Monday, June 7, 2010

Henry de Montherlant

From the New York Review of Books, Chaos and Night by Henry de Montherlant:

[...] Nonetheless, it is evident that the wheel of fortune has turned, and Montherlant, as well as his almost exact contemporary and school friend, Louis Aragon, and other superb French writers no more than 10 years older, such as François Mauriac, Roger Martin du Gard (both Nobel Prize winners), and Georges Bernanos, are suffering a real decline in popularity. Have their reputations also declined? Certainly not among French readers who know their work, or among French literary critics capable of looking back beyond the fashionable novels of Michel Houellebecq. But for an author, the loss of readers, if it continues, is like a death sentence. In Montherlant's case, the time has come to lodge an appeal.
Montherlant was born April 21, 1895, in Paris, into a family of fairly rich, but, from a genealogist's point of view, obscure French nobility. His father — a royalist and reactionary to the point of despising the post-Dreyfus Affair army as too subservient to the Republic, and refusing to have electricity or the telephone installed in his house — lost most of the family's fortune speculating on the Paris Bourse. He died in 1914, unmourned by the family, and having communicated to his only son little beyond his taste for equitation and setting oneself in contemptuous opposition to society. [...]
tout ce qui n'est pas littérature ou plaisir est temps perdu
An astonishing modern take on Don Quixote, Chaos and Night untangles the ties between politics and paranoia, self-loathing and self-pity, rage and remorse. It is the darkly funny final flowering of the art of Henry de Montherlant, a solitary and scarifying modern master whose work, admired by Graham Greene and Albert Camus, is sure to appeal to contemporary readers of Thomas Bernhard and Roberto Bolaño.
 A sales pitch, but still... 


  1. I am ashamed to say that I have never heard of this writer before. Thanks for an informative review taking me in new directions

  2. You might be being a bit hard on yourself there; I don't think even the French read him much these days.

    I haven't read a lot of his work either (there doesn't seem to be much else, apart from "Chaos and Night", in print) but, to me at least, his writing seems very contemporary, so to speak. So, who knows? Maybe he will make a come back...

  3. Read his novel The Girls.