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The Antisocial Man and Other Strange Stories

by Frédéric Boutet
translated by Brian Stableford

Short Stories

This volume is the first of a set of three books showcasing the work of Frédéric Boutet, the other two volumes being The Voyage of Julius Pingouin and Other Strange Stories and Claude Mercoeur's Reflection and Other Strange Stories. Viewed as an ensemble, they illustrate the range and development of Boutet's early work, and provide representative samples of its later evolution. Although several stories by Boutet were translated into English in the 1920s, especially in America, they were selected from his later works, when he was writing sentimental stories and crime fiction for popular magazines; no examples of his early work, most of which consisted of offbeat supernatural fiction, have previously been rendered into English.

Included in this first collection are thirteen examples of the work of a highly distinctive writer of weird and baroque fiction. Great reading by a newly-discovered horror writer!

Introduction to the 1903 Edition by Paul Adam
The Last Adventure (1903)
The Veritable Victory (1903)
Florence (1903)
The Idol (1903)
Visions in the Silence (1903)
Fax-Agelia, Prince of Belsédène (1903)
The Clement Shades (1903)
The Valley Named Solitude (1903)
Like Children Who Run After a Mask (1903)
The Refuge (1903)
Journey to the City of the Dead (1903)
Different Masks (1903)
The Antisocial Man of the Quai Bois-L'Encre (1902)
Introduction and Notes by Brian Stableford.

Published by The Borgo Press in May 2013
ISBN: 978-1-4794-0093-5

Review by Glenn Russell

Singular tales told in rich, opulent language, January 12, 2014

Perhaps it would be appropriate to have this book of Frederic Boutet's rococo tales fitted with a fine cover of black leather inlaid with golden arabesques, and then, after partaking of a tincture of opium or wine, book in tremulous hand, surrounded by odiferous flowers and pungent perfumes, in solitude, at midnight, by the light of a solitary candle, take a seat in a plush chair. With these modest preparations - the decorated cover, lavish ambience and one's inner hypersensitive state - a reader will begin to match the author's ornate sentences and baroque storytelling.

Indeed, if you have a taste for the fantastic, for gothic horror, for weird characters and arcane landscapes described in rich, opulent language, for a book that could be sub-titled `Deadly Beauty', then this collection translated and introduced by Brian Stableford and published by Borgo Press might become one of your very favorites. By way of specific examples, here are a few quotes and my comments on three of the thirteen tales:

The Veritable Victory
A pale-faced, black-bearded visitor removes his top hat and cloak and is lead to a room where a young woman of great beauty, dead to all appearances, lies on an ivory bed with lace pillows and satin sheets. We read, "He thought: What does tomorrow matter? She is beautiful tonight; she is all mine; and I shall love her until I vanquish death!" And then we read, "He possessed her in a voluptuous delirium multiplied tenfold by opium." We know right from the outset this is a scene that has been repeated many time before: the visitor is lead into the house by a horror-struck old housekeeper and the woman lies on the bed as if dead. But then one night there is an unexpected change. The author writes, "But he exhausted himself in vain in gluing his lips to the pale mouth; she did not part her own any more. In vain, he caressed the voluptuous body passionately, but she did not quiver and her arms did not return the embrace. The translucent eyelids remained closed over the large blue eyes, the little feet were icy, the limbs became ever colder, ever heaver." One senses Boutet coated every sentence of his sumptuous, extravagant tale with overpowering cologne and death.

The Idol
Lost in a forest, a mounted traveler by the name of Jean Falmor encounters ugly, stinking creatures gnawing on roots. He then comes upon Marestote, a holy black monk, a monk who tells Falmor how the brutish half-men he now sees crawling around the fires had their souls devoured by a fatal power: Woman. Confidence in his holiness and Christian mission, Marestote invites the traveler to join him in his confrontation with his evil enemy. At the point in the story when the black monk challenges the Woman, Boutet describes what these two men see when the Woman displays her miraculous naked beauty: "The whiteness of her skin is mat and polished, with a gilded roseate translucency. Above her arched feet, resting on a swans-down carpet, the slimness of her ankles elongates and folds back lazily. Then, there is the gracious grasp of the knee and the voluptuous plentitude of thighs; the skin is as delicate as the most adorable silk, seemingly warm and perfumed, and the delight of its touch must be superior to any other." This is but one paragraph of description; Boutet goes on to further describe the Woman (author's capitalization) in equally florid language in five more paragraphs. Not only does this tale contain a most exquisite description of female beauty but also will prompt us to reflect on our philosophical and theological presuppositions.

The Antisocial Man of the Qual Bois-L'encre
This Boutet story is decidedly unlike the others in the collection in a couple of ways - first, at 72 pages, it is a much longer piece; and, second, the story is a mad-cap cross between two forms, what would come to be known in the 20th century as 1) South American magical realism, and 2) Soviet absurdist fiction. To underscore this point, the story's characters provide reports not only on the Antisocial Man, a recluse isolating himself in a top floor apartment, but also creatures sharing the Antisocial Man's living space, including a baboon, brown bear, anti-bear, hippopotamus, kangaroo, goat, boa constrictor, armadillo and a bearded vulture. And what more detail do we have on the Antisocial Man? Here is a description from a bailiff's notebook: "The Antisocial Man, as I've said, is not mad. At the very moment when I am writing these lines I can see him through the foliage, a short distance away. He is sitting on the edge of the spring. He is thin, beardless, muscular, sardonic and calm. He is smoking his pipe. His clothing is simple. He rarely speaks. Sometimes he reads books. At his feet is his favorite goat: a very young, very pretty, very affectionate and very capricious goat, which never leaves him for long and for which he appears to have, doubtless in imitation of Robinson Crusoe, an excessive tenderness." You may ask: how can an apartment have foliage and a spring? Again, this is a work of sheer imaginative fancy, an occasion for our singular author to stretch his creative powers and literary inventiveness.

The Brian Stableford Website