hughes is, for me, a hit and miss author. i've thought that some of his short fiction has been brilliant, yet some of it has left me cold. his linked collection nowhere near milkwood was enjoyable, but it had more than a few clunky moments in it, and his novel the percolated stars felt as if it had been written very early on in his career, before the finer details of pacing and prose had been worked out. thus, when approaching a new universal history of infamy, i didn't know what to expect. i had only recently discovered jorge luis borges, who wrote the original a universal history of infamy, which i loved, and... well, i had reservations.
hughes, however, does something truly surprising with a new universal history of infamy: he does not create a sequel, or even a new 'imagining', but rather, he creates a companion to besides borges' work.
let me say now, that you can read this book without having read borges but, in my opinion, you'll be missing half the joy of this book. to sit down and explain to you how hughes has built a companion would involve a detailed critique of the two books, noting how hughes builds his references, style, and even the narrative flow of the pieces up. but, trust me when i say that if, when picking up this book, you get yourself a copy of borges collected fiction (where a universal history of iniquity (the difference of iniquity and infamy is in the translator of borges) is the first seventy pages) and read this before hughes book, then your experience will only be heightened. i'll have you note that i never thought i'd write such a comment, but there you go.
the main part of both pieces are the fictional histories, and it his here that hughes is at his best, having built his narratives from the skeletons of borges, creating his own puzzles of prose that are a delight to work through. indeed, such is the joy of these, that i wanted them to continue. but, alas.
there is only one large hiccup in a new universal history of infamy, and that is when hughes parodies borges' 'man on a streetcorner' (also translated as 'man on pink corner') with 'streetcorner mouse'. technically, as parodies go, it's without fault except that i believe he references the wrong character in the first line, to keep with the makeup of borges' very excellent story. but that's debatable, i guess, and so is the parody itself--for some people, it's going to really work for them, and for other people, they're really going to dislike the whole idea. technically, i enjoyed how it was put together, but personally, i hated the whole idea.
the rest of the book, however, continues in the early vein of the book, and concludes with three parodies, two of which i greatly enjoyed, and one (the john sladek) which got a bit tedious, though the end made me laugh. this, however, is possibly because i've never read sladek, so the parody itself was lost on me. but, the two parodies, especially 'finding the book of sand', were great.
anyhow, so the excerpt is one of the histories, and you should go here and read it. then you should buy the borges book, buy the hughes book, and then make others buy both, so you can discuss how hughes has pulled of a book that isn't a sequel, isn't a re imagining, isn't any kind of cheap thrill, but rather is a companion book that the author has obviously laboured extensively over.