Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Inferno


Since I'm trying to complete my chosen challenge for 2016, read 50 books in a year, with December almost coming to a close and having read only 40 books up until now I was browsing my e-reader for something short. It's a bit cheating, I know, but I've lost way too much time reading Catch-22 that I needed a break.

So, my choice fell upon The Inferno by Henri Barbusse. Only about ninety pages, I thought it would be over quickly and painlessly, I wasn't even too bothered with what to expect. Even if it was a monster of a novel, it would be over before I realised it.

But by some stroke of luck, I'd chosen a novel that I will remember for a long time. With its shortness it packs a serious punch.

The premise is very straightforward. A man who remains unnamed is residing in a room in a boarding house. It seems like he is on vacation, maybe from a burn out or maybe suffering from social anxiety, because from the beginning you sense that he's not at ease.
As he's in his room, he notices that a tile is missing above him in a corner of the room. As he gets up to investigates, he realizes he can see into the next room.
As he is incapable of making any kind of contact with the other guests in the boarding house, he soon returns to his room and spies on the occupants of the room next to him.

The story in an account of what he sees through in the other room and his view of what is happening.
It seems that this man is more than what he gives out to be, because he has the uncanny ability to see into the heart and mind of the people living in the other room.
His narration varies from adultery, incest to giving birth and even dying.
The meaningless vulgarity of life and all its vices is being accounted for, with the added philosophical thoughts of our narrator.

I liked the story because it is not quite like anything I've read recently. It's stylish, yet raw in its message.

We can no more know our first glances of love than our last. I shall remember it when they will have forgotten it.
It seemed to me that the narrator felt some kind of obligation towards the people he spies upon. He feels for them, the spying isn't for self-gratification because he is suffering from doing so, but he feels compelled to see human nature unveiled and apart from society.  As he's watching he cares for them and feels their loss as strongly as if it was his own.

I realize that our human nature is less amiable when no one is around, I can relate to his view that there's nothing left in this world to strive for, that he lost all appetite to search for happiness. But since greatness mostly comes out of misery, it's seeing past all the drama and pettiness. Like the girl who undresses herself before her sick husband even if she doesn't want to, because she feels that its something that she can give him to thank him for the gift she received from him. That's selflessness, that's love.

His emotional response to his peeping, sways in both direction. He's in a terrible turmoil when he sees a married couple keeping up appearances.

They had left each other without leaving each other. They would never come nearer again, for between them lay the impassible barrier of love over and done with.
On the other hand when he hears the old man whispering his love to the girl of his dreams and verbally fighting of a persistent priest of confessing to have fantasized about the girl in an ungodly manner, because he was proud of never having touched her.
When he ultimately marries this girl to provide for her future because he is soon to be gone, he receives the most beautiful gift he could wish for.
When the girl is reunited with her lover, after the demise of her husband, their union is bitter sweet.

The memory of you saddened my joys, but consoled my sorrow. 
The Inferno is a great little novel, filled with very human lives that we all can relate to.

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