Manny's Reviews > À rebours

À rebours by Joris-Karl Huysmans
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's review
Jul 24, 2010

really liked it
bookshelves: french, too-sexy-for-maiden-aunts, why-not-call-it-poetry, pooh-dante
Recommended to Manny by: Sabrina Crews
Read from July 30 to August 07, 2010

It must have been so exciting to be a novelist in the second half of the nineteenth century. You weren't limited to just creating a novel; if you were talented, you could create a whole new kind of novel. Here, Huysmans has written the first example known to me of the novel where nothing happens. Frail, sickly des Esseintes has dissipated a good part of his inheritance on various kinds of vice (there is a memorable passage early on about the mirrors in his bedroom). Now he's tired of it. He resolves to withdraw to a specially designed house in the country where he will live a life of contemplation, as far removed from reality as he can arrange.

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Reading Progress

07/27/2010 page 1
07/27/2010 page 80
19.0% "Decided to skip all the various introductions and get into the actual book..."
07/30/2010 page 115
27.0% "He's constructed a room in his house to look like an artificial ship, he's painted everything in orange, and he's reading The Satyricon. It makes sense. Sort of."
07/31/2010 page 140
33.0% "Now I understand what Tosh meant... Boris Vian didn't invent the pianocktail, he just adapted it from Huysmans. I'm shocked."
08/02/2010 page 185
43.0% "Why Schopenhauer is like the Catholic Church. I must say that this had not occurred to me before." 2 comments
08/03/2010 page 201
47.0% "An extremely graphic nightmare about flowers and syphilis. I wonder if Thomas Disch read this book before writing Camp Concentration?"
08/03/2010 page 222
52.0% "First flowers, then women, now perfumes, and all described in more or less the same way. This is, indeed, impressively decadent!" 1 comment
08/05/2010 page 250
58.0% "England. Fun to think about, but you wouldn't really want to go there."
08/05/2010 page 277
64.0% "Reflections on Satanism and Catholic writers. Even though I'd hardly heard of any of them, it's still somehow quite interesting."
08/06/2010 page 294
68.0% "He has stomach-ache, and ponders despairingly on the futility of all human endeavour."
08/06/2010 page 325
76.0% "French literature is losing its purity of style, hence the world is coming to an end. You know it makes sense."
08/07/2010 page 340
79.0% "Des Esseintes finally sees a doctor, who has some important news for him."
02/01/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-28 of 28) (28 new)

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message 1: by [deleted user] (new)

Outstanding. I'm beyond flattered that I had something to do with you discovering this delightfully perverse classic, and am even more pleased by the extent to which you seemed to have enjoyed it.

Manny Well, thank you for pointing me to it, and I'm glad you liked the review! I've just been looking around for critical commentary on Google. This passage was kind of interesting:
The strongest presence in Proust's life at this juncture was Comte Robert de Montesquiou-Fezensac. Fifteen years older, he had everything Proust thought he wanted. The Count was descended from the model for D'Artagnan of The Three Musketeers and could claim most of European nobility as relatives by blood or marriage. Immense wealth enabled him to cultivate an aesthetic manner and way of life remarkable enough to have already inspired one notorious book, Huysmans' A rebours. He was also a published poet of some note and flaunted his homosexuality with enormous style. Proust fawned on him for several years before he could pull away, and the fascination never disappeared entirely.
There must be more thorough investigations though of the Proust/Huysmans connection... will search further.

message 3: by Manny (last edited Aug 08, 2010 12:09AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Manny There's a literary theorist called Bales who describes Huysmans as "a precursor to Proust". Annoyingly, his article doesn't seem to be available.

message 4: by [deleted user] (new)

I honestly haven't spent enough time with Proust to have sensed that Huysmans may have influenced him. Nevertheless, I support your quest and am interested to learn what you discover. It just might inspire me to finally attempt to tackle his work, which really, has always intimidated me.

Manny Read Jessica's review of Volume 1. If that doesn't sell you, nothing will :)

message 6: by [deleted user] (new)

Alright, you got me; I'm sold. It's on the to-read list, although I'm ashamed that I've fallen so far behind.

The hot, summer air went straight to my head, and I'm afraid that I've been doing nothing but behaving recklessly. It's time to ring my gin-soaked brain and exercise what's left of it. I hope Marcel will be the man to save me.

Manny Oh, it sounds like you're in the perfect frame of mind to appreciate him! Having had your fill of disreputable parties and unsuitable liaisons, you should now retire to your bed for the next six months, attended only by your faithful servant, and read through the entire series in between cups of delicately scented tea. I hope that will be easy to arrange?

message 8: by [deleted user] (new)

Erm, wring... see?

message 9: by Manny (last edited Aug 09, 2010 07:36AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Manny Nothing but scented tea for you for the next forty-eight hours!

You will soon meet the author Bergotte in Proust... young Marcel idolizes him and wishes he could write like that. He's generally supposed to be Anatole France, but it seems other people have also suspected there is a bit of Huysmans there too. From Patrick Alexander’s Marcel Proust’s Search for Lost Time: A Reader’s Guide:
Although Bergotte’s written works are referred to throughout the seven volumes of the novel, we are never given any direct quotes or outlines of his plots. In some ways we know less about his actual books than we do the music of Vinteuil or the paintings of Elstir. Norpois and Legrandin suggested that his writings were decadent, fin-de-siecle symbolism, perhaps in the style of Huysman’s A Rebourse (sic). Certainly he was a stylist, using words and images in a harmonious manner and Marcel speaks of his books in terms more evocative of a poet than a novelist.

message 10: by Paul (last edited Aug 09, 2010 10:00AM) (new)

Paul Bryant "He spends a great deal of time rearranging his sumptuous library and giving you his opinions on books" - yes, both me... actually, this book was a major influence on Beardsley and his young druggy adherents and I believe also on HP Lovecraft. makes perfect sense.

message 11: by Andrew (new) - added it

Andrew Walter I just finished this, and I'm so glad to see someone else was reminded of Ballard! Particularly the description of musical pieces that Des Esseintes "tasted" by different combinations of liqueurs from his "Mouth Organ", and the general cataloguing of objects, obsessive linkings of ideas in his library...I don't have my Ballard short stories to hand and can't scout out an example but I totally agree.

message 12: by K.D. (new) - added it

K.D. Absolutely Oh yes, Manny. Some people say that this is the yellow book in Dorian Gray. That makes me very interested to read this book!. Thanks :)

 ~Geektastic~ Hi Manny. I have a quick question regarding this book in English translation: which title is more accurate, "Against Nature" or "Against the Grain?" I don't know much French, particularly when it comes to idiomatic interpretations. This may or may not be a very important distinction when choosing which translation to read, but I would feel better about it if someone who had read it could clarify.

message 14: by David (new)

David Lafferty Nice review! Makes we want to read it.

message 15: by Manny (last edited Nov 26, 2012 08:29AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Manny Thank you! IMHO, it's well worth all the trouble.

message 16: by Kalliope (new) - added it

Kalliope The incident with the turtle I think was also picked up in at least the filmed version of Brideshead Revisited. I cannot rembember whether that is in the book as well.

Manny Is the turtle in Brideshead Revisited? I had quite forgotten that, though it seems perfectly in keeping with its general atmosphere!

message 18: by Kalliope (new) - added it

Kalliope Manny wrote: "Is the turtle in Brideshead Revisited? I had quite forgotten that, though it seems perfectly in keeping with its general atmosphere!"

It is.. I just checked (I had vague memories on the film and/or the book) and found this, which is interesting because it also raises the issue of Memory so famous in Proust's work.

message 19: by David (new)

David Lafferty I forgot about the turtle also! I don't think the turtle died in Brideshead.

message 20: by Kris (new) - added it

Kris I concur with David -- this is a wonderful review. It compelled me to buy the book just a short time ago.

Hmmm. That makes it sound like the review deprived me of free will. It's more accurate to say it inspired me to buy the book. At any rate, thank you!

message 21: by Kalliope (new) - added it

Kalliope This book came up also during a recent visit to a Museum, when watching a couple of Gustave Moreau's paintings. I have been wanting to read it for years (decades?). Now with Proust2013, it is a must. It has been added to the Bookshelf of the Group's page.

message 22: by Kris (new) - added it

Kris All roads lead to Proust 2013. :)

message 23: by Cecily (new) - added it

Cecily I loved the full review of this, even though I'd never heard of it previously and I didn't enjoy my attempt at Proust. Is this (for want of a better word) easier than Proust, and hence worth trying on that basis?

message 24: by Paul (new)

Paul Bryant What is this? Manny has turned some of his reviews into trailers for his book? Is this even ethical?

message 25: by Cecily (last edited May 06, 2013 05:39AM) (new) - added it

Cecily I have a copy of the book, so I don't mind!
And having the book, means I've read reviews I would not otherwise have read (such as this), and then come back to GR to read comments, so for me, it's all good.

Oops, am I now using Manny's review as a trailer for his book?! ;)

Manny Thank you Cecily! Your cheque is in the post.

I thought Huysmans was considerably easier to read than Proust, though some people may have a different opinion...

message 27: by [deleted user] (new)


Manny ?

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