Jean Ray was known as the "Belgian Poe." In many ways, he surpassed Poe as well as his acknowledged successor H.P. Lovecraft. Most of his completed works have never been available in English until a few years ago when Wakefield Press started publishing his work. Malpertuis is probably his most famous work to the American public, in part because of the 1971 film starring Orson Welles. After being out of print for several decades, Malpertuis has been released in a new translation.

Malpertuis is the name of the crumbling manor where most of the story takes place. The name translates as "The Fox's Den" and so in the context of this book, the characters live in the home of a predator. An old patriarch has his family gather together to read his will, including the young Jean-Jaques and the beautiful yet aloof Euryale, who Jean-Jaques loves intensely. The old man dies, leaving the family with a massive fortune along with the condition that the must live in the manor to take part in the inheritance. What follows is a series of intrigues and bizarre murders that Jean-Jaques witnesses. What is behind all the deaths? What makes Malpertuis such a foreboding place? Why is Euryale so strange and why is Jean-Jaques drawn to her regardless?

This book has been called the reinvention of the gothic novel and I wanted to find out for myself what that meant. For one thing, this crumbling gothic manse doesn't have any ghosts. Face it, ghosts represent one of the most obvious and common plot devices out there. Another is that this novel incorporates an aspect that is practically the antithesis of gothic: Greek mythology. From architecture to philosophy, ancient Greece represented reason and symmetry while Gothicism represented the disorder, superstition, and gloom of the Dark Ages. As a matter of fact, Horace Walpole's fascination with Gothic architecture prompted him to write The Castle of Otranto as a reaction to the Age of Reason.

Anyway, enough with the history lesson. For anyone who appreciates gothic literature, this is a must-read. Ray makes demands of his reader, including attention to detail. That's fine because he rewards his readers with a textured and fascinating story. In this sometimes lucid, sometimes delirious account, he puts Jean-Jaques through a harrowing ordeal that keeps the reader guessing as to what's happening. Ray doesn't disclose everything at once. The story is fractured, told by different narrators and so the novel has to be read as a whole to be appreciated. It might try the reader's patience a little but not for long.

As a whole, I recommend this book without reservations. This one earns an A+.

Written by Nicholas Montelongo

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