Guillaume Sorel: Guy de Maupassant’s Le Horla

This was not the book I intended to read, but then again it is. A few years ago, maybe two, I was watching the “Thriller” video and found myself in the mood for Vincent Price. I ended up watching An Evening Of Edgar Allan Poe, The Masque of the Red Death, The Pit and the Pendulum, House of Usher, The Three Musketeers, and Diary of a Madman. I think I watched Edward Scissorhands, too, but I’m not sure. Anyway, after watching Diary of a Madman, I looked into it and learned that it was based off a short story called Le Horla. I found it but it was only in French. I also found a comic adaptation of it, but that was only in French as well. I was studying Japanese back then, too, so it was a no-go. I put it on the back burner.

Fast forward to a week or so ago, and I’m in the middle of a bandes dessinées kick, so I looked for it and it’s still only in French–that is the comic; I found the short story in English on Project Gutenberg. Only thing about the comic is, the first one I came across in my search was not the one I found back then. But this cover was less intimidating–scary’s probably a better word–so I went for this one. Well, I don’t know what the interior of the other one is like, but by the end, this turned out pretty creepy, too.

The original short story was written at the end of the 19th century, only few years before de Maupassant died. This was also around the time when he was losing his wits and functional grasp on reality. This adaptation genuinely reflects that kind of mood.

The story is about a statesman who lives alone and has been experiencing episodes of strange interactions with the world around him. It starts out with him talking to his cat and questioning the whys of things and confessing his bouts of the doldrums. Most of these panels give off the feeling of seclusion. However, as the story progresses and his contemplations of his perceptions of things that are and aren’t with it, the panels seem to get darker and busier and even when they aren’t dark, they have a shadowiness about them. He swings in an out of these moods, but time out decreases as time passes. When he gets to a point where he just can’t wrestle with the madness and confusion any longer, he tells his butler to prepare him for travel. This happens several times and each time he returns home, his episodes get darker and more impossible to ignore. As you would expect, he eventually completely succumbs to his psychosis and takes a few unfortunate souls along with him.

Unlike a lot of depictions of conditions like hysteria, dementia, and other mental disorders where the first signs are usually people seeing things and hearing voices, the narrator’s descent begins with depression, a sense he fully acknowledges. That was nice to see.

This was harder than some of the other books I’ve read lately because the original story was written and set in the late 1800s and used terms that aren’t so common these days, so I had to look up a bunch of things. The Project Gutenberg version did help me a bit, but since this is a comic adaptation, things didn’t always match up easily.

All in all, it was a good read. More unnerving than scary or sad. I liked the art. A lot of the backgrounds looked like watercolor and I think that lent a lot to the natural color palette which kind of grounded a story whose dialogue was often floating about in supernatural skies.

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