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Hell [Paperback]

Henri Barbusse , Robert Baldick
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

March 1 1995
classic novel of voyeurism, tr Robert Baldick

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Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Solipsism. Nov. 5 2002
Format:Paperback
Although sometimes considered as an erotic work, this is in fact a philosophical novel about solipsism.
This theme is treated brilliantly: a man looks through a hole in a wall in a hotel room into another room, where he observes scenes about life and death, like sex or a dying person who insults a priest.
He always asks himself: is this real or are these scenes only in my thoughts? Does the world outside me exist? His answer is negative: I am alone.
It brings him on the brink of schizophrenia. Even science cannot help him. But ultimately he chooses to continue to live, because there is still a sparkle of hope. To find out why, you should read this novel.
An ambitious, not always well understood, but brilliant work about an essential philosophical problem.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Forget the Rabbit Hole July 24 2011
By Daffy Bibliophile TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
First of all, what this book is not: this book is not voyeurism, if that's what you're looking for, look elsewhere. So what is this book? This book is an examination of human nature. But it's not a dry, pedantic examination, it's a look at human nature in all of its beauty and all of its unseemliness. The lust, the love, the suffering, the solitude is all in that room into which Henri Barbusse has allowed us to look. Barbusse shows us that we live in a world of pretension, a world in which we all strive to create a superficial image, a plastic persona, in order to impress our fellow human beings, a world of ego and lies.

The protagonist of this novel finds a hole in the wall above a blocked off doorway in his hotel room, a hole which allows him to observe the occupants of the other room without their knowledge. What he sees - birth, death, young love, forbidden love, adultery - shows him what human nature is without the affectations of society. What he sees is Humanity stripped bare. He'll never see society the same way again and neither will you after reading this book. Forget about going down the rabbit hole, just take a peak through Barbusse's hole in the wall.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  14 reviews
44 of 45 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Solipsism. Nov. 5 2002
By Luc REYNAERT - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Although sometimes considered as an erotic work, this is in fact a philosophical novel about solipsism.
This theme is treated brilliantly: a man looks through a hole in a wall in a hotel room into another room, where he observes scenes about life and death, like sex or a dying person who insults a priest.
He always asks himself: is this real or are these scenes only in my thoughts? Does the world outside me exist? His answer is negative: I am alone.
It brings him on the brink of schizophrenia. Even science cannot help him. But ultimately he chooses to continue to live, because there is still a sparkle of hope. To find out why, you should read this novel.
An ambitious, not always well understood, but brilliant work about an essential philosophical problem.
52 of 58 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of a kind July 23 2004
By J from NY - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
It is hard to overestimate the power of this book. A young man (it is regrettable that we never get to put a name to the narrator) cuts a small hole in the wall of his room and watches life, quite literally, 'pass him by'. He bears witness to everything: false love, carnal desire, death (there is an unforgettable scene in which a volatile old man refuses to confess to a priest on his deathbed) all the while making biting observations which strip away, layer by layer, the lies we tell ourselves to keep living. As one reads one almost feels guilty, thinking to oneself "yes, I claimed to love and didn't really love in this situation, I behaved in this way, etc...." It is that true to life despite being a work of solipsism. This is a must.
17 of 21 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars My judgment on Hell Aug. 24 2006
By Sudo Mayhap - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
The dialogue is a bit trite. For example, you have 13 year old lovers each speaking like... well, like despairing 19th century romantics alone in the privacy of their bathrooms. Clearly Barbusse was no master of dialogue. There are some inconsistencies and absurdities (in the ridiculous, not "good", sense) in the plot. However, this is well compensated for by the vivid description of the smallest details; instead of such a thing boring the reader, you find yourself anticipating when Barbusse will next describe the evening light on a cabinet, the formation of furniture, the casual setting of a cafe, etc. This book truly reads like a magnificent painting. Despite the 3 star rating (for reasons above), I highly recommend it.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "There is no hell other than our mad longing to live" Oct. 3 2008
By Medusa - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
L'enfer or Hell is a philosophical novel dealing with solipsism and existentialism. The release of "Hell" in English started a burning scandal because of its depiction of voyeurism. The story revolves around a young man in a Paris boarding house peeking through a hole in his bedroom wall to witness love, death, adultery, and birth in the most graphic way.

The topic or the actions described are not the reason for the greatness of this work, rather it is the way this young man describes regular daily events
Endless unforgettable scenes like the helpless exposed position of a woman during childbirth, two doctors discussing a health condition of a dying man, a man discussing religion/God right before his death, two lovers trying to escape emptiness through desire and fantasy. The greatness of the scenes is not the act as much as Barbusse's language:

* "And I think about myself, about myself who can neither know myself well nor get rid of myself; about myself who am like a heavy shadow between my heart and the sun"

* "Nothing can prevail against the absolute statement that I exist and cannot emerge from my self"

* "What's the matter? Nothing is the matter. It's just me"

* "Humanity is the longing for novelty combined with the fear of death"

* "God is merely a ready-made reply to mystery and hope, and there is no other reason for the reality of God but our longing for it"

I don't usually include phrases of the work itself in my reviews, but I'm making an exception for readers like me, who might be fascinated by Barbusse's use of language.

Whether Barbusse intended to deal with existentialism or solipsism or simply the inner hell of a total cynic, he created an absolutely brilliant work; the likes of which has no equal.

Philosophical ideas fall in and out of fashion with time, but the way an idea is delivered, as exemplified by Barbusse, can have a significant impact on how that idea is initially received and how it lives on. Barbusse's Hell is a timeless, great work.
21 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Eye Transfixed Spies On All Hell ! July 23 2001
By Anita Fix - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Some books are smuggled into our lives in a way that almost begs supernatural interpretation; thus did I unintentionally come across Henri Barbusse's novel: 'HELL'(LeEnfer,Paris,1908); suspiciously placed in my path as by divine intervention. So profound are my affections for this short 250 page book that I cannot forsee the same fate for myself had I not been challenged into taking "the left-hand path" this devil's pitchfork on the road of life signalled. Our narrator is the very man Colin Wilson used to define "The Outsider" in the opening pages of that influential book; but OUR NARRATOR WHOSE NAME APPEARS NOWHERE is much more than a reference point for late 20th century Art Historical/ Cultural Studies. He is witness to the unspeakable visions of the individual that any sensitive, intelligent young man would see if he were to cast one dark, unholy, voyeuristic eye and the other a tender, humanitarian, all-recording lens that must saturate itself in tears if it is to continue to bear looking any longer at the horrible woes of humankind. Our narrator has barely any hope left, all he has in the world is a hole in the wall in which to view, the world; more specifically, Paris around the turn of the 20th century. He suffers from the existential metaphysical horror of existence so prevalent in young men of his disposition, who are more concerned with deep matters of the soul than with eeking out a life of dull servitude amongst the financial fanfare of society. It is no surprise Robert Baldick, translator of J.K.Huysmans': "Against Nature"(A Rebours, 1884) chose to translate Barbusse's early novel, although vast differences exist between the two they are of like spiritual & reclusive considerations of new ways of experiencing the world on a much more intimate level than Naturalism or Realism; they process their thoughts to an intensive, hitherto unrealized degree that is considered "Decadent" by many. The things our narrator sees are everything that most young men are fascinated about: sexuality being high on the list. But it is not just tender LESBIANS devouring each other's venusian mounds that one must encourageingly suffer: ADULTERY, evoking feelings of jealousy in an innocent bystander(?)made of an eye peering at two lover's guilty squirmings; guilty, but like beauty, only in the eye of the voyeur. CHILDBIRTH is seen in all it's horrifying surgical mystery, bloody as only murder can compare, in which a slimy monster is squeezed out of a hole small as the one our narrator sees through; a hole usually reserved for sublime violation in the mind of a young man. DEATH plays a dirge on our narrator's heartstrings that marks the novel with an "X" on its forehead, setting it apart from other more common scenarios, giving our young man "steeped in the infinite" a chance to further his evolutionary spiritual career in that he may play for a while at being an old man's guardian Angel. These examples should suffice to give those attracted, with perhaps voyeuristic tendencies and a love of immortal Literature an idea of the scale and depths probed by this all-seeing eye in a motel wall. The language is entirely of late Symbolist/Decadent persuasion, poetically lyrical yet realistic and focused in its descriptions; Octave Mirbeau and J.K. Huysmans come to mind. But the book singularly occupies the celestial heights of voyeuristic literature, it has no comparison and is second to none. Its eye is an all-knowing, all-encompassing specimen. I believe it is the only novel of its kind Barbusse wrote, who went on in the surrealist years to be involved with political activities, bearing no evidence of further work in this artistic/spiritual realm in which he wholly succeeded in by birthing this literary only-child of its kind.
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