Another review that originally appeared in The Third Alternative #42:-
H. P. LOVECRAFT: AGAINST THE WORLD, AGAINST LIFE by MICHEL HOUELLEBECQ
Believer Books pb, 150pp, $18
Originally published in 1991, this new translation by Dorna Khazeni of distinguished French novelist Houellebecq’s appreciation of Lovecraft comes with an introduction by Stephen King and reprints two of HPL’s most celebrated stories, The Whisperer in the Dark and The Call of Cthulhu, part of what Houellebecq refers to as the ‘great texts’.
Houellebecq’s work often reads more like the outpourings of a fan boy than the serious critical musings one might have expected given his status in the world of letters, but this very accessibility is a part of its appeal for the layman and the points he makes, however enthusiastically, have validity. He is excellent at identifying what makes the work of Lovecraft so memorable, the uniqueness of the mythology that writer created, finding few others of comparable stature, and the underlying nullity that gave his work a philosophical and metaphysical force missing from much of the rest of weird fiction.
Houellebecq also addresses the flaws that others have found in the great body of Lovecraft’s fiction. He finds in favour of the adjective laden prose, often bordering on the purple, that has given many pause for thought, arguing that Lovecraft’s literary style was ideally suited for the “in your face” fiction the author was creating. In one telling section he compares the Lovecraft model, with its terrors laid out in the starkest terms from the very start, to the more fashionable genre template, where the horror is revealed only after a slow build-up. Another sticking point for many readers, the racism found in Lovecraft’s stories, is also addressed. The author does not condone such attitudes, but he does attempt to provide a context by describing Lovecraft’s haughty WASP background with its, for the time, natural assumption of superiority and how such ideas ran aground on HPL’s experiences in New York, where he found himself unsuited for even the lowliest job in the face of immigrant competition, an event which soured Lovecraft forever and added a note of bitterness to his attitude.
The book is, as I’ve already remarked, a somewhat lightweight production: Houellebecq comes to praise Lovecraft, not bury him, and those expecting in-depth analysis and reduction along lines of literary theory will be disappointed. For the rest of us, those considering whether to reacquaint themselves with Lovecraft’s work or simply wanting to gain some deeper understanding of the importance of his oeuvre, it is an eminently suitable volume, at all times engaging and filled with intriguing titbits of information, providing us with an astute and interesting evaluation of one of the most influential writers in the genre.