Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Against the Grain by Joris-Karl Huysmans (2/5)

First published: 1884
Original title: Á Rebours
Original language: French
Translation to English by: John Howard
Page count: 18

The back says: A Rebours, Against the Grain or Against Nature in English, is an 1884 novel by Joris-Karl Huysmans. Anti-hero Jean Des Esseintes despises the bourgeois society he lives in and withdraws into the aesthetic and artistic ideals that he has created.
Believing the novel would be rejected by both critics and public, Huysman declared: "It will be the biggest fiasco of the year - but I don't care a damn! It will be something nobody has ever done before, and I shall have said what I want to say...” The novel did receive great publicity on its release, but even though it was heavily criticized it also became influential with a new generation of writers and aesthetes.

I say: Goodness me, how I have struggled with this short little novel. It was so dull it kept putting me to sleep after a couple of pages, so I turned it into my cannot-go-to-sleep-so-I-shall-read-this-as-I-know-it-will-put-me-to-sleep novel for about 3 months.
The reason I kept at it?

That damned 100 Classics Challenge (and my inability to admit defeat).
Des Esseintes moves into a mansion outside of Paris and spends his days wasting money and being a bore. He glues emeralds and diamonds on a turtle because he wants to.

He’s that type of brat.
Then he spends a great deal of time talking about his extravagant parties with prostitutes, the minute details of how he decorates his rooms (wall to wall carpeting on the second floor so he doesn’t have to hear the servants walking around), and has long, intricate monologues about literature. This was the only part that I found entertaining – well, as long as he was talking about people I knew or had heard of – but he did take it a bit too far.
I fear this is what I sound like when I talk about my favourite literature.

Unfortunately he suffers from one ailment after the other and thence has to talk about the various remedies he takes. At the end of the novel he gets so sick he cannot even keep his food down.
Gasp. Horror. Why.

More than anything this novel is about decadence and snobbery to the nth degree. Although I must admit to a bit of jealousy since it is my dream to retire to some obscure place away from people and just spend my days reading; I hope I shall never become des Esseintes. It was all just too much, and too much for the sake of being too much. Huysmans may be a gifted writer but it was all lost in the tedium and abundance of opulence.
A little goes a long way.

Supposedly this is the novel that leads to Dorian Gray’s downfall, but it’s been years since I re-read that last and perhaps it’s time I did so.
2/5 because it bored me to sleep and I didn’t really get that much out of it (apart from a few poets and writers I had never heard of).

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