27 June 2005

Against the World, Against Life

HP Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life, is a book by French author Michel Houellebecq, who is better-known in this country for his two novels, Platform and The Elementary Particles. HP Lovecraft was written before these other books, but has only now been translated into English.

I'm a big fan of Lovecraft, but I haven't read many books ABOUT him, because they all tend to say the same things; his writing style was overblown but you get used it, he was a misanthrope and a racist, no he wasn't gay, etc etc etc. After reading this excerpt and this review of Houellebecq's book, though, I really want to read THIS book about Lovecraft. From the excerpt:

Few beings have ever been so impregnated, pierced to the core, by the conviction of the absolute futility of human aspiration. The universe is nothing but a furtive arrangement of elementary particles. A figure in transition toward chaos. That is what will finally prevail. The human race will disappear. Other races in turn will appear and disappear. The skies will be glacial and empty, traversed by the feeble light of half-dead stars. These too will disappear. Everything will disappear. And human actions are as free and as stripped of meaning as the unfettered movement of the elementary particles. Good, evil, morality, sentiments? Pure "Victorian fictions". All that exists is egotism. Cold, intact and radiant.

This is EXACTLY how I've always read Lovecraft's work. The idea that we as humans just don't matter all that much, except to ourselves, is terrifying to some people, and a bit of a relief to others (Houellebecq, Lovecraft fans over the last 80+ years, and to a certain extent, me). Michel Houellebecq comes across, in interviews and articles about him, as a bit of a crank, but maybe that's what makes him so well-suited to analyse Lovecraft's dark, squishy stories. (Speaking of which, two HLP stories, "The Call Of Cthulu" and "The Whisperer In Darkness," are also reprinted in this book.)


Blogger Rev. Syung Myung Me said...

The Believer's been on a Lovecraft kick lately, too; they did an article that's I think is an excerpt from the book too, and I think they're the publisher of same, and last month's had an article on Lovecraft I haven't read yet that's not by Houllebecq, but mentions him. They're all fans of the Lovecraft, I guess!

12:45 PM, June 27, 2005  
Blogger Lee H. said...

Yes, I did read in one of those articles that the translation is being published by The Believer. Very cool. :)

2:23 PM, June 27, 2005  
Anonymous Todd K. said...

Neil Gaiman's short story collection "Smoke and Mirrors" includes a few stories that pay homage to Lovecraft. I particularly like the one where the main character of the story is a werewolf who finds himself in Innsmouth.

8:23 AM, June 28, 2005  
Blogger Lee H. said...

I've never read any of Gaiman's fiction, only his comic book stuff like the Sandman series (only seen a few of those). I've heard Smoke and Mirrors recommended before, though... I'll definitely have to look that up! :)

8:30 AM, June 28, 2005  
Anonymous Todd K. said...

You haven't read "Good Omens" yet?!?

12:37 PM, June 28, 2005  
Blogger Lee H. said...

No, I've only even heard of Smoke & Mirrors and American Gods. (There's long been a rumor Terry Gilliam wants to make the latter into a movie...)

But I haven't read any of them. Of these three, which would you recommend for starters?

3:00 PM, June 28, 2005  
Blogger Rev. Syung Myung Me said...

I'm probably the wrong person to ask, but I've only read Good Omens and most of American Gods (my copy was missing a bunch of pages near the end, but it was polite enough to end at a pretty good spot, where I know there was much more, but it was a pretty good ending as is), and I liked Good Omens a lot more, even though it struck me as sort of a Poor Man's Douglas Adams, or The Hitchhiker's Guide To Religion; I'd probably still recommend it, though, but I think you can kind of tell the parts Gaiman wrote versus the parts Prachett wrote, as there's parts that seem really American Blockbuster Film-y.

As for American Gods, I didn't hate it, but I wasn't that into either; Gaiman's writing tends to be a little too... cliche for me. The idea of the book was pretty cool, though, and I wouldn't disrecommend reading it, but it's not as good as everyone seems to say it is, either. But there's the occasional thing in there that really bugs me writing wise (i.e., we're told that Main Character Never Saw Other Minor Character Again; which is sort of like, "Um, you know, we'd probably gather that if, you know, the character just disappeared. Especially with, you know, what happens in the book like, two pages after you say "He never saw him again". It's a pretty big sign that he probably won't, you know? I mean, it'd be more out of the ordinary if he DID see him again... but again, you don't really need to say that either, since we'll probably be able to gather that when he does see him again.)

I dunno; those are the only two Gaiman novels I've read, so like I said, I'm not the best person, but I tend to think he's one of those guys who has lots of good ideas, but needs a co-writer. I'd probably start with Good Omens, though, but, well, probably let an actual fan give you a better starting point (since, after all, that could be my problem is that I started at the wrong spot!).

3:11 PM, June 28, 2005  
Anonymous Todd K. said...

I'd start with Good Omens. I've never yet read a Neil Gaiman book I didn't like. Of course, as with anything, your mileage may vary. I know people who are absolutely head over heels enamored with Mercedes Lackey, but I've never been able to get beyond the first 10 or 15 pages in any book of hers I've tried to read...Her writing just doesn't work for me. On the other hand I'll devour Frank Herbert books again and again (and not just the Dune series).
If you like british humor, chances are you'll like "Good Omens". I personally think it's at least as good as Hitchhiker's Guide, and definitely superior to any of the books that followed Hitchhiker's Guide in the series.
I also often find that I tend to like an author's short stories better than their full length novels in general because they don't necessarily have to try to focus so much on cohesiveness of a longer story. So, after Good Omens, I'd recommend Smoke and Mirrors.

10:47 AM, June 30, 2005  

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