À rebours (Against Nature)

A novel by Joris-Karl Huysmans

Meet Jean des Esseintes: reclusive, diseased, the last scion of an outmoded aristocratic family. He is also an unapologetic aesthete, prone to overwhelmingly intense sensory experiences in the presence of art. As he finds himself ever more enervated by the illness that consumes him, des Esseintes turns his back on wider society — a society he loathes — and retreats “upwards into dream, seeking refuge in illusions of extravagant fantasy.” The result is a masterpiece of decadence, insanity, invective, and sheer style.

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Joris-Karl Huysmans (1848–1907) was the pen name of the French civil servant and art critic Charles-Marie-Georges Huysmans. With his first four novels, published between 1876 and 1882, he made his name as a practitioner of naturalism; but with his fifth, À rebours, he reinvented his style to produce one of the landmark works of literary decadence. Since then, À rebours has had an influence on writers across the world — from Oscar Wilde to Thomas Bernhard, from James Joyce to Roberto Bolaño — and continues to do so today.