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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Disagreeable Tales

Léon Bloy

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To purchase Disagreeable Tales

Title: Disagreeable Tales
Author: Léon Bloy
Genre: Stories
Written: 1894 (Eng. 2015)
Length: 183 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Disagreeable Tales - US
Disagreeable Tales - UK
Disagreeable Tales - Canada
Histoires désobligeantes - Canada
Disagreeable Tales - India
Histoires désobligeantes - France
Unliebsame Geschichten - Deutschland
Il telefono di Calipso - Italia
Historias impertinentes - España
  • French title: Histoires désobligeantes
  • Translated and with an introduction by Erik Butler

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Our Assessment:

B+ : wonderfully/creepily odd

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
El País . 25/2/2006 Rafael Conte

  From the Reviews:
  • "Son episodios crueles, aunque no todos "de guerra", repletos de crímenes, traiciones, robos y suicidios, y que resultan si no impertinentes, sí un ataque a la burguesía ya los "biempensantes" de la época, contra la cual el autor tronaba sin parar." - Rafael Conte, El País

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Granted, the title is not necessarily enticing -- but at least Bloy is upfront from the beginning. And these are, indeed, tales of the disagreeable -- the often monstrously disagreeable. They're strikingly amoral, too: Bloy doesn't tuck edifying lessons into them. Yet Disagreeable Tales isn't mere profaning revel in the worst of man (as, for example, de Sade's endless cataloguing novels are).
       The subject matter is striking. The first two tales alone see, respectively, a mother responsible for the death of her child, and a daughter responsible for the death of her father; in neither case is there any doubt about responsibility for the death, and yet the true cruelty, or at least final twist, is in it being accomplished (slightly) indirectly. The first tale, too, is typical of how Bloy tidies up his tales and what he offers in conclusion, the closing paragraphs reading:

     "Finally !" she sighed, somewhat weary, and reached to ring for a servant.
     Jacques had a severe aneurysm, and his mother had a lover who didn't want to be a stepfather.
     The simple drama occurred three years ago in the neighborhood of Saint-Germain-des-Prés. The house that served as its theatre now belongs to a demolitions contractor.
       There are many other deaths, too, -- including one truly horrific parricide -- but even beyond that there's a great deal mired in the repulsive. Personal descriptions such as: "Her face resembled a fried potato rolled in scraped cheese" and "Your face is like a straw mattress they've all cleaned their boots on" abound. One character is introduced:
     The very sight of the old man engendered vermin. The dung heap of his soul extended so far into his hands and face one could not possibly imagine a more frightful contact. When he walked the streets, the slimiest gutters, shuddering at the reflection of his image, seemed to flow back to their source.
       Occasionally, Bloy explicitly acknowledges
     I am getting to the culmination of the story -- which kills me, devours me whole, and defiles me beyond all conception.
       But most of these tales speak for themselves in their abasement.
       There's a surprising casual lightness and stylishness to the writing too, making more of them than just ugly tales. Bloy's short pieces move along quickly, a succession of short paragraphs that often summarize compactly and leap quickly ahead. He may revel in filth and obscenity, but Bloy does not wallow; he observes, records -- and moves on. And Erik Butler's translation nicely captures the language and style of the era that Bloy relies so heavily on (as Disagreeable Tales is very much a decadent literary product of the French fin-de-siècle).
       There's a great deal of variety to the tales too -- quick summings-up of lives (that usually weren't exactly what they seem), anecdotes of decisive episodes. Bloy has some fun in making several of his protagonists literary types -- but there's no romanticizing of this path here:
     He had been given literary genius in addition to everything else. It was the kindling of his torments.
       And no matter how bad it gets, Bloy can always ratchet things up another notch:
     Nor is that all, O, my God ! Behold the abyss of woe.
       There's something ridiculous to all of this, too -- but then there has to be; to read it seriously seems almost unthinkable. Yet despite a light and occasionally even comic edge, this isn't really satire. Perhaps what makes for their staying power is an underlying sincerity to the stories; Bloy isn't a traditional moralizer, but there's a firmness of belief in society and men's failings, perhaps colored by his (surely complicated) religiosity, that underpins these tales: Bloy isn't just mocking, or aiming to shock; he really means to shake his readers with his depictions of the baseness of life at all levels.
       Decidedly odd, these Disagreeable Tales are nevertheless weirdly appealing.

- M.A.Orthofer, 2 February 2016

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Disagreeable Tales: Reviews: Books by Léon Bloy under review: Books about Léon Bloy under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French author Léon Bloy lived 1846 to 1917.

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