Non-Fiction Book Review

HP Lovecraft: Against The World, Against Life

(1991/2006) Michel Houellebecq, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 10.00, pbk, 245pp, ISBN 0-29785138-1

Lovecraft wrote most of his best-known work between 1917 and 1934 and died of intestinal cancer in 1937 in the USA. He belongs among writers such as Clark Ashton-Smith, Robert E Howard, Frank Belknap Long, William Hope Hodgson and the like, and is associated very much with Weird Tales. However, where most of the other writers have gained a great deal of mainstream acceptance, Lovecraft divides his readers along dramatic lines. Some people hate his work. They just do not get it and will attack his prose, his racism, his misanthopy, pretty much anything. Others, and in the interests of fairness I should mention that this includes me, think that Lovecraft is a genius. I like to think I am in good company since HPL fans include Stephen King (who supplies an introduction to this book), Clive Barker, Neil Gaiman, Brian Lumley, Alan Moore, Ramsey Campbell, Robert Bloch, Richard Corben, TED Klein, Graham Joyce... I could go on (and on), but you get the point. Most film adaptations of his work owe little to the source material and, furthermore, tend to stress the horror aspects of his work. However, I would contend that Lovecraft was actually writing science fiction, his monsters were aliens, and the fact that humans suffered greatly at their hands (or tentacles) is because they considered us barely sentient (if at all).

Be all that as it may, this book (really just an essay) is written from the perspective of the uber-fan Houellebecq. Originally published in French in 1991, it was first published in English in 2005 and now appears in this edition, with King's introduction and two of HPL's stories, The Call of Cthulhu (1926) and The Whisperer in Darkness (1931). The essay is pretty much a love letter to Lovecraft, and suffers thereby since the reader has no reason to care why Houellebecq feels this way. If the inclusion of the two stories is supposed to overcome this limitation, then I would have to say that they are a curious choice (but, then, HPL fans could argue about that all day). I'm not even sure that the essay gives us any greater insight into HPL than, say, his published letters and other biographical material. All of which sounds pretty negative, and I really don't mean it to. The fact is that there are many younger, or simply newer, readers out there who may well know little (if anything) about Lovecraft or his work and since, as I've mentioned, I am a fan of that work, then I'm always happy to see him and it promoted in any way whatsoever. The price of the book is a bit off-putting, but still worth it purely because it does present the alternative point of view to those who find it easy to dismiss HPL (as if prose was not somehow more purple decades ago, as if racist attitudes were not discernable amongst the whole swathe of literature decades ago, and as if misanthropy were not a valid exploration for literature). Personally, if I were interested in turning anyone on to HPL, then I would just direct them to the work itself with, maybe, a caveat about remembering when it was written, but (for the unfamiliar) maybe this book would prove enticing and, as such, I am happy to recommend it.

Tony Chester

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