By Joris Karl Huysmans, Brendan King

One of many first French novels to take on the topic of prostitution, this tale centres on would-be actress Marthe who lives in a single of the bottom dives in Paris and her finally doomed dating with Leo, a romantic trying to find anything to ensue of misplaced illusions."

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Sample text

Oh misfortune of misfortunes, to think it all went at the same time as my hair! Hey, you, jack-the-lad,’ he shouted at the waiter, ‘these coins are burning a hole in my pocket so put ’em out, there are five pints to pay for; and now, onward, ye knights! ’ And so saying he grabbed Bourdeau, who was dragging his heels behind him, by the left arm, and, whistling through his nose, puffing out his belly and waddling like a bear, he sang at the top of his voice a eulogy in honour of fine wine and not-so-fine women.

This opens the possibility that he actually hadn’t even finished the novel when he learned about the Goncourt project and that he hurriedly completed it while he was in Brussels searching for a publisher. This might go some way to explaining the brevity of the book and its somewhat hastly conclusion, and why he resorts to the clichéd device of Léo’s letter in order to tie up the loose ends of the narrative. As a consequence, Huysmans might have decided to keep the erroneous November 1875 date in order to give the book a longer and more credible gestation period.

On this particular evening Marthe’s feelings of anxiety and disgust were especially intense. For the past twenty minutes she had been lying prostrate on a pile of cushions, pretending to listen to the chatter of her companions, trembling at the slightest sound of an approaching footstep. She felt sick and tired, as if emerging from a lengthy debauch. From time to time the pain seemed to abate and she looked with a dazzled eye at the splendours that surrounded her. Those candle chandeliers, those walls hung with a dull red satin and embossed with white silk flowers gleaming like specks of silver, were dancing in front of her eyes, glittering like white sparks against the crimson of a brazier.

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