I’m currently reading novelist Michel Houllebecq’s (author of Atomised amongst other things) book on great American horror writer Howard Philips Lovecraft, subtitled ‘Against the World, Against Life’. It is by far the best piece I’ve read on Lovecraft, who has claim to being the 20th century’s most original horror writer. The great thing about Houllebecq’s book is that it analyses Lovecraft’s style and technique with a hitherto unparalleled sophistication. What are often seen as Lovecraft’s flaws – the paper-thin nature of his characters; his lack of interest in their backstories – are presented as fundamentally linked to Lovecraft’s world view. In other words, they are not flaws, but a necessary consequence of Lovecraft’s content. Lovecraft knows what he is doing, argues Houllebecq. In any case, it’s a great read for writers or readers interested in the surreal, horrific, macabre, non-realist, and genre fiction in general. Houllebecq also opens the book with the interesting claims:
Life is painful and disappointing. It is useless, therefore, to write new realistic novels. We generally know where we stand in relation to reality and don’t care to know any more. Humanity, sch as it is, inspires only an attenuated curiosity in us. All those prodigiously refined “notations,” “situations”, anecdotes … All they do, once a book has been set aside, is reinforce the slight revulsion that is already adequately nourished by any one of our “real life” days.