The entire book consists in cataloguing des Esseintes’ very specific tastes, which all go “against the grain”: in vitriolic manner, des Esseintes rejects everything that can be linked to the prevalent interest in science and progress, everything that is fashionable, everything that is bourgeois, and therefore vulgar. With equal passion, he endorses not merely what is luxurious, but what is aristocratic, rare, and able to be appreciated only by a handful of fortunate initiates endowed with the same highly-refined aesthetic sense. His pronouncements constitute a veritable guide-book for the fin-de-siècle dandy in matters of interior decoration, literature, flowers, fine wines, and painting.
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Take from it what you will
First, if you're new to this book, though this is my favorite translation by far, do note that the ENTIRETY of Chapter 6 and some parts of Chapter 9 were removed (the author was OK with this, though I personally believe for the wrong reasons—nevertheless, argue how you may whether or not this desire of his helps further reflect what the author wanted to say in this book). These chapters, to my knowledge, were never, unfortunately, translated by John Howard, but you may find other translations of these chapters very easily through a little search engine magic.
I've read this book in many different translations countless times, and every time find something new in it. This iBooks version of mine alone has hundreds of highlighted passages and bookmarks on half the pages. It's no wonder this work almost alone sparked an entire (albeit shallow, unfortunately, of which the only good literary work to come out of it that I've seen is Oscar Wilde's classic we've all read in high school, for this book without a plot is by no means shallow; as deep as we ponder happenings is as deep as Huysmans ponders sensations) literary/art movement.
If you're reading this review, odds are this will be a difficult read. That's fine. If you brave through it, you may find it a very rewarding one as well.
My new favourite book!
This is a marvelous work of literary art.