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H. P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life Paperback – May 1, 2005


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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Earlier this year, a quasi-amateur "pulp" writer vaulted into the national literary canon when the Library of America published H. P. Lovecraft: Tales. Now McSweeney's Believer Books makes available in English a perspicacious essay on the reclusive horror-fictionist by a controversially antiliberal French novelist. Houellebecq finds Lovecraft's significance in his rejection of human importance. A thoroughgoing materialist, Lovecraft based the horror in his stories on the perception that humanity was doomed to extinction well before the end of the cosmos. The monstrous, implacable, arational Old Ones--Cthulhu and the rest--that Lovecraft repeatedly depicts as eventually invading and destroying human civilization are simply the imaginative expression of a deeply pessimistic cosmic fatalism that Lovecraft's own stunted life seemingly endorsed. Lovecraft was against life and the world because science and rationality told him they were meaningless and ephemeral. Yet what inspirationally disturbing and vivid fiction Lovecraft's beliefs animated. Without his example, would the fiction of Stephen King, who contributes an argumentative introduction here, and such superb movie shockers as Alien ever have existed? Ray Olson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

About the Author

Michel Houellebecq (pronounced «Wellbeck») was born on February 26, 1958, on the French island of Reunion. In 1985, he met Michel Bulteau, the editor of the Nouvelle Revue de Paris, who suggested that he write a book for the «Infrequentables» series, which had been launched by Bulteau at the prestigious publishing house Le Rocher. This led to the publication, in 1991, of H. P. Lovecraft, Against the world, against life. That same year saw the publication of Rester vivant, méthode («To Stay Alive: A method»), by Difference. In 1992, his first collection of poems, La poursuite du bonheur («The Pursuit of Happiness») was . Maurice Nadeau published Extension du domaine de la lutte («Whatever»), Houellebecq’s first novel.

Houellebecq went on to contribute to many literary reviews in France. Since 1996, Houellebecq’s work has been published by Flammarion, where Raphael Sorin is his editor.

In 1998 Interventions, a collection of chronicles and critical texts, and Les Particules élémentaires («Atomised»), his second novel, were published simultaneously. The latter has since been translated into over 25 languages. In 1999, he collaborated on the screen adaptation of Extension du domaine de la lutte («Whatever»), with Philippe Harel, who directed the film. He also published a new collection of poems, Renaissance. A book of photographs and text about Lanzarote, one of the Canary Islands, was published in 2000 the same year Houellebecq’s first album, Presence humaine was released. On it he sings a number of his poems to the music of Bertrand Burgalat.

Currently he lives in Ireland, near Cork. His forthcoming novel La Tentation d’une île will be published in France by Fayard in August 2005.

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1992 Tristan Tzara Award for La poursuite du bonheur Prix Flore awarded for 1996 Le sens du combat. 1998 Grand Prix national des Lettres Jeunes Talents for the entirety of his literary output. 1999 Prix Novembre, Elementary Particles, 2002 Dublin’s Impac Award, The Elementary Particles – First time a French author receives this award. 2004 Schopenhauer Award March, Spain

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 247 pages
  • Publisher: McSweeney's, Believer Books (May 1, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1932416188
  • ISBN-13: 978-1932416183
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.6 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #728,476 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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Plus the book has three classic stories by Lovecraft himself.
Frank Gorshin
Poe is most effective when his characters are clinically describing their own madness, but Lovecraft's characters must stay sane when the world goes mad.
Tom Rogers
Houellebecq's little, readable book is a welcome addition to the small list of really enjoyable contemporary literary criticism.
R. W. Rasband

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

55 of 59 people found the following review helpful By Tom Rogers on June 27, 2005
Format: Paperback
I discovered this book while rummaging around on the net, trying to find an in-print edition of Marcel Schwob's translation of `Hamlet'. It was a happy accident, because I've wanted to read some Houellebecq for a while, and a serious literary analysis of Lovecraft is long overdue. H. P. Lovecraft (HPL) may well be the most easily and unjustly ignored major American literary figure. Lovecraft is the grandfather of modern horror and a major influence on all genres of speculative fiction. He not only showed the way through his writings, but also shared his skills with a large circle of correspondents, which included many authors. In addition, his creations were so rich and compelling that authors have continued to work within and add to his `Cthulu Mythos'. However, although Lovecraft gets kudos for dismissing the supernatural from horror and for rejecting the idea of the human-centered universe, he is also crowned with titles like "The Best Bad Writer Ever" (and this is from an admirer of sorts). At the other end of the spectrum are cultish fans who mindlessly worship him. Very few authors have been so unfortunate in their friends and defenders. Houellebecq is the first worthy champion I've seen ride into the lists to challenge us to consider Lovecraft as a real writer.

Houellebecq focuses on the sources of inspiration for Lovecraft and their impact on his creations and his narrative style. He seeks to show that Lovecraft's distinct voice derives from his psychology and biography. Dreams, racism, a minimalist personality and a crippling bonanza of paranoias, delusions, and depression are the raw material for the analysis (Lovecraft is our answer to Artaud and Jarry).
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42 of 46 people found the following review helpful By R. W. Rasband VINE VOICE on July 20, 2005
Format: Paperback
Michel Houellebecq is the ultra-hip author of fashionably deconstructive modern French novels, so what interest would he have in a dead American writer consigned by many to the despised catgory of "pulp"? It turns out that Houellebecq is a big fan of American horror; among the writers he cites in this excellent short book are Richard Matheson and Robert Bloch, two disciples of Lovecraft. "H.P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life" is a very satisfying read. Houellebecq escapes the jargon and theory of most modern literary criticism and simply delivers the goods: a passionate explication of Lovecraft's life and work which makes sense and gives you a new appreciation for the Bard of Unnameable Terror. It's fitting that Stephen King provides the introduction, because this book is very much in the spirit of his own landmark book Stephen King's Danse Macabre.

Houellebecq asserts that Lovecraft's kindly, reclusive, poverty-stricken life was "exemplary" because it was integral to the vision of his work. That is, he wrote as a protest against life as we live it, the old "human condition". Someone once said "the negative, by contrast, suggests the other" and Lovecraft's dark mythology is a satire of, and pessimistic comment on the mythologies we live by. Included in this volume are two of Lovecraft's more mind-blowing stories; "The Call of Cthulhu" and "The Whisperer In Darkness." If the "cult of Cthulhu" was a twisted opposite of, and challenge to Christianity, then reading these stories makes you rethink exactly what it is you believe in and why. Lovecraft shouted "No!
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31 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Joseph Holderness on May 21, 2005
Format: Paperback
Great fun for the thinking person in love with cosmic horror. The Houellebecq part was shorter than I had anticipated.

The book comprises one 10 page Stephen King essay 'I have seen the history of horror, and his name is Lovecraft', one ten times longer Houellebecq manifesto (biographical/literary) on HPL and himself, two HPL stories (Call... and ...Whisperer...) which any HPL-loving person will already have read, and a fascinating translator's note in which Houellebecq's powers of imagination are further revealed.
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19 of 23 people found the following review helpful By J from NY VINE VOICE on July 13, 2005
Format: Paperback
Very rarely do we see the likes of a Michel Houllebecq--darling of the 21st century's aggressive postmodern nihlism, controversial writer both in the United States and France, champion of the "new" hedonistic revolt (is there really such a thing?)--join hands with the decomposed but very much alive likes of Howard Phillips Lovecraft, the legendary misfit of Providence.

"Life is useless and disappointing", writes Houellebecq, and beginning from this premise attempts to tie such morbidly sacred short stories as "The Call of Cthulu" and "The Whisperer in the Darkness" in with what he envisions as the call of the true poet, "the creation of an entirely alternative world to this one". Championing Lovecraft's life (more than his work) as an example of unparalleled existential defiance, he sees similarities between himself and the pulp writer who told us quite directly that we are nothing but floating electrons, gaseous entities destined to perish in a meaningless universe. It goes without saying that Lovecraft himself was never as outspoken as Houllebecq, and that his quiet skepticism regarding all human hope is at almost complete odds with the French icon's exhibitionism.

Still, there is something to be found here that is not to be found at all in the miles of scholarly toilet paper and mediocre biography heaped up HP since his death. This is an impassioned attempt to understand the man who, like Kant, was suspected of not being fully human. Lovecraft's tragic and reclusive plight in life, composed mostly of literature and his own doomy imaginings is in Houllebecq's eyes worthy of the most profound veneration. Rather than saying the great Nietzschean "Yes" To Life", Lovecraft uttered a "No" without weakness or complaint.
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