Students of Myself - Rhys Hughes: A Review
By: Ceri Shaw
Posted in: Book Reviews
In this collection of bizarre tales from the Welsh master of the absurd we are introduced to a Professor with a small class and an unusual subject matter. Rhys explains thusly:
There are few students in my class. When one considers what the subject is, this isn’t surprising. I teach myself.
In other words, I impart to my students facts and fancies based on my life and ideas. It’s the least popular class in the university and I doubt it will be funded for another term.
As a homework assignment the students are asked to write an essay in which they must try and imagine how the Professor spends his spare time. Needless to say he has told them nothing of his personal life.
The eighteen essays which follow offer an extraordinary and hilarious variety of imaginings, some of which are, worryingly, partially accurate. Is the Professor being spied upon? Who is the woman waving from the street below, and which of his students is prowling around on the roof presumably watching him? Of course you will have to read the book to a conclusion for answers to the above questions.
Meanwhile the 'homework assignments' on offer here will delight Rhys Hughes fans. There is the strange case of Professor Spark who we meet walking the corridors of the university thinking about the meaning of life. His musings are of little interest because:
It could be the case he was about to make a major discovery in his field, to prove that viruses have knees or that aardvarks are descended from dragons, who knows? I didn’t care much.
The situation quickly deteriorates, however, when Prof Spark returns from a local bookshop with a copy of 'The Pop-Up Book of Fire'. The consequences of his purchase are at once, tragic, absurd and hilarious.
Then there is the tale of Miss Diane Ra who loves labyrinths. The problem is that clothes have a habit of unravelling whenever she is accompanied on a walk through town. And who is the madman who prowls the city streets with the strongest lamp he can find looking for darkness?
Towards the end of the book the Professor is advised by one of his students:
You have taught yourself. Now teach others.
Is this further foreshadowing of Rhys Hughes forthcoming emphasis on non-fiction and essay writing?Readers may remember the following announcement in Weirdly Out West :
I will switch to non-fiction and start writing essays and articles. In fact I began last year to take my non-fiction much more seriously and I am hoping that my first book of essays will be out in the next year or two.
Whatever the truth of that, 'Students of Myself' is another triumph from the pen of Rhys Hughes and will delight both fans and new readers alike. If you are not familiar with Rhys's work this would be as good a place to start as any. If you are, you will need no further recommendation or encouragement.