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Locus Solus by Raymond Roussel
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Locus Solus (1914)

by Raymond Roussel

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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374440,950 (3.91)1 / 17

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“Then Canterel, declaring that all the secrets of his park were now known to us, took the path back to the villa where all of us were soon united at a cheerful dinner.” I am not giving anything away by quoting the last paragraph in this book, because all that happens is a group of invited guests are escorted by M. Canterel around his park/estate where they observe his wonderful exhibitions and he then explains how they work and digresses with some background information. A word of warning however as these Tableau vivants could well be labelled atrocity exhibitions

As there is no plot, story, or character development then the reader has to look for something else to keep him/her amused during the 200 or so pages. In some ways the book is a little formulaic in that M Canterel guides his guests to all of his exhibits in turn and they stand in front of them and observe what is going on; he then provides an explanation and some details of the scientific inventions that have made it possible. it is at the second exhibit that one wonders what an earth is happening here: a machine that floats above an area full of discarded human teeth is selecting those that it will place in position to produce a mosaic showing a scene of: a warrior asleep in a dark crypt by a pool and dreaming some sort of nightmare. M Canterel then explains in some detail the technical details of the floating machine which make as much sense as why it should be employed to make a mosaic out of human teeth in the first place. No one asks any questions, but there is some admiration of the work of M Canterel and they move onto the next exhibit. While explaining the details of his inventions M Canterel digress into stories and myths from the past often including real historical figures and it is these stories within stories that I found most entertaining. I had difficulty in visualising some of the exhibits and soon gave up trying to understand the scientific explanations which are so fantastic that they would not be out of place in a science fiction novel.

Although the exhibits themselves are atrocious M Canterel is able to justify them on moral grounds, for example his series of tableau where reanimated dead people re-enact the most important event in their lives provides comfort for their surviving relatives and the tableau showing the madman Lucius with his dancing airborne dolls has the purpose of allowing him to come to terms with the events that caused his madness, but the underlying feeling is that the guests of M Cantered are voyeurs and this is unsettling for the reader as we are really one of those guests, we see what they see and we listen to the explanations.

How and why this book came to be written is more fascinating than the book itself. Here is an explanation from wiki:

Roussel's most famous works are Impressions of Africa and Locus Solus, both written according to formal constraints based on homonymic puns. Roussel kept this compositional method a secret until the publication of his posthumous text, How I Wrote Certain of My Books, where he describes it as follows: "I chose two similar words. For example billard (billiard) and pillard (looter). Then I added to it words similar but taken in two different directions, and I obtained two almost identical sentences thus. The two sentences found, it was a question of writing a tale which can start with the first and finish by the second. Amplifying the process then, I sought new words reporting itself to the word billiards, always to take them in a different direction than that which was presented first of all, and that provided me each time a creation moreover. The process evolved/moved and I was led to take an unspecified sentence, of which I drew from the images by dislocating it, a little as if it had been a question of extracting some from the drawings of rebus." For example, Les lettres du blanc sur les bandes du vieux billard/The white letters on the cushions of the old billiard table… must somehow reach the phrase, …les lettres du blanc sur les bandes du vieux pillard/letters [written by] a white man about the hordes of the old plunderer.

Published in 1914 the book reads like something from the era of surrealism but is a decade ahead of that movement. It is not Dada either because there is no political content and so the nearest movement that I can connect with is Futurism. Experimental it certainly is and in that respect in can be lumped in with the modernists, but I suppose the genre it most comfortably fits is science fiction and fantasy. A book that should probably be approached with caution, some of the “scientific” explanations were a little tedious, but for those that like a little weirdness it might fit the bill: 3 stars. ( )
2 vote baswood | Jan 25, 2015 |
"My fame will outshine that of Victor Hugo or Napoleon." - Raymond RousselWhile this wish of Roussel may not have been realized, he did inspire more artists than Napoleon ever did.

Reading Locus Solus is like having walked into a surrealist painting. As one explores the painting bit by bit, several fascinating stories behind the visuals are revealed.

Roussel takes the reader on a tour of an estate with wildly imaginative and bizarre inventions and works of art on display. These, however, are not meant to be mysterious, magical works. The narrative alternates between detailed descriptions of the intricate machinery enabling each display and a story describing the context behind the visuals. Thus, on one hand, one would hear details laid out with scientific precision. And on the other, there are stories from distant lands, ancient times, stories about emperors and warriors. The novel is essentially composed of several stories-(within-stories)-within-story.

In a way, Locus Solus is about obsessions. The owner of the estate is an immensely wealthy man, with a scientific bend of mind and unparalleled ingenuity. Once an idea occupies his whimsical mind, he will go to any lengths to make it happen, even if it involves experimenting on people - living or dead.

Many of the inventions are described in enough technical detail for one to draw out the plan. To actually create the display, all one will need is to invent/discover the required materials, a godown full of human teeth, an aquarium for terrestrial beings, a half decomposed head, a few resurrected dead bodies - which will enact some scenes from their lives along with their still alive family members, Creepy!, a set of intelligent and obedient animals and of course, a never-ending supply of money.

I know absence of a plot can be a deal-breaker for some people. More than anything, it is really the whole premise that I find so alluring. This novel is something extra-ordinary.

And finally: "Read with an open mind and a shot of absinthe." - The Observor_____________________________

Why has almost no one read this book? I can see it is not going to be everyone's cup of tea, but it is pretty darn good.

Only a meager 150 GR ratings! What gives?

( )
2 vote HearTheWindSing | Mar 31, 2013 |
proto-surrealist steampunk shaggy dog story of the highest order ( )
1 vote facetious | Sep 30, 2012 |
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Roussel, Raymondprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
公二, 岡谷Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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