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Malpertuis by Jean Ray

Malpertuis (1943)

by Jean Ray

Other authors: Iain White (Introduction), Iain White (Translator)

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
233649,595 (4)19
  1. 00
    The Experience of the Night by Marcel Bealu (bluepiano)
    bluepiano: Two books first published within a couple of years of each other and written by two very imaginative authors who made the fantastic seem credible. Odds are very good indeed that if you liked one, you'd like the other.
  2. 00
    THE BELGIAN SCHOOL OF THE BIZARRE: An Anthology of Short Stories by Kim Connell (Soukesian)
    Soukesian: Superb showcase of Belgian weird fiction

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» See also 19 mentions

English (3)  Dutch (1)  French (1)  Spanish (1)  All (6)
Showing 3 of 3
I just didn't get the point of the whole thing, and while the atmosphere was creepy nothing at all happened and I got bored of it. ( )
  Georges_T._Dodds | Mar 30, 2013 |
Malpertuisis is a "Romantic grotesque". It's a really, really bizarre book. Imagine Hawthorne's The House of the Seven Gables on acid. About half way through the book I was thinking, "What the fuck? Has this guy been taking crazy pills?" There is a plot ... sort of... but mostly it's a strange montage of images and events. However, by the end of the book the events and their delirious quality started to make sense. The book is a mystery of sorts.

*spoiler alert*

The basic plot is a group of friends and relatives of a dying man, Cassave, are summoned to his dark and sprawling mansion called "Malpertuis" (like something out of The Fall of the House of Usher) to hear his last wishes. He bequeaths all of his enormous fortune to those present on one condition: they must spend the rest of their days living within the walls of Malpertuis. Do to the vast inheritance they're all to receive they unanimously decide to move to the mansion.

The estate is a cold, dark, and dreary place. Jean Ray goes out of his way describing it's gothic features. Then things really get bizarre. The story is told from the point of view of a young man, Jean-Jacques. The events unfold with a dream-like quality. You can't tell whether things are really happening or imaginary. It's like reading the narrative of a crazy person, but it works! As aforementioned, most of the book I was really confused until I found out the underlying cause of the strange events.

Basically Cassave was once a powerful occultist and alchemist. He discovered that many the ancient gods still lived, but in a very weakened form. He finds the real Mt. Olympus and takes the surviving gods as captives. Most only have the faintest traces of their powers, if at all, and are existing in a state of amnesia. He brings them back to Europe and creates identities for them as friends and family. They've forgotten who they once were all together -- well, most of them anyway. Cassave realized it's in the god's nature to play out dramas which is why he has them all come together to live within Malpertuis where they can unknowingly act out predestined fates. Since they're all living in a non-human reality things like time and logic don't always flow the way they would for us. Hence the dream-like Symbolist style, as gods are really nothing more than symbols of forces anyway.

Only later when you start to put 2 and 2 together and figure out who each character really is in the Greek pantheon does the actions and events begin to make sense. The book can be read on many different levels. Everything is meant to symbolize something. Malpertuis itself is a manifestation of Pergatory or perhaps even Tartarus.

Overall it was good; however, I spent a good 2/3 of the novel utterly confused, and that started to get old. Sure, it all made sense at the end, but there should have been more clues earlier on so that I could have picked up the symbolism. I really had no idea they were gods until near the end of the book. Some parts are still confusing to me. Apparently the lead narrator (there are a few different narrators) Jean-Jacques is a Hercules-like character, half mortal and half god. However he's a new hero (and Cassave's grandson). He's thrown into the drama to fulfill his newly created destiny. ( )
4 vote Dead_Dreamer | Jan 12, 2010 |

This is regarded as the great work of Belgian fantasy (at least in the novel form: there are loads of Belgian comics and films with sfnal content). It's quite difficult to get hold of and I eventually picked up a copy of the 1998 Atlas Press translation on eBay. It appears at first to be about the peculiar inhabitants of the house of Malpertuis, in a city which is presumably Ghent in the dying days of Francophone supremacy; but in fact it turns into a peculiar confrontation between the organised Catholic church and the gods of ancient Greece. My edition makes the inevitable link with H.P. Lovecraft; I would add James Stephens' The Crock of Gold as a potential source, and I wonder if Neil Gaiman drew on it, consciously or not, for American Gods (and likewise, for the nested narrative structure, David Mitchell for Cloud Atlas). Ray is not quite as terrifying as Lovecraft (though fairly gruesome in places), and he is certainly not as cheerful as Stephens, but he does add a certain level of surrealist incomprehensibility to the mix that is appropriate for a slightly older contemporary of Magritte, who like Magritte stayed in Belgium and wrote this book during the German occupation. Certainly an essential read for sf fans interested in Belgium, or Belgians interested in literary sf. ( )
2 vote nwhyte | Jul 9, 2009 |
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» Add other authors (6 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Jean Rayprimary authorall editionscalculated
White, IainIntroductionsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
White, IainTranslatorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Lampo, HubertTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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L'affaire du couvent des Pères Blancs ne fut pas mauvaise.
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