I ♥ Cthulhu

Paul Grimstad

  • The Night Ocean by Paul La Farge
    Penguin, 389 pp, £19.99, March 2017, ISBN 978 1 101 98108 5

After reading all of H.P. Lovecraft’s fiction in 1945, Edmund Wilson concluded that there was nothing scary about stories full of words like ‘eerie’, ‘unhallowed’, ‘blasphemous’, ‘infernal’, ‘hellish’ and ‘unholy’, especially when these refer to an ‘invisible whistling octopus’ (the creature appears at the end of the 1928 story ‘The Call of Cthulhu’). But Wilson would have been genuinely frightened to see a volume of Lovecraft’s tales included in the Library of America series he helped to create. Lovecraft’s canonisation is a rebuke to Wilson’s lifelong crusade to keep Literature safe from the contaminating tentacles of science fiction, horror and detective fiction (in another essay he describes Agatha Christie’s prose as having a ‘mawkishness and banality which seem to me literally impossible to read’). But those tidy containers have long since been smashed. The first book Michel Houellebecq published was H.P. Lovecraft: Contre le monde, contre la vie, which describes the stories that made Wilson wince as constituting a ‘gigantic dream machine of astounding breadth and efficacy’.

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[*] The obvious exemplar here is Borges, whose poker-faced reviews of non-existent books were so convincing that his close friend Adolfo Bioy Casares tried to order a copy of the detective thriller (and Borges’s invention) The Approach to Al-Mu’tasim from his London bookseller. Metafictional games of this sort go all the way back to the origins of the novel: Don Quixote presents itself as being not Cervantes’s creation but a translation into Castilian of an Arabic work by one Cide Hamete Benengeli; by Part Two Quixote has read of the exploits recorded in Part One.