Locus Solus – Raymond Roussel

Book #745

Reviewer: Inspirational Reads


Cantarel, a scholarly scientist, whose enormous wealth imposes no limits upon his prolific ingenuity, is taking a group of visitors on a tour of “Locus Solus,” his secluded estate near Paris. One by one he introduces, demonstrates, and expounds the discoveries and inventions of his fertile, encyclopaedic mind. An African mud-sculpture representing a naked child; a road-mender’s tool which, when activated by the weather, creates a mosaic of human teeth; a vast aquarium in which humans can breathe and in which a hairless cat is seen stimulating the partially decomposed head of Georges Danton to fresh flights of oratory. By each item in Cantarel’s exhibition there hangs a tale—a tale only Roussel could tell. As the inventions become more elaborate, the richness and brilliance of the author’s stories grow to match them; the flow of his imagination becomes a flood and the reader is swept along in a torrent of wonder and hilarity.

I am the type of reader that will easily abandon a book if I am not enjoying it. I have no shame about this; there are far too many books to be read and my time is too precious. But what this challenge has meant is that to fairly give a review of what I have read, I have to read my allocated book in its entirety. And this has been driven home quite clearly by this book.

Roussel has been described as a surreal science-fiction writer.  And by surreal, Roussel embraces the bizarre aspect much more than the dreamlike quality of surrealism, which is to the readers benefit. Because, as evident from the synopsis, the novel is full of Roussels outlandish creations (mosaic of human teeth people! Minute parasitic bugs used to create music and halos of light from within tarot cards!), explained in such excruciating detail that I can’t decide whether Roussel should be admired for his verbosity or have a thesaurus chucked at him (in his grave)

There are parts of this novel that I enjoyed; all the displays have a backstory as to what is being represented and why it was chosen by our host, Cantarel.  Most are heartbreaking, a few uplifting. But even this was disjointed as there is no flow or natural progression to the exhibits, just one after the other. And then at the end, they just return to the main house for tea.

To be fair, the sheer imagination involved is astounding and while wordy, they are well written. But the overwhelming detail and the lack of cohesion made this read a chore and has resulted in a mediocre rating of 2.5/5 from me.


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