Houllebecq on Realism and Lovecraft

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.

Rjurik Davidson

Rjurik Davidson is a writer, editor and speaker. Rjurik’s novel, The Stars Askew was released in 2016. Rjurik is a former associate editor of Overland magazine. He can be found at rjurik.com and tweets as @rjurikdavidson.

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  1. That quote’s a pretty good description of Houllebecq’s writing, of course. I must say, though, I would have found Atmoised a little less unreadable had Cthulu made an occasional appearance. He’s also recently published a book with the unspeakable Bernard-Henri Levi, in which he and BHL apparently boo-hoo about how much everyone hates them.

  2. Yeah, I haven’t actually read Houllebecq himself, so I can’t comment on his fiction. I get the sense (would this be right?) that he’s almost a nihilistic libertarian right-winger? Or is that unfair?

    But the Lovecraft book is pretty interesting, especially for writers – he examines, for example, why Lovecraft is so difficult to imitate (and yet so imitated), from a writer’s perspective.

  3. Yeah, Houllebecq’s vile. Not so much a libertarian right-winger as a provocateur. By calling him a misanthrope and racist, you’re rising to the provocation, you see. But that doesn’t make it any less true.
    He’s not stupid, though, so I could imagine that the Lovecraft book might be interesting.

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