I’m not 100% sure what I felt about this, other than it being a terrific example of a book’s brevity being in its favour; frankly, it barely stands up to the approximately 65 Kindle “pages” it lasts. I gather it’s one of the comparatively few fictional examples of Symbolism, an art movement whose literary manifestations seem to have been more numerous and successful in the field of poetry rather than fiction… Anyway, this is a really short book about a man, Hugues, still mourning the death of his wife, living in the “dead town” of Bruges, where Rodenbach’s father was born and with which he had an enduring fascination (though he was living in Paris by this time); for Hugues, Bruges kind of stands as the “natural” place for him to be, a grey place to suit his own grey life (and a characterisation of the place that the good people of Bruges appear to have resented). Except one day he spies a woman who bears a remarkable resemblance to the dead woman (whose name we never learn despite Hugues having made a sort of cult of her), whereupon a relationship of sorts strikes up and, well, complications ensue when Hugues inadvertently breaks the spell… This book was notable in its day for Rodenbach’s insistence on publishing it with photographic illustrations of Bruges that he felt were vital to help the reader understand the book in some way; the Dedalus translation is notable for not including those photographs but for including a series of new ones instead. And, granted that modern Bruges apparently still looks a lot like the town Rodenbach knew, I wonder if that got in the way of me getting the book, cos the photos are, manifestly, new (cars and the like are visible, and they’re just plainly not old to look at). They’re not the ones Rodenbach picked. Then again, maybe the new photos didn’t really make that big a difference after all. Maybe it’s just a strange little text that I found hard to engage with and Rodenbach’s own choice of pictures wouldn’t have made a difference. I don’t know.
Bruges-La-Morte (Georges Rodenbach)