I’ve been in a frenzy of work for the last few weeks – and despite plans to blog here about various things, including my latest reading and the announcement of Christos Tsiolkas’s forthcoming novel Barracuda, I’ve been too busy elsewhere. I’ll be writing about these things next.
But this morning for the first time this year I went straight to Fisher Library, my favourite place to work, expecting to find my favourite floor under construction – or destruction, as the library is refitted to the 21st century electronic world.
So I was completely overjoyed to find it was not only intact, and as old and filled with shelves of paper books as ever, but to discover this sitting on my favourite desk.
It caught my eye from the moment I first glimpsed it. When I was close enough to read the title – H.P Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life – I was even more intrigued. And then I realised what it was. Michel Houellebecq’s first book. And I was ecstatic – such are the synchronicities and serendipities made possible by a good library.
As I’ve said, Houellebecq’s Atomised was part of my summer reading. I finished it a few weeks ago and it’s gone straight into my top 10 novels of all time. (I think, haven’t actually done the numbers but I LOVED it, massively.)
So despite being in the library for work of a completely different, non-literary nature, I couldn’t resist reading the first few pages. I’ll be returning to this book some day. Here’s some of what I read.
First, from the introduction by Stephen King, who called it:
‘a remarkable blending of critical insight, fierce partisanship, and sympathetic biography – a kind of scholarly love letter, maybe even the world’s first truly cerebral mash note. The question is whether or not the subject rates such a rich and unexpected burst of creativity in what is ordinarily a dull-as-ditchwater, footnote-riddled field of work … Houellebecq argues that H.P. Lovecraft … matters a great deal even in the twenty-first century.
‘As it happens, I think he could not be more right.’
And this from Houellebecq:
‘Those who love life do not read. Nor do they go to the movies, actually. No matter what might be said, access to the artistic universe is more or less entirely the preserve of those who are a little fed up with the world.’
And: ‘A kind of lethargic terror descended upon [Lovecraft] as he turned 18 years old and he knew the reason for it perfectly well.’
Houellebecq then quotes from a letter Lovecraft wrote in 1920, where he looks back on his childhood, on his games with a railway he made from packing crates and the garden he created:
‘Then I perceived with horror that I was growing too old for pleasure. Ruthless time had set its fell claw upon me, and I was seventeen. Big boys do not play in toy houses and mock gardens, so I was obliged to turn over my world in sorrow to another and younger boy who dwelt across the lot from me. And since that time I have not delved in the earth or laid out paths and roads. There is too much wistful memory in such procedure, for the fleeting joy of childhood may never be recaptured. Adulthood is hell.’
And then out the window, for Valentine’s Day, I thought I saw a heart pierced through with Cupid’s arrow in the sky.