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Locus Solus (Oneworld Modern Classics) Paperback – 22 Apr 2008

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Product details

  • Paperback: 260 pages
  • Publisher: Oneworld Classics Ltd (22 April 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1847490719
  • ISBN-13: 978-1847490711
  • Product Dimensions: 12.7 x 1.5 x 19 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,097,173 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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About the Author

Raymond Roussel (Paris, January 20, 1877 - Palermo, July 14, 1933) was a French poet, novelist, playwright, musician, chess enthusiast, neurasthenic, and drug addict. Through his novels, poems, and plays he exerted a profound influence on certain groups within 20th century French literature, including the Surrealists, Oulipo, and the authors of the nouveau roman.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By H. Tee on 11 Aug. 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is, to my mind, a surreal and imaginative narrative written in 1914; though in the form of novel this is really a set of about 5 short tales with only the author's dream/nightmare like style connecting them. We are very quickly introduced to Cantarel a scientist/engineer who has a large estate of the title. He has used his expertise and inventions to bring a sort of theme park of ideas to a group, which he is leading round. The individual tales are written in certain pattern: first the guests witness a seemingly inexplicable tablo scene (which usually include machines powered by chemicals, hot air, magnetism etc but also actors), there follows an unreal explanation of how it was achieved; finally the scene is replayed in part perhaps with further explanation due to a connection with a relevant guest. There is a surreal logic in the explanation of how things work in a very science fiction type way and certainly not realisable even in any modern technology sense. E.g. insects power tarot cards and remember the Scottish melody by moving their legs connect to clockwork, a cone in their heads produces a laser like beam which parts flesh without bleeding thus allowing another invention to remove explosives produced in the skin of a certain individual etc etc. The technical descriptions dominate the text but they are interesting and off-the-wall, though perhaps can get a little verbose or tedious in places.

Here are a few of the ideas:
There is a clockwork machine which draws a huge picture related to a 1650 event using the variation in colour of drawn teeth mosaic fashion.
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful By R. Herriott on 24 Jun. 2011
Format: Paperback
The book is an experiment in writing. Using the structure of a guided tour taken through a reclusive scientist's estate, Roussel tells several stories. The biggest problem is that the result is an excessive reliance on detailed, literal description. There is little characterisation. Roussel explained that he had a method for writing which was essentially a mechanical one. This shows in the rather lifeless and tedious prose used to explain, among others, a tank occupied by racing sea-horses, a glass building that encloses re-enactments of dead people's tragic lives and a machine that makes a huge picture out of old teeth. The book is a formal exercise in the construction of a narrative and its interest starts and stops there. The only positive point I can make is that the glass building described by Roussel seems very, very similar to Mies Van Der Rohe's Farnsworth house or Philip Johnson's house at New Canaan, Connecticut.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 6 reviews
24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
Tragically Hardly-ever-in-print 20 Aug. 2006
By Dan Mash - Published on
Format: Paperback
There's a sea-horse race in this book. Not just a sea-horse race, but a sea-horse race inside a giant diamond-shaped tank of oxygenated fluid that also holds a beautiful submerged woman dancing and creating music with the movement of her locks of hair, sometimes enhancing the gyration of her head with sudden tosses and jostles of her hips. There's not only that, but several automaton devices that use flotation and buoyancy to drive their mechanic parts and act out various historical and mythological scenes. Like Voltaire suddenly doubting his atheistic doctrines, or Atlas kicking a celestial object, or Pilate being branded on the forehead.

All of that takes place inside the gigantic diamond-like tank of oxygenated fluid. A very lustrous fluid.

By the way, the English translation sometimes calls the sea-horses "hippocampi." Don't be confused: in context, it means sea-horses. It's not talking about parts of a brain. You might be thinking, "well there's no possible room for confusion there!", but au contraire. Because inside the tank is also a floating head/face of Danton, composed exclusively of the preserved nerves and musculuture, without any bones or skin. And re-animated with expertly applied electrical currents, courtesy of Canterel and his cat.

And they're not just any sea-horses. They're sea-horses equipped with "setons" attached to a shining golden sphere that they themselves created by kneading together small globulets of golden wine that Canterel pours into the tank and lets float down to them.

The entire episode I'm talking about took place long after the book had already left my jaw on the floor. In short: read it. You know that "dream-like" quality that hyped books supposedly possess? Say, like "Amnesia Moon"? Well Raymond Roussel accomplishes all that without any narrative tricks, without any deception, without any ill-defined or sensationally blurred "boundaries between dream and reality" or any of that nonsense. Roussel accomplishes his feats the old fashioned way: with elbow grease, and imagination. He accomplishes it by giving everything to you, not hiding things from you.

Who is the Canterel I mentioned above? Canterel-- a name that one should never utter aloud except on bended knee-- has the wealth and quirk of Willy Wonka, combined with the wealth and ingenuity of Bruce Wayne. Which makes for a very rich, very marvelous fellow. His estate and private collection puts both of those men's assets to shame, quite extravagantly.

As you already know, the book is a narrated trip through some of Canterel's exhibits. He aims to please, though. So don't think that the book will lack character, plot, or suspense just because it's a sort of museum-tour. There's stories within stories that explain the exhibits. And they have everything that archetypically good "stories" have, and more: love, betrayal, forgiveness, fantastic magnanimity, loss, disgrace, lust, vindication. I was breathless waiting for the resolutions of certain tales, practically jumping off my bench in the park to cheer for the characters, or otherwise immobilized by the revelations and ups and downs in their fates.

And it's all described soberly, no tricks. By the way, Roussel (though there's a chance it's the translators doing, since I haven't and couldn't read the original French) tells his stories, tells the motivations and actions of characters, with a very skillful use of words, using strong descriptive verbs and nouns. The sentences held together with a unique power. Many times I took great pleasure in re-reading certain sentences, because they were said so absolutely perfectly. Of course, that should be the hallmark of a professional writer, but I don't find it very often...

So anyway you'll feel like you're there. You won't even have any disbelief to suspend. At certain points, like a particular early exhibit that I won't name, I said to myself, "There's no going back, this is too fantastic, there's no POSSIBLE EXPLANATION of this, Roussel has crossed the line, this is uncanny and totally unrecoverable at this point, all credibility has been lost, I feel exploited!," and I kept reading, kept reading-kept reading, "by god, no, by GOD HE'S DONE IT!, he's doing it, by god Canterel, Roussel, you've done it, my good holy god unbeliEVABLE!!! Whew. Wow." I had to close the book for a minute and lean against a fence, nodding my head uncontrollably. When you close this book and put it on your shelf when done, you'll keep suspecting that it's about to burst open and spill out its contents all over your room, neighborhood, and city-- and you'll feel like an angry god for actually having the ability to close the book and contain it.

Book will take your breath away. If not check your pulse. Or, try something else. Bye.
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
Certain of his episodes outshine even Hugo or Napoleon! 6 Mar. 2004
By RR - Published on
Format: Hardcover
I used to have so much fun reading this book. I remember I miraculously found a copy in some book shop on the far southside of Chicago for $8. One night I was drinking with some classmates shortly after class and I made the mistake of lending this irreplacable book to one of them, which of course the fool never returned nor probably ever read or if he did appreciated. May every curse be piled upon your perfidious little name, punk, which it is a blessing I can't remember it was so long ago.
I remember the first time I read Impressions of Africa, right after graduating high school. I was a naive young admirer of Duchamp at the time, and I kept seeing these references to Roussel, and the description of Impressions made it sound like a travel book. Had I known him then I might have expected something like a French William Cobbett. Ha! I don't think I realized something definitely strange was going on in those pages until I reached the part with the father and his sons echoing their voices off of each other's chests with their shirts being stuck to their skin "by some sticky substance", -- the word "substance" somehow set me laughing for a solid twenty, thirty minutes, and all the hilarity, the absurdity of the Incomporables' show that had gone on before were finally apparent to me. I have been a lover of Roussel ever since; the only casualty was my perspective of Duchamp's accomplishment, which is as Duchamp himself admitted greatly indebted to Roussel's.
Locus Solus is the book Roussel wrote after Impressions and the two make a pair unlike any other in literature. Locus is presided over by Martial Canteral, a figure right out of Jules Verne, who Roussel once said was a name that should not be spoken aloud "except on bended knee," -- hm, yes -- Canterel is a famous scientist and inventor, and the book is set at his estate where a group of distinguished figures have been invited to a tour of guided by none other than its owner and director. The book follows the tour as one of the eyewitnesses, and the sights along the way are so bizarre, the machinery so complex and beyond any reasonable utility, it quite defies any attempt to describe the effect here. One impression I think that merits a word or two is the apparent lack of emotion in the book. I would say that there is a great amount of sadness and tragedy in the book that adds a kind of under-layer parallel to the encoded sentences of Roussel's method. The vitallium episode, in which Canterel invents a "certain chemical" that makes the bodies of the dead become animate again (but are still dead) has a very particular strain of anguish and loss inherent in its concept. And then there is also the weariness of the visionary experienced by the reader, the author, and the characters being audience to so many impossibilities one after the other piled up so high there is an actual physical exhaustion after the conclusion. And then of course there is also the tragedy of the author himself, who had both novels lavishly adapted for the theater, and created two of the most colossal failures in the history of drama, causing riots and scandal at the showings and humiliation to the author. He ended up a pitiful man, addicted to drugs and having spent all his fortune, he killed himself in his forties with a great dream "of a glory that shall outshine that of Victor Hugo or Napoleon."
This is not a book for everyone, perhaps even for very few. However there is no good reason these two books are out of print. It is long past time they are reprinted and Roussel be given the honor he deserves.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
A strange world of exhibits and the stories behind them 29 Nov. 1998
By - Published on
Format: Paperback
Roussel's novels are giant puzzles, in which he describes images and stories that have a unique carnival logic. Punning relationships generate textual rebuses (rebi?), in a way that makes the reader aware of the book as a mechanism, but Roussel gives too few clues to really understand it. In Locus Solus, Roussel gives a tour of the museum garden of an eccentric millionaire, who, like Roussel himself, collects with a frenetic and psychedelic rationalism. Please, Riverrun Press, reprint this book.
Locus Solus 10 April 2014
By Steven Davis - Published on
Format: Paperback
A brilliant scientist named Canterel takes a group of visiting dignitaries around the grounds of his estate named Locus Solus. They see a series of artifacts, presentations and demonstrations, each more amazing than the last.

--A mud sculpture of a naked child from the fabled city of Timbuctoo has been the making and breaking of great empires. --A mechanism made from a road mender's tool and a balloon is slowly constructing an elaborate mosaic entirely of human teeth. --Inside a giant aquarium in the shape of a diamond, a dancing woman produces enchanting music simply by waving her hair. She breathes the water itself without harm, as does a completely hairless cat that uses an electrical apparatus to stimulate the preserved but skinless severed head of Danton, making him speak. --Inside a glass cage a beautiful young woman accidentally pricks herself with a thorn and goes insane at the sight of her own blood. It turns out she is a reanimated corpse, as is the man in the next chamber who reenacts his own suicide. --A fortune-teller uses musical insects embedded in a Tarot card to extract gunpowder from the arm of a woman. --A chicken composes poetry and writes it to a canvas by coughing up its own blood in alphabetical shapes.

These are only a few of the dozens of marvels on display at Locus Solus. Each is described in minute detail, along with the scientific principals that explain them and the history of their discovery. Inevitably this leads to equally intricate background stories whose relationship to the items on exhibit are as bizarre and unexpected as the items themselves. Not infrequently there are stories within the stories invoking oddities of history, exotic faraway lands, myths and legends, and famous figures from the past.

What makes this a notable work is the way Roussel uses technical language and anecdote to make creations sound almost credible that, on the surface, are implausible at best, and often preposterous or silly. Yet all of his science, all of his legends, all of his historical anecdotes and quotations from ancient authors are entirely fabricated. Everything is the product of the author's imagination.
A true gem... 20 Feb. 2014
By gnl.weirdness - Published on
Format: Paperback
Anyone who is a collector and is lucky enough to have a copy of this will hate me for this post... If you want a new copy of this book, which EVERYONE who loves the fantastic should own, simply contact the publisher.

They are ridiculously friendly and willing to send out copies. Assuming, and hoping they still do, buy yourself a copy of this book.

Don't read reviews, or summaries, you cannot summarize or make sense of this by reading someone else's take on it. YOU SIMPLY HAVE TO READ IT yourself.

Contact the publisher and have them send you a copy ASAP :: )
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