The first book by Welsh writer Jones Jones is a compact, elegant little volume containing ten short stories and a novella. Titled The Humiliation Triptych, its presentation is impressive, with neat hardback binding and a sprinkling of absurd, Victorian-style illustrations that – despite being largely random – marry perfectly with the general feel of the writing.
The hundred-ish pages of the book are split roughly halfway between short stories and the novella (“Riot”). So let’s begin with the short pieces. Two of them previously appeared in Neon: “Let Me Show You” and “Other People’s Gardens” can both be read in Issue #23, and are a fair representation of the collection. These ten tales are tightly-wound, sparsely-worded explorations of hate, anger, embarrassment and depression.
The other stories are all relatively short, varying from just a hundred or so words up to three or four pages in length. “Tiny Lives” and “Monitors” are two of the shortest, occupying less than half a page each, but are immensely powerful for their size. For me though, it was the titular story “The Humiliation Triptych” that was by far the most interesting.
The first of “Triptych”‘s three parts tells the story of an unusual new smartphone app:
“He’d downloaded and tweaked an app so that every time he took a shit, he just had to hit the hash key on his iPhone and his shit would fly out of the toilet bowl and come for me. About 100 metres or so, its reach was.”
Part two features a man being urinated on by a stranger in a public lavatory, and part three involves a holiday abortion. On first reading I couldn’t quite decide if the stories were aiming solely to shock, or if they had something deeper to say. The depravity of the events described is so layered on as to be almost comical – and yet there’s also a very particular heaviness to events that really hits home.
Jones writes about appalling things, but does so in a way that can go from being hilarious and absurd in one minute to deeply disquieting the next. He seems to be examining and toying with the dignity of his narrators, and this quite often yields startlingly moving results. On the rare occasions when a story doesn’t quite work, however, it can end up reading like a gross-out comedy.
“Riot”, although every bit as bleak as the shorts, is something of a different animal, at least in terms of the written style. It clocks in at fifty pages (just short enough to be read in a single sitting), and is narrated by south Wales youth Mark Jones. The story charts his coming-of-age over a number of years – a process filled with violence, anger, and urgent sexual exploration. It’s a compelling read, vibrant, painful and believable. Ultimately though, it felt a little inconclusive. Perhaps that’s not surprising – it’s the kind of story that defies a neat or happy ending – yet as I closed the book I couldn’t help but feel there was still more to be said.
The Humiliation Triptych is a unique collection. It is prickly, uncomfortable and yet powerfully compelling, and you can pick up a copy as an eBook, or as the beautifully printed special edition reviewed here.
Christopher Frost is a writer from the North of England. He works as a copywriter for a charity, and in his spare time writes book reviews.