Monday, October 22, 2007

Reader's Diary #304- Guy de Maupassant: The Horla

Short Story Mondays

In this month's Bookworms Carnival over at This Is The Life, she had requested posts about "spooky" books. One of the more surprising aspects of the Carnival for me was seeing that some people had written about such dystopian novels as A Handmaid's Tale. It seems that "spooky" has some pretty varying definitions. Likewise, when I asked people to rank the scariness of Poe's "The Raven" the discussion quickly became a debate over "creepy" versus "scary."

For me, the best scary stories have a combination of psychological fear and just the hint of a supernatural aspect. Throw in some cheap "jump out of your seat" moments and I'm all set. Except for the latter, Maupassant's "The Horla" left me pleased.

Told as a series of diary entries, it's the story of a man who goes crazy over the course of the story. This is made all the more interesting when you learn that Maupassant himself lost his mind to syphilis. The narrator's descent into madness, however, is not due to syphilis (or at least it isn't specified). Instead, he believes there are supernatural causes.

That is where the story gets so intriguing. Could the supernatural theory actually have any merit or is it all a symptom of his deteriorating mind?

The story begins with an entry about a passing white boat that he cheerfully salutes. Quickly, however, the mood changes in the second entry. Now he is ill and in low spirits. This sudden juxtaposition could easily divide the readers into two groups: those that see the mysterious white boat as an omen that somehow caused or foretold the trouble and those that see it merely as a coincidence. But in Maupassant's skilled hands he manages to keep those two camps together for the time being, and that's no small feat.

How does he accomplish this? By redefining the supernatural as simply yet-to-be explained phenomena. He uses a logic that should appeal to both scientists and spiritualists alike: there is more to the world than we can at first conceive. Scientists have to believe that or else they'd have nothing left to explore, and spiritualists believe it as a matter of faith.

The story works so successfully, in my estimation, because both type of reader continues to have their boundaries pushed as the story progresses. Plus, by letting us into his mind (accomplished all the better with the diary format), it is almost hard not to feel yourself descend with him- and that's the worst kind of fear.

I look forward to reading more by de Maupassant.

(This post is cross referenced at A Curious Singularity; a group blog that discusses one short story per month. It's a lot of fun!

This week Short Story Monday is being hosted by Chris over at Book-A-Rama. Be sure to check out the links and perhaps even add your own. If you want a chance to host, check the list of upcoming hosts in the sidebar and let me know when you'd like to take the reins.

Finally, I can't leave without pushing my own Carnival. I'm still looking for posts about short stories. Email me with your links: jmutford [at] hotmail [dot] com.)


Chris said...

That does sound creepy! Thanks for letting me host.

Stephanie said...

I like most supernatural stories, but not because I think they are scary. I think it's just because I like the idea of the unknown. One of the scariest stories I ever read was The Stand by Stephen King. Although there was a supernatural element to the story, the basis of it was actually something that could really happen. To me that makes it the scary!

This story sounds really good!! Looks like another author to add to my TBR!

Heather said...

John, I commented over at ACS but I wanted to stop in here and tell you again that this is a great post and I'm looking forward to reading this story even more! I posted about The Lottery yesterday. What a creepy story - gave me chills!

John Mutford said...

Chris: You did a great job!

Stephanie: I like supernatural in moderation. I think I'm a little too skeptical to go all in for it. I actually only liked The Stand up to the point where he started pushing the supernatural element a bit too far. That said, I do like the occasional fantasy book.

Heather: Funny you should mention The Lottery. Have you seen today's post?