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Locus Solus, by Raymond Roussel

This French novel is the difficult but imaginative grandfather of modern surrealist fantasy.


Locus Solus

1913, 218 pages



Based on uniquely eccentric principles of composition, this book invites the reader to enter a world which, in its innocence and extravagance, is unlike anything in the literature of the twentieth century

Canterel, 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, encyclopedic 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 Canterel'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.


Cross-posted to books1001.

Evokes Roald Dahl, Rube Goldberg, Dr. Seuss, and Mark Z. Danielewski.

Verdict: Does Locus Solus belong on the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die list? It is certainly memorable and strange. I think it's unique and a work of genius, so any serious reader probably should tackle it at some point. That said, the linguistic density and plotless surrealism were more of an experience than a pleasure, and I can see why Roussel isn't widely read today outside of literature classes. There is one other book by Raymond Roussel on the books1001 list, and I think I would approach it with a bottle of booze and/or aspirin.




My complete list of book reviews.
Tags: author: r, genre: fiction, non-english literature, review
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