When you set out to research a topic, reading is the first step. These days you can’t possibly keep up with everything that’s written—particularly on the internet with its endless iterations and reiterations, and incipient plagiarism. Even books often come at you in great numbers, from angles you don’t expect. Apart from holidays, daily life doesn’t give much time for reading. So how does one get a handle on H. P. Lovecraft? I’d been aware of Michel Houellebecq’s essay, H. P. Lovecraft Against the World, Against Life for some time, but as always, finding time is the trick. This short book, however, is profoundly insightful. Not a biography and not literary criticism, it is more an appreciation of a misanthrope. One of the things that Houellebecq makes clear is that Lovecraft was a man out of his time.
Continuing the tradition of French writers appreciating the more macabre of American writers (Poe was celebrated more in France than his native country), Houellebecq pays tribute, but doesn’t fawn over, Lovecraft. In this series of brief essays he manages to highlight much that might remain hidden to those who know H. P. from either only his writing or from the somewhat small circle of experts on him. Sometimes it helps to break away from the experts to get a fresh view. I’ve read quite a lot of Lovecraft’s fiction, and when you do this you tend to think you know the author. You may or you may not. To know is to delve. And delve Houellebecq does.
Serious reflection is too often considered a luxury. With the exception of a few privileged occupations, think of what would happen at work if you took to reflecting while on the clock. Those who dole out the lucre prefer to see signs of busyness—fingers clacking keyboards and numbers being lined up, preferably in the black. Time thinking, so capitalist thought goes, is time wasted. If you can sell enough copies of your book to afford a little time off for reflection you can make connections, I presume. You can see things that those who are too busy cannot. There are many astute observations in this slim volume. While not making excuses for Lovecraft’s faults, Houellebecq doesn’t attempt to correct him either. That’s difficult to do with a person, if the author is correct, who hated life itself. Books like this also demonstrate that a huge word count isn’t necessary for erudition. And it is still possible to learn, even with limited time.