Marthe (Dedalus European Classics) Paperback – 13 Oct 2006
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Top customer reviews
It's a very short novel, only 100 pages (the rest is introduction and notes, including useful images, but no reviews Huysman had written at the time of the novel, like a French edition had included. Since the novel is so short, it would've been nice to include a little more exegesis, if not really essential). The novel is an easy read, perhaps due to the translation, although still with it's original lurid flourishes, which try too hard to impress.
The introduction includes the criticisms of two other French authors, which point out the problems of this novel, better than I have:
"...you sometimes cannot resist the temptation of an over-literary expression, the charm of a brilliant, showy or curious archaic word, and this leads you to kill the reality of a well-formed scene, very skilfully, with a literary pistol shot..." E de Goncourt.
"...the book would benefit from a lighter tone. Your style is rich enough not to abuse it. I am of the opinion that intensity cannot be achieved though the colour of words but through their value. We see everything too blackly, too overdone."
I recommend you start with a couple of his other works "Against the Grain" (or "Against Nature") and "With the Flow" (or "Downstream"). I felt Marthe was more of a historical curiosity, it's characterisation and psychology is rather more miss than hit. it certainly wouldn't be improved by being longer (as suggested by it's initial rushed printing). In fact it could do with being shorter, removing the last chapter (which tries to wrap up some plot lines unnecessarily). The moralising tone and the enjoyment of a decadent pose, it's no wonder Huysmans would lapse into religiosity.
I recommend other writers you may like: Jules Renard (you may have to search second hand shops I'm afraid), Octave Mirbeau ( thank-you Dedalus, who've translated so many great novels!) Gustav Meyrink (again Dedalus) and numerous novels and texts published by Atlas Press (especially "The Book of Masks", an Atlas Archive).
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
There is not much of a plot to describe. Marthe is introduced as a teenage "worker in fake pearls", rolling ground oyster shells and foul chemicals together into beads. Her health failing, she finds refuge in the red light district.
A beautifully miserable story.
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