An irregular, irreverent, post-modern account of the surreal, the ordinary, and the bizarre happenings on and around the Felia lavender farm in Crete

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Book Review - Chapel Road by Louis Paul Boon

Louis Paul Boon is not much translated into English - 3 books out of at least 11 major works at the last count. The Wikipedia page on Belgian writers does not list him as such despite the fact that he was born in Belgium. The Dalkey Archive, who publish Chapel Road, have him in their Netherlandic Literature series.

Rumoured to have been considered for the Nobel prize for literature in the late 1970s Boon is largely either overlooked or ignored in English speaking countries and the only reason that I can imagine for this lacuna is that he was a committed socialist.

Boon, on the limited evidence of this work, was a hugely talented and inventive writer who in some ways prefigures such current greats as B S Johnson and James Kelman. Boon abandoned the Dutch language for the lower status Flemish for his major works and this adoption of a regional dialect actually figures as a social marker in Chapel Road.

Chapel Road is a great book - flawed but great. Boon winds 3 apparently separate and yet connected threads together into a rope of narrative and commentary that beguiles, amuses, and amazes by every chapter and page. The writer Boon and his friends comment on the ongoing composition of the tale of Ondine - a girl from an earlier age and her social aspirations and bizarre family in an industrial town while Boon's friend, the journalist Johan Janssens retells the fable of Reynard and Isigrenus to echo both of the other threads.

Boon wanted the book to be published using an array of different fonts and colors, and intended initially to include actual photographic reproductions of the clippings and documents he wanted to quote—thus anticipating W. G. Sebald, However, publishing companies of the day couldn’t—or wouldn’t—cope with Boon’s demands and it seems that his wishes cannot, worse luck, be honoured.

Boon eventually stopped writing in 1969 and took to painting instead. Perhaps he had nothing more to say. Chapel Road is a landmark novel and worthy of elevation to the pantheon and the canon. It is hugely entertaining and beautifully innovative. It is funny and tragic. It is cleverly crafted and intense.

The flaw? It is only my opinion but I find it a tiny bit too openly polemical but that could so easily be my problem and not his.

Read this book!

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