Catherine Dousteyssier-Khoze's The Beauty of the Death Cap was published by Snuggly Books in August 2018.
Information about Catherine Dousteyssier-Khoze:
Catherine Dousteyssier-Khoze is Associate Professor of French at Durham University, U.K. She is the author of numerous books, critical editions and articles on nineteenth-century literature and French cinema. Her latest book, Claude Chabrol’s Aesthetics of Opacity, was released by Edinburgh University Press in 2018. The Beauty of the Death Cap, published in France in 2015, is her début novel. It won the André Dubreuil Prize awarded by the Société des Gens de Lettres and a Fondation Prince Pierre de Monaco Prize.
Information about The Beauty of the Death Cap:
Nikonor is an eccentric and scholarly snob, a mycomaniac who has just made it to the Château de la Charlanne where he spent his childhood in the company of his twin sister, Anastasie. After all these years, it is not quite clear what brings him back to la Charlanne - an isolated and somewhat derelict castle located in the heart of the French countryside - but he is keen to share various memories with the reader in order to ‘set the record straight’, while he delivers his opinions on literature, cheeses, and, especially, mushrooms.
Winner of both a Prix André Dubreuil and a Prix Fondation Prince Pierre de Monaco upon its original publication in France, The Beauty of the Death Cap is a darkly comic and sinister novel, a work that, page by page, becomes ever more disturbing, as we try to discover who Nikonor really is.
REVIEW: THE BEAUTY OF THE DEATH CAP BY CATHERINE DOUSTEYSSIER-KHOZE
Catherine Dousteyssier-Khoze's The Beauty of the Death Cap (original title: La Logique de l'amanite, translated by Tina Kover) is an enthralling piece of literary beauty. It's an engaging and beautifully written tale that combines elements of subtle humour, wittiness, mystery, dread and literary fiction.
The Beauty of the Death Cap is told from the protagonist's point of view in a stream of consciousness style. This narrative mode works perfectly in this story, because it evokes a sense of mystery and quiet terror that lingers on the reader's mind.
From the very first chapter the reader is subjected to events that give clues about something unusual and strange. As the story begins to unfold, the narrator reveals bits and pieces about his life and tells of curious and disquieting incidents that gradually reveal what kind of a man he is and what he has done.
The Beauty of the Death Cap tells of Nikonor Pierre de la Charlanne who is an eccentric, scholarly snob and mycomaniac. He has undertaken to write a memoir. He has made his way to the isolated castle, the Château de la Charlanne, where he spent his childhood with his twin sister, Anastasie. There, he waits for his sister, whom he believes is trying to kill him.
Nikonor is described as a self-righteous person and a kind of a misanthrope who is detached from humanity. As Nikonor he tells his story, he gradually reveals his dark side and tells of what has befallen those who have annoyed him. His descriptions of the finer things in life (literature etc) are fascinating and tell of his interests and focal points.
The author paints a vivid picture of Nikonor's fascination with mushrooms and how he became intrigued by them. I think that nobody can forget the scene in which young Nikonor finds a cep in the forest and what happens immediately after this discovery. The author also tells of Nikonor's relationship with his parents and twin sister. What happens between Nikonor and his father is handled excellently. It's also interesting to read about how Nikonor disapproves of his sister's boyfriend.
I found Nikonor's interest in the ancient Greek poet, physician and grammarian, Nicander of Colophon, intriguing. His musings on Nicander's Alexipharmaca, which consists of 630 hexameters treating of poisons and their antidotes, were fascinating.
The prose is gorgeous and impressive. I like the author's writing style, because she excels at writing in a stream of consciousness style. I was also taken by her knowledge about mushrooms: she writes excellently about mushrooms and their toxicity (if you ever thought that mycology is boring, this book proves you wrong).
The translation by Tina Kover is excellent. It's one of the most skillful translations I've ever encountered, because the translator has paid attention to many details and maintained the beauty of the original story.
I think that this story will greatly appeal to readers who are familiar with the British black comedy film The Young Poisoner's Handbook and have read works by Jean Lorrain and Brendan Connell.
Catherine Dousteyssier-Khoze's The Beauty of the Death Cap is a rare literary treasure for readers who appreciate beautiful prose and intricate stories. This book will charm readers with its mycological elements and a revealing glimpse into the protagonist's strange mind and self-absorped nature. In a certain way, this book feels like a nod towards Decadent and Symbolist fiction, and that's why it should be read by lovers of literary fiction.