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on 21 November 2003
This book is about late nights in dark garrets, intelligent discussions on the practice of satanism, and the imperious power of sexual dreams. The hero, Durtal, is writing a biography of Bluebeard- that Gilles de Rais who was both a Marshall of France and the killer of so many children at Tiffauges castle. The subject matter unbalances Durtal and he is himself driven towards exploring the darkness, as he attends the Black Mass. I recommend it highly to those looking for unusual books, and the decadent fringes of C19th Paris.
La Bas is part of a trilogy in which Durtal appears to lose himself and then comes back to God, in the second volume, after a stay at the Monastery of La Trappe (for which read 'En Route').
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Huysmans' novel is a bit different from most books that you buy. If you are expecting a gory type of horror novel then you will be sorely disappointed.

This book is about Durtal, who is writing a biography of Gilles de Rais and his attrocious crimes. He spends most of the novel talking about his book, writing styles, religion, and mysticism. He usually discourses amongst his friends at a bell ringer's apartment.

Over half way through the book there is a bit of sex thrown in, and Durtal eventually gets to witness a Black Mass. So why would you read this book? The book ranges from the ridiculous to the absurd, with its arcane subject matter. The actual story isn't really what holds this book together but rather Huysmans' writing technique and narrative style. To be honest, Huysman could have written about going to buy a loaf of bread, and he would have still produced an emminently readable book.
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on 30 March 2011
I first read the infamous 'Messe Noir' scene from this novel in a Peter Haining anthology during my 1970s boyhood and by the age of 20 had sought out this most unusual and exquisite work in the Dover edition and devoured it with avidity and fascination - I still love it, along with all the Master's novels (which form an integral whole) and they are amongst my all-time favourite books. Joris Karl Huysmans' 'La Bas' (Down There) is a novel set in the night-shrouded Paris of the fin-de-siecle imagination, the nocturnal facade of darkness behind which the deathless power of Evil lurks in strange places. Our hero Durtal is wearied by the positivistic modern world and the crass materialism and vulgarity of his age - he retreats into the High Middle Ages, absorbed in the life of the mass-murderer, paederast, pervert and demoniac Gilles de Rais about whom he is writing a biographical study - thus throughout the novel we are treated to the episodes of De Rais' career and infamies, a dark Symboliste evocation of the medieval world of Tiffauges, illuminated with exquisite literary artistry and in essence constituting a prolonged spiritual meditation upon Evil and the Satanic principle. Other episodes are set at those wonderful homely banquets on snow-swept nights in the tower of the bell-ringer Carhaix, an eccentric Catholic in the austere mediaeval mould - what one would give to have been present at those wintry evening gatherings with Durtal, Des Hermies and company...their erudite conversations are a pure delight. The other tale running through the book is that of Durtal's erotic affair with the glacial, seductive and feline Madame Chantelouve who at length and reluctantly introduces our hero to the sordid diabolistic underworld of Paris, a descent which leads to the most famous scene of the novel, a uniquely powerful description of the celebration of the Black Mass and its squalid celebrants, for which the book is justly renowned. We are drawn into the nighted subterranea of Paris with Durtal and into the devilish domain of the sinister Canon Docre, against whom is pitted the power of the white magus Dr Johannes. All these intertwined narratives are replete with pleasures in profusion but throughout we find the most delicious disquisitions, arch aesthetic contemplations, incisive analyses of modernity and its ills and drily acute observations upon the world and human nature which only a supreme novelist and art critic like JKH could unfold - for example Durtal's reverie on money in the first chapter and those magnificent passages on Matthias Grunewald's 'Crucifixion' - these are but a few of the nocturnal delights of Huysman's 'black novel' La Bas - the necessary precursor to his 'white novel' 'En Route', for as Huysmans said himself it was the 'supernatural of evil' which led him ultimately to the 'supernatural of good' and thus to his eventual spiritual home within the bulwark of traditional Catholic orthodoxy...
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on 2 September 2013
'A Rebours' (trans. 'Against Nature'/'Against the Grain') is the more widely known work and certainly the most influential, yet it's this later novel that really delivers all of the crotchety art criticism, withering put-downs, florid description and pervy occult dabbling that you want from this still-underrated novelist. The best part? The strange Satanic investigations part-fictionalised in this novel were informed by Huysmans' own dangerous spiritual curiosity and correspondence with dodgy defrocked clerics. Basically, this is a must-read and, I have to say, still very shocking in certain parts.
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on 27 October 2014
Very quick postage and brilliant book
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on 17 May 2016
First a warning, this is neither a thriller nor horror fiction if you want one of those better to read 'The Woman in White' 'The Loney' or 'Skendleby'
neither is it as immediate as Huysman's 'Against Nature'. The Damned commences with a lengthy dicussion on the nature of art between an author writing a biography of a notorious satanist and murderer in the middle ages and his philosopher friend. Gradually it works its way towards a Parisian Satanic underground.
Having said this it is a joy to read being a book which combines ideas with atmosphere,particularly good on Paris in winter. As in all Huysmans works the moder reader enters a different world where ways and manners need a bit of learning. Well worth the effort, Huysman was a truly original writer.
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on 16 July 2009
La Bas is about Durtal, a second grade writer penning the biography of Gilles de Rais. Gilles is a 14th c. character who fought the English alongside Joan of Arc. Somewhere along the way however, Gilles goes bananas and starts kidnapping, raping and then murdering beautiful young boys in a satanic orgy that ran to vampirism and cannibalism. La Bas recounts Gilles' misdeeds extensively through Durtal's thoughts. The rest of the book presents a number of fantastical conversations on occultism, Catholicism, astrology, medicine, magic, Satan worship and such like. Some readers may find certain sections deeply disturbing.

I found it interesting that Huysmans based his book on real evidence of occultism in 19th c. France where people believed in superstitious voodoo and spiritualism: séances and the ability of some people to change into cats or send curses through the ether. In France! I thought these beliefs only existed in Africa.

A few other themes get the treatment: the gullibility of the poor masses; the total capitulation of society to business interests and commercial profit; the charlatans of the medical profession (which actually helps one understand the need for something like the U.S Food & Drug Agency); and finally, that woman is fickle and sly, evil and sinful. Mme. Chantelouve arrives out of nowhere and seduces Durtal. After Durtal "took possession" of her body he found her "repugnant" and why not, since she "initiated him into obscenities". Even the book's back cover calls her "exquisitely evil" when there was nothing overwhelmingly evil about her. Wicked misogyny.
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on 30 April 2015
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on 15 January 2005
everybody should read this
a great fin de siecle (c19)novel
dark & foreboding, with some shocks, a true masterpiece
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