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Maldoror By Comte de Lautréamont

Edition: Translated into English by Paul Knight, 1978
Publisher: Penguin Classics
Format: Paperback
Pages: ~219
Source: You can find the original version in French online (http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/12005). If you are looking for a translated version though, I ordered mine from Amazon. My local libraries didn't have this, I only managed to track a copy in a university library.

Summary: Insolent and defiant, the Chants de Maldoror,by the self-styled Comte de Lautréamont (1846-70), depicts a sinister and sadistic world of unrestrained savagery and brutality. One of the earliest and most astonishing examples of surrealist writing, it follows the experiences of Maldoror, a master of disguises pursued by the police as the incarnation of evil, as he makes his way through a nightmarish realm of angels and gravediggers, hermaphrodites and prostitutes, lunatics and strange children. Delirious, erotic, blasphemous and grandiose by turns, this hallucinatory novel captured the imagination of artists and writers as diverse as Modigliani, Verlaine, Gide and Breton; it was hailed by the twentieth-century surrealist movement as a formative and revelatory masterpiece.


Where to start on this book...

It's very much a large departure from what I would usually read or even think about reading/picking up. It was disturbing and entertaining in turns to sum it up in one sentence.

The book is basically what the summary describes and more. Lautréamont, or Isidore Ducasse, writes about Maldoror and his life. The book itself is split into Six books, each split into verses. Maldoror is very obviously based on Ducasse's own life, both being born in Montevideo as the most basic comparison.

My first and major hate and also love about the book is that of the language. The author uses so many metaphors, extended metaphors etc... and goes into too much detail. For example, he likens reading the book to a flock of cranes flying. This is described in beautiful detail, but it made reading this book very dry. I do like that I did learn many new words from this translated version, (some personal favourites being "perfidious" and "laconic") but it did not help my poor motivation, which dried up after about the second book and made the whole novel a slog.

The language was also effective in its purpose; it made certain scenes very uncomfortable. Uncomfortable would probably be too weak a word to describe the effects of some scenes even. It goes into too much detail (in my opinion) about child molestation/torture for example, or an erotic scene involving torturing an angel. I did not enjoy these at all. Many were just cringe worthy, but some were very uncomfortable to read which I guess was part of its purpose.

To go into more detail about why I found the book dry, the biggest factor would probably be how I constantly felt as if I was missing the whole point of the novel. The feeling of the whole book going right over your head was not conducive exactly to powering through the novel. :P It does seem like an excellent text to study, but not something I would have enjoyed reading.

The other major issue was that the narrative jumped all over the place. It was so disconnected, jumping from Maldoror's childhood to his later life in a successive stanze/verse. Many do not mention him at all, instead show his view about something or a surrealist dream-like sequence with personified entities such as Prostitution. Definitely not a casual read. It was also very hard to pick up again, the dense lines start running into each other.

I do wonder what the original version reads like. I have next to no grasp on French so that was a shame that I couldn't read it in French. Props to the translator though, because I can definitely say that I loved some of the language used.

My rating: I would probably give this book a 2.5 out of 5. I wouldn't really recommend this to anyone who doesn't enjoy Gothic or surrealist literature, it's not what I would say, or I imagine most people would call accessible. I really did not enjoy this book but I do think the language pulls it up a bit.

Whew, I am glad I did manage to get this out of the way though, sorry for procrastinating for most of the year. I couldn't find the author tag, so haven't tagged that.


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 17th, 2011 09:02 pm (UTC)
Thank you for the review! Sounds interesting, though not like I would particularly enjoy it.

I added the author tag for you. :)
Dec. 17th, 2011 10:28 pm (UTC)
Hourah for finishing this book. It was on my assigned reading list at uni and it's the only book I could never finish (and I did read Sade, which was plain disturbing, so it's saying something). I think the part with lice convinced me to close the book.

There is one thing though : I'm pretty sure Maldoror was never intended as a novel, it's poetry. The original version is in poetic prose.

Hugh, I just went to Wikipedia to check, and here is what it says "Les Chants de Maldoror (The Songs of Maldoror) is a poetic novel (or a long prose poem) consisting of six cantos." I'm honestly surprised because I remember lectures on late 19th century French lit, and Maldoror was never mentionned as a novel. My old lit books all say Maldoror is poetry.
Dec. 18th, 2011 08:28 pm (UTC)
My bad! I do vaguely remember now that you mention it the foreword mentioning something about poetic prose or some such term. I guess that would explain the disjointed narrative! (somewhat at least)

I'm not really clear on the distinction between prose and poetry in this context though, since Maldoror did not read as what I am even vaguely familiar with of poetry.
Dec. 19th, 2011 07:58 pm (UTC)
The late 19th century poets tried to writ poetry without using verses at all. Honestly, Baudelaire's prose poems are far better than Maldoror.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )


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