This macabre collection of short stories and poetry offers a good variety of tales but is a difficult, adult read that seems determined to isolate its readers.
CS Hughes’ vocabulary is a fine thing to behold, but his writing is clunky and in a time when Australia’s literacy rate is rapidly declining, this book is far from friendly.
The short story Natalie, La Luna and I is a prime example, opening with the sentence “You are born of the miscegenation of too correspondent flesh”, followed soon after by Sad Susan, which uses the word patina in its opening paragraph. His attempts to write olde style English, using uncommon words and many awkward turns of phrase, make his short stories a hard ask for even the most literate of readers. It would be a crime for writers to only cater to the lowest common denominator but Hughes uses so much difficult language that one almost feels like he’s trying to show off. It begs the question who his target audience might be, if he’s not just writing for himself.
Hughes also fails to milk the moment, skimming over details to progress the story instead. The result is that his style is often flat and any tension is dismissed before it can take hold. A example of this is, again, in the story Sad Susan, which contains a gruesome and deadly attack against two of the narrator’s companions. The event should have been the most compelling moment of the narrative but is, instead, summarised in about three sentences. There was no thrill.
Add to all this the number of typos scattered throughout the tome and the collection reads like an early draft instead of a polished publication.
The book’s title hails from the most successful of the short stories. Broke Down House is a cleverly written piece in the style of the song, The 12 Days of Christmas. Each verse adds a new sentence before repeating all that came before it, effectively telling the story in reverse. Sure, you can just jump to the final paragraph to get the whole thing in one hit, but where’s the fun in that?
Other short tales of terror in this collection include a conversation between two undertakers preparing to bury a child, and the explicit and chilling story of a hermaphrodite with an inner struggle for control.
The dark poetry that makes up the second half of the book is far more successful than the stories, with some conjuring up the gothic imagery of Poe in much fewer words. CS Hughes is a poet, and this is his true forté.
It is easy to see that Hughes has enough imagination to create something fantastic but the Broke Down House collection is not a good example of what could be. More care in drawing out tension, understanding the ebbs and flows of good storytelling, more consideration to his use of language, and a keener eye for editing are all required to give this house a firmer foundation.
Reviewed by Rod Lewis
Rating out of 10: 3
Available through: Amazon.com.au
Published: 29 July 2016
RRP: $4.02 eBook
Image credit: Main image is a generic photo from Taringa!, not associated with this book.