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Customer reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
4.5 out of 5 stars

on 5 October 2017
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VINE VOICEon 25 August 2008
This is a very interesting novel; not only in terms of its content, but in terms of its function as a touchstone of decadent 1890s English literature. Indeed, it's rumored to be the novel which corrupts Dorian Gray in the Wilde novel of 1891.

A novel with only one main character sounds a bit strange. And it is. But rather than the focus being on linear plot, action or conventional emotions, the reader of this book - whilst carrying out their own solitary activity of reading - seems to form a symbiotic relationship with the book's protagonist, Des Esseintes. Reading about the things that this French loner does purely out of boredom is fascinating; indeed, the very act of reading about his mad experiments and activities gives the reader as great a hedonistic pleasure as it gives Des Esseintes himself by doing these things.

Whilst most people today associate money with being able to have a nice house, eat well, drive nice cars etc, this fictional account of a bored, rich man sees a much more fascinating way to toy with boredom and money. The translation is great, capturing Huysmans' tone and sentiment perfectly.

Reading this book will change your life.
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on 29 May 2012
Huysmans seems to have written a novel of simple plot, vain sympathies and marvellous aesthetics; however, this novel does a lot more than convey the coloured life of a certain bigotted intellect. One could perhaps even consider this book to act as prolepsis for twenty-first century novels such as Sartre's first published work, "Nausea", as its candid portrayal of a solitary life, and its effects on Des Essientes immediately promted recollections of the wandering mind of Roquentin as he strolled down the sea front in Bouville. Also, the tragedy of Des Essientes final prescription is one which leaves the reader in a deeply and profoundly melancholic state, as Des Essientes is served a treatment which, to him, is perhaps worse than death. As a social commentary it depicts a society finally surrendering to "human mediocrity" and a conformity and materialism that we know all too well today.

Calling this novel an aesthetical novel is essentially naive. This novel is so much more: a harrowing portrayal of the death of a kind of life. One man's battle with the world he lives in, grasping at the heels of the pleasures he loves in the vain hope that they'll stay. Not a perfect novel, but essential reading for any one who has read the likes of Wilde, Zola, Baudelaire, Sartre, or anyone at all concerned with France in the 19th century.
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on 12 March 2009
For those looking for a great tale of adventure,intrigue or any other discernible genre stay away.

This book has a very very brief plot but that is the beauty of it. You get lost in the descriptions. The author paints a picture in your mind. It's easily one of the most enchanting books I've read.

I was truly absorbed in it, and upon finishing it realized that story was less interesting than anyone's life yet the descriptions will mesmerize and hold you to the end. Its almost a sensory overload.

Might be of interest to some others - this is presumably the ' yellow book ' that corrupts the main character in the picture of Dorian Gray

Highly recommended.
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Huysmans' fantastic novel has been influential on writers when it first came out and up to the present day, after all you can obviously see the beginnings of such novels as 'Perfume' amongst its pages. The only main character, Des Esseintes has lived a life that mirrors Dorian Gray, and Dorian indeed reads this book in The Picture of Dorian Gray (Penguin Classics). You do get glimpses in this novel of Des Esseintes' hedonistic lifestyle before he seeks 'rest'. Told by his doctors that his lifestyle will kill him, Des Esseintes retires into seclusion and loneliness. However even here his life is full of eccentricity and dissipation.

Des Esseintes changes one lifestyle for another and contemplates upon a series of subjects in his new home that he has bizarrely furnished and fitted out. A weird and captivating tale this book is now a cult classic and has held people enthralled since its first publication, indeed it is difficult to put it down, and remains in the mind long after. As I wrote in my review for The Damned (Penguin Classics), Huysmans can write about literally anything and hold you in captivation, truly he was one of the worlds greatest writers. In this book mention is made of Barbey D'Aurevilly, and the bookLes Diaboliques: She Devils (Empire of the Senses). This is a book of short stories and is well worth a read.

Along with the story and an introduction you also get here Huysmans' preface written 20 years later, and also reviews and responses to the novel from such luminaries as Oscar Wilde, Emile Zola and Barbey D'Aurevilly, amognst others.
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on 15 February 2012
To understand and appreciate this book, which by its very nature seems to reject the reader, or perhaps to withdraw from the reader any semblance of the forms of contact and intimacy that are the usual business of one person writing and another person reading the words, is to accept that the process by which we come together in this case is ultimately bizarre. Huysmans rejected the naturalism of his compatriot Emile Zola and turned it on its head. Rather than drawing from human nature and seeking to understand humanity, Huysmans found his oeuvre with the paintings of Gustav Moreau and he was linked to the heady extremes of symbolist poetry by the likes of Mallarme and Moreas.

Against Nature displays a profound disgust for women as well as an effete sensibility that rejected `normality' and convention. Huysman's erudite encapsulations of Classical history and literature are marked by a strong sense of the privileged position he was able, by means of his wealth, to attain. This seam of extremism played itself out via the Symbolist movement and it (arguably) reached its peak in the poetry of Maeterlinck and in the art of (among others) Arnold Bocklin and Ferdinand Hodler. As such it is one of the strangest movements in the Modernist era, linking figures as various as Baudelaire and Edward Burne-Jones. The styles of the Symbolist painters varied considerably, but they shared many of the same themes particularly a fascination with the mystical and the visionary. The erotic, the perverse, death and debauchery were of particular interest for the Symbolists. The leading figures of the movement included the two French men, Odilon Redon and Paul Gauguin, but Symbolism was not limited to France with other practitioners including the Norwegian Edvard Munch, the Austrian Gustav Klimt and the British Aubrey Beardsley.

But what is the book about? A man, Des Essientes, drawn to silence, order and the exhaustion of the senses, tends his exotic plants, studies the classics, travels a little now and again, but always without learning anything of the places he visits or interacting with any of the people there. Other people are abhorrent, they don't understand his own tender sensibilities and therefore they are beneath his notice. He collects beautiful artefacts, gorgeous and expensive paper, for example. As Brendan King writes in the introduction to the new Dedalus edition: "In prioritising the elite over the popular, the singular over the general, and the unique and rare over objects of mass production, Against Nature stood against what Zola and many of the Naturalists considered to be the forces of progress." Des Essientes believed in a hierarchical society, with himself, preferably, at the top. Against Nature was his manifesto - weird, strange and polluted though it might be.
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on 26 March 2016
I found this book fascinating when I was doing some research which involved Oscar Wilde. It is an amazing book and very much part of the fin-de-siecle movement.
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on 9 October 2013
It's a Great read, a really unusual book. It arrived on time, clear and easy to read, could do with a bit more of a conservative cover though.
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on 13 April 2009
First of all it should be stated clearly that if you like a book with a ripping plot then you should stay clear of 'Against Nature'. This is not 'Great Expectations' or 'The Da Vinci Code'.

If you tend to like books that have little or no 'plot' and that concentrate on characters then you may just like this little book from the end of the 19th Century....it appealed to me.

It is essentially about a bored aristocratic aesthete who's had enough of his modern decadent life and decides to live a solitary but comfortable life in Fontenay (presumably a small town around Paris). He decorates his house, reads some books, looks back on his life and ends up getting ill...that's about it really.

The high points consist of how and why he acquired a jewel-encrusted tortoise and his aborted attempt to flee to England, which were both quite amusing. The low points are the whole chapters taken over to musing on his favourite Latin authors and later on in the book a whole chapter dedicated to medieval theological works.

On the whole, quite a readable and amusing book, if at times a bit dull. Huysmans even manages to avoid a melodramatic ending as well.
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on 30 April 2014
This is a well book at a really good price. I am very happy with this purchase. Very happy !
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