The story, such as it is, concerns a young man, Matthieu, caught at night as a stranger in a mysterious town. How precisely he comes into the town isThe story, such as it is, concerns a young man, Matthieu, caught at night as a stranger in a mysterious town. How precisely he comes into the town is never fully explained. Matthieu wanders through the town in an effort to connect with other humans only to discover that the town’s inhabitants are not what they seem. The only true human connection he makes is to a beggar boy who reminds him of his own youth. Throughout the story, Matthieu seems guided by cosmic forces beyond his control or understanding, leading to a strange and tragic end. Because the story is so strikingly odd and surprising, there are many details I’m choosing to leave out.
The dark, foreboding atmosphere and sense of alienation of The Night of Lead bears similarity to Kafka, whose work has also been associated with Expressionism. There is no concept of The Law, however, and much like the Polish writer, Bruno Schulz (who was also deeply influenced by Kafka), Jahnn invests more attention in beautiful language and strange, rich imagery. Whereas Schulz uncovers a secret, magical world beneath the world of domesticity, Jahnn’s world is more symbolic in nature, representing various truths of existence. There’s something elemental and mystical about Jahnn’s world, no doubt influenced by his obsession with Nature and pre-Christian paganism.
Besides being considered an Expressionist, Jahnn was also lumped with other German writers as a magic realist, before the term was primarily associating with authors of Hispanic origin. It is likely that fans of magic realism and fantastic literature would find much to like in the work of Jahnn. And fans of the Gothic, grotesque, surreal, and irreal would find much as well.
I'm a bit reticent to give this one a full 5, partly because it's been years since I read the first two volumes of the "Secret Books of Paradys" and II'm a bit reticent to give this one a full 5, partly because it's been years since I read the first two volumes of the "Secret Books of Paradys" and I'm not sure how well it compares. However, compared to "The Book of the Dead" it's far stronger, amounting essentially to a novel with three separate stories that intersect in a very ingenuous way that only suffers somewhat in its ultimate ambiguity. Each story takes place in a parallel version of Paradys (which itself is an alternate version of Paris) and is marked by the struggle of the protagonists against sanity/insanity. I'll not go into too much more detail, as the synopsis above does a well enough job. The unanswered questions and remaining mystery at the end will no doubt frustrate many readers, but it works within context of the story as a whole, while maintaining the atmosphere that is so effectively portrayed throughout the series. As with the previous books, Lee's concern with matters of style color much of the narrative. Some will find her too flowery, while others like myself will be impressed by the economy of her description and intense lyricism. Beautiful stuff, as ever....more
I actually read the edition that is now out of print, but I bought the RE/Search edition a couple of years ago, just so I could have a copy. Haven't rI actually read the edition that is now out of print, but I bought the RE/Search edition a couple of years ago, just so I could have a copy. Haven't read the whole thing since '98 or thereabouts. What I like about this book is the way it investigates the world of freakshows through interviews and 1st hand accounts. In this sense it's a unique artifact of a world that doesn't really exist anymore. ...more
Whilst reading this, I considered for the first time the difficulty Artaud's writing must pose for the translator. Not because I read/speak French andWhilst reading this, I considered for the first time the difficulty Artaud's writing must pose for the translator. Not because I read/speak French and am thus certain of the difficulty, but because there is a particular thorniness in the language in nearly every translation I had read, a consistent sort of thorniness that leads me to believe it's a matter of the source and not poor translation. If you go into this book unfamiliar with Artaud's work, you might find some bits difficult. I'm reminded of when I first read "Van Gogh: The Man Suicided By Society," reading that first sentence several times, trying to parse it (while simultaneously savoring its rotting beauty).
Translation aside, I wavered between 3 and 4 stars, since I was not sure it compared as well to other works by Artaud I have read. So we'll say 3.5? This is not exactly a novel and not exactly a history. As with most of his prose, it's split between passages of brutal, visceral, and dreamlike body imagery and then more theoretical passages built off this. The source here is historical and Artaud takes great delight in describing the religious rituals and picking apart the life and progeny of Heliogabalus. Clearly a lot of research was put into this, and primarily from sources close to the period. He's not so much interested in direct transmission of events as he is in relating the events to his general ideas, particularly in envisioning Heliogabalus as an anarchist intent on destroying the Roman Empire from within. The pagan rituals and alchemical symbols bear relation to his ideas on theatre as cruelty and so forth, but this is something that makes more sense if the reader is familiar with Artaud's work in a broader context. Connections could also be drawn to his writings on the Tarahumara. Always the idea of performance as ritual, of symbols drawn into the material realm, thereby transforming it into something truer and purer (transmutation, if you will). But Artaud is essentially a monist, and this transmutation must come first by the stripping of boundaries and limitations. Therefore: no stage, no text, only gesture.
It's hard for me not to ramble over the thing, as I always find his way of seeing so interesting, even when I don't entirely agree with it. It's almost as if the intensity of it is enough, as if his single-minded focus on this one idea were all that mattered. In the end, it's not my favorite (still "Theatre and Its Double," or maybe "The Peyote Dance," or maybe "Jet of Blood" for the lulz). But very interesting and worth a read if you like crazy French Surrealists with a penchant for plague and blood imagery....more
Taken as a whole, this series is a fascinating excursion into the fantastic city of Paradys, a sort of darkened magical mirror version of Paris that sTaken as a whole, this series is a fascinating excursion into the fantastic city of Paradys, a sort of darkened magical mirror version of Paris that spans several centuries. This particular volume, "The Book of the Dead" struck me as one of the weaker books in the series, which is not to say that it isn't effective in terms of writing and atmosphere, only that it was less cohesive in terms of tying the stories together. As the title might suggest, each story ends with a death, and this running motif is framed by a walk through the cemetery. Rather clever, but also a bit incidental and tacked-on. I am tempted to think of Bradbury's "The Illustrated Man," which perhaps made best use of a framing device in a short story collection, itself being its own story. This one is not, and that might be why I found it rather paltry. Taken individually, the stories are for the most part very effective, dripping with atmosphere and Lee's usual beautiful prose. As is typical, her characters are usually on the margins of society and driven for various reasons to go beyond the confines of normal society--in short to transgress. Echoes of Poe and Baudelaire abound throughout the series, but this particular volume seems to rest most firmly in the horror and ghost story tradition. She remains at an even keel throughout, to the extend that it's hard to state which story stood out most....more
I'm a bit torn about this book, since there are some elements I like, others I dislike.
The story is practically designed to appeal to my sensibilitiesI'm a bit torn about this book, since there are some elements I like, others I dislike.
The story is practically designed to appeal to my sensibilities, what with a young naif swept away by the brooding aristocrat with A Dark Secret. I love how Rebecca's presence looms throughout as a source of jealousy, infatuation, and obsession. Brilliant how a dead character whom the narrator has never met could actually be the richest character in the story. Apart from this, du Maurier writes some wonderfully atmospheric description, and the passages describing Manderlay are particularly potent and memorable, reflecting further on the theme of memory.
Unfortunately, it wasn't long before I got sick of the narrator's timidity and insecurity, which overpower the narrative and result in too many passages imagining what others are saying behind her back or how awesome Rebecca must have been, etc. For the sake of characterization, a bit of this would have been fine, but after a few chapters, it was just annoying and repetitive. Thankfully, she held off for a few chapters after the big secret is revealed. The pacing up until that point is as slow as molasses, though the payoff is fulfilling enough I don't mind *too* much. The ending is indeed abrupt, but I think it works within the reminiscent framing.
Overall, not as impressed as I hoped I would be, but the richness of du Maurier's description, the potency of Rebecca as a character, and the themes of memory, obsession, and power (or lack of power) were interesting enough that I found the book memorable and worth recommending to fans of Gothic lit....more