Academic journal article Pennsylvania Literary Journal

Interview with Bob Van Laerhoven, Winner of the 2007 Knack Hercule Poirot Prize, for His Mystery Novel, Baudelaire's Revenge

Academic journal article Pennsylvania Literary Journal

Interview with Bob Van Laerhoven, Winner of the 2007 Knack Hercule Poirot Prize, for His Mystery Novel, Baudelaire's Revenge

Article excerpt

Bob Van Laerhoven: Flemish author of more than 30 books, available in three languages: Dutch, French, and English. Currently published in The Netherlands, Belgium, Canada and France. Winner of the Hercule Poirot Prize for the best crime novel of the year 2007 with De Wraak van Baudelaire (Baudelaire's Revenge].

Baudelaire's Revenge: It is 1870, and Paris is in turmoil. As the social and political turbulence of the Franco-Prussian War roils the city, workers starve to death while aristocrats seek refuge in orgies and seances. The Parisians are trapped like rats in their beautiful city but a series of gruesome murders captures their fascination and distracts them from the realities of war. The killer leaves lines from the recently deceased Charles Baudelaire's controversial anthology Les Fleurs du Mal on each corpse, written in the poet's exact handwriting. Commissioner Lefevre, a lover of poetry and a veteran of the Algerian war, is on the case, and his investigation is a thrilling, intoxicating journey into the sinister side of human nature, bringing to mind the brooding and tense atmosphere of Patrick Susskind's Perfume. Did Baudelaire rise from the grave? Did he truly die in the first place? The plot dramatically appears to extend as far as the court of the Emperor Napoleon III. A vivid, intelligent, and intense historical crime novel that offers up some shocking revelations about sexual mores in 19th century France, this superb mystery illuminates the shadow life of one of the greatest names in poetry.

Faktorovich: On your blog, http://www.bobvanlaerhoven.be/en. you mention a GoodReads review you got that said you wrote in a classical style, but that the sexual content was filthy. You discuss in your posted reply that Baudelaire, the poet who is featured in the title of the book, was a sexual pervert and that, as a writer of a novel which portrays Baudelaire, you had to be true to sexual realities. Can you talk a bit more about the role sex plays in classical literature (Lolita], modern TV dramas (Oz), and modern award-winning mystery and romance novels like your own, Baudelaire's Revenge? If sex sells and if it wins awards, should criticism of obscenity be disregarded as archaic?

Laerhoven: First of all, criticism of obscenity is not archaic, it is a pre- cious cultural reflex of mankind that hopefully will stay with us and I applaud it. But what precisely is obscenity? Many people narrow the definition down to sex. Too narrow, in my view. Obscenity is the misuse of power in every situation imaginable. Sexual obscenity is the unfair mixture of sex and power - an obscene person being someone who has the means to force sex upon another - by employing physical strength, money, or any other control resource - and indulges in that situation. But if two consenting - and hopefully loving - partners act sexually in a manner which others view as depraved, I don't see the obscenity per se. It's possible I wouldn't like it, but I would not rally against it and brand it as "obscene."

Second, I think literature gives us the tools to explore, in a work of imagination - the imagination literature always has been used as a comment on reality - the causes of human behavior, be it obscenity or something else. That is a difficult and often misunderstood mission. In order to be able to write some of the scenes in Baudelaire's Revenge, I had to overcome my own fear, social restraints and even revulsion. In the novel, I'd set out to show the roots of The Flowers Of Evil and it took all the writing courage I had to attain that goal. Sometimes people tend to forget Baudelaire's Revenge is a historical novel about a tragic poet who, at the end of his life, suffered from delusions (sexual and others] as a result of the syphilis - the AIDS of the 19th century - he had contracted. When someone reads Baudelaire's Revenge, she or he should know, or understand, that the mores of 19th-century's France were different from modern day ethics. …

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