Translated, with an introduction, by Iain White / Afterword by Scott Nicolay / September 2021 / 5.375 x 8, 256 pp. / 978-1-939663-70-2
Malpertuis is Jean Ray’s most famous work, a reinvention of the Gothic novel and an established classic of fantastic literature that is as inventive and gripping today as when it first appeared in French in the dark year of 1943.
Malpertuis tells its gloomy tale by means of a puzzle box of nested narratives wrested from a set of manuscripts stolen from a monastery. A bizarre collection of distrustful relatives has gathered together in the ancient stone mansion of a sea-trading dynasty for the impending death of the occult scientist, Uncle Cassave, and the reading of his will. Forced to dwell together for the remainder of their lives within the stifling walls of Malpertuis for the sake of a cursed inheritance, their banal existence gradually gives way to love affairs and secret plots, as the building slowly exposes a malevolence that eventually leads to a series of ghastly deaths.
The eccentric personalities Malpertuis houses—which include an obsessive taxidermist, a brooding daughter, a trio of vengeful spinsters, and a former paint store manager who has gone mad—begin to shed like skins to reveal yet another hidden story buried in the novel’s structure, one that turns the haunted house tradition on its head and culminates in an apocalyptic denouement.
Jean Ray (1887–1964) is the best known of the multiple pseudonyms of Raymundus Joannes Maria de Kremer. Alternately referred to as the “Belgian Poe” and the “Flemish Jack London,” Ray delivered tales and novels of horror under the stylistic influence of his most cherished authors, Charles Dickens and Geoffrey Chaucer. A pivotal figure in the “Belgian School of the Strange,” Ray authored some 6,500 texts in his lifetime, not including his own biography, which remains shrouded in legend and fiction, much of it his own making. His alleged lives as an alcohol smuggler on Rum Row in the prohibition era, an executioner in Venice, a Chicago gangster, and hunter in remote jungles in fact covered over a more prosaic, albeit ruinous, existence as a manager of a literary magazine that led to a prison sentence, during which he wrote some of his most memorable tales of fantastical fear.
“Ray’s pages are filled with grotesque imagery, supernatural malevolence, cruelty and terror.”
—Richard Davenport-Hines, The Times Literary Supplement
“When the clouds of unknowing eventually clear at the end of the novel and Malpertuis's raison d'être is unveiled, the dénouement is nothing short of majestic. A stunning resolution that absorbs all that comes before and leaves a crater in its wake that you feel many writers are still digging their way out of. A crater that says defiantly, Jean Ray got here first.”
—Robert Davidson, The Quietus