borrows from European myth (M is not alone – there’s a nymph working in a truck stop, playing Ms Pacm…