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'Humbug' by John Hughes A REVIEW


‘Humbug’ by John Hughes is the new multifaceted novel by the notorious Sydney rip-off merchant. Once again Hughes has successfully launched a puzzle-book of spot-the-author, without listing all the answers at the end. Whole paragraphs from famous American novels and Nobel Prize essays rub shoulders with original writings by his former students and unusual uncredited passages from people’s blogs. Asked to explain himself, Hughes replies smilingly that there is nothing to explain. He is paying homage to all the favourite creative artists that make up his patchwork quilt. Acknowledgement is superfluous, given the words are Hughes’s once a few alterations are made and, as Charles Dickens once put it, “the ink has dried.” An important aspect of his method is the technique he calls “without realising”. This involves copying sections of ‘A Christmas Carol’ without realising at the time that’s what he’s doing. This is quite an imaginative feat, completely beyond the scope of Artificial Intelligence, or most other authors. The artistic realisation of ‘Humbug’ requires Hughes to be not realising what he’s doing. How this technique would work itself out in a court of law is an open question; it may be the test case. After all, as T.S. Eliot says, “immature poets imitate, mature poets steal, but plagiarists don’t realise what they’re doing.” How does he plead? Recent generations of poets across languages have developed the found poem, a poem made entirely of text written by someone not the poet, altered and edited in arrangements to make new effects. Citing the source of the words is an essential factor in this literary game. It’s possible that John Hughes has accidentally invented the found novel, an achievement that he could be celebrating as a first for Australia. This is not going to happen on the evidence of the book in hand. ‘Humbug’ is absent of any author’s name other than that of John Hughes, its contents rounded, firm-lined, and shiny like a jar of hard-boiled peppermint lollies. Nor are prospects promising while Hughes makes asides in interviews that his next novel is another homage to his beloved Dickens. ‘Great Expectations’ by John Hughes is a realisation of the book of the same name in which all the adjectives have been altered. It is unclear at present if “without realising” is being employed, but it sounds suspiciously like rewrite by thesaurus. Yet ‘Humbug’ is potentially destined to become a hallowed work of Oz Lit, a cult classic. The full set of sources for this Christmas cracker of favourite quotes has yet to be established. Once completed, readers will be able to read with unalloyed enjoyment ‘The Annotated ‘Humbug’’, admiring its synthetic composition, collaged story development, and range of references,  a work written by about 50 (and counting) authors, and arranged by that fox, Hughes.   






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