15th Century Netherlands + Lovecraftian Independent Horror Movies = The Folly of This World by Jesse Bullington

The meticulous research of medieval Europe done by Jesse Bullington in his work, to date, created some impressive bibliographies at the end of every novel. Fans of Bullington know that few foul-mouthed anti-heroes will be as funny, and as foul, as Bullington’s. The Brother’s Grossbart was a hilarious and violent romp, with two of the most charismatic anti-heroes of the blackest sort. When I read a Bullington novel, I expect copious greasy cursing of the most hilarious and inventive sort, and a blackguard that is both wholly and irredeemably awful but charismatic in that awfulness. Sometimes more than one! In this case, two! Jan and Sander are two sides of the same corrupt coin: lovers and monsters and possibly the resurrected clones of undersea monsters. Unexpectedly, in The Folly of This World, not only did I get a wonderfully foul blackguard of the blackest sort that I loved to root for throughout the book in Sander, who becomes Jan, sort of, but is always, always Sander, but I also got a well-rounded and believable woman character in Jolanda, initially recruited to be a swimmer but becoming so much more. Also, the blackguards were not only ultraviolent and macho, but completely and totally gay. The Folly of this World leaves nothing to the imagination regarding the sexual proclivities of the two blackguards at the heart of the action: They’re extremely and enthusiastically gay. They have loud and copious gay sex with each other, and with other men that happen to be around at the time and willing. The young woman, Jolanda, encounters this and initially can’t make sense of it with her feelings for Jan, but observes curiously from behind a keyhole while she i given a full-blown education in all manner of gay sex. The betrayal, when it comes, is unexpected by everyone, including the reader. One of the members of this unholy trinity will attempt to kill another, and it is surprising and believable that the third turns in the defense of the defenseless, solidifying that hilariously unwholesome figure as a hero worth rooting for in this flooded world.

So, reader, be warned: There are gay sex scenes in this book. They go into great and slippery detail. One never knows when gay sex might come up again, suddenly, because Sander is not shy about pursuing gay sex with people he meets casually.

Beyond my deep and abiding enjoyment of the main characters of this novel, the most interesting thing about it, I think, is how it can be read three different ways. This novel can be read straight, without any sense of the supernatural. Three adventurers plot and scheme to dive into a house in the great flooded plains of Netherlands to recover a signet ring that makes them nobility during the Cod and Hook wars. I think it would be a mistake to do so, but it is permitted in the text, and less-observant readers will still find much to enjoy, therein, with the charismatic blackguards and the elaborate and well-researched insight into 15th century Dutch culture, politics, and natural disasters. On one layer, one can read just this and enjoy the novel, with a few niggling mysterious details that can be construed away as hallucinations. Still, there is the second and third layer to consider.

Layer the second: Something rotten is up in the streets of the Netherland. Noblemen and women are at odds in the war of Hook and Cod, and at least one noble house is transitioned from Hook to Cod via the imposter adventurers and the influence of a charmingly dasterdly nobleman. In the waters outside the city walls, there the flood slowly peels back from the landscape, the headless bodies of children begin to appear and hint at greater horrors under the surface of things. There are taunting monsters in the streets, haunting the protagonists, and everyone seems to be living in fear of… something. No one quite knows what they’re afraid of. There is a darkness in the air that seems to take it’s form in the flesh when a character returns seemingly from the dead. There is murder and mayhem, and treachery beyond what Sander and Jan directly do. What evil walks the street? Identify it if you can, because I feel that careful reading reveals what is running amok. Doppelgangers walk the street. Each character could be real or not, and it is hard to say what is real in this hallucinogenic mire in the heart of the a flood. Who do you trust in the revolution? Hook or Cod? Whose side is who on, and who is killing the headless children?

The third layer: Fish people, and eels that dream of being men, and a reborn man who is too stubborn and too broken to know what he, himself is. Why did the land flood? What mysteries await where the terrified murderer is too quick with his sword to allow the truth about his own flesh to be spoken to him, though he takes no side in the ruin to come, the flood that rises to the walls, and the fish men, and the eels who dream of being Flemish kings. Hook or Cod, they say, but one side is something risen. There is a darkness in the water, a cause to the flood, and a cause to everything in the text to a careful reading.

It is reminiscent of the sort of horror films that often lean to Lovecraft, but have not the skill or budget to portray the flooded countryside of the Netherlands. These low budget horror films attempt to use cheap camera tricks, poor special effects, and the like, but lack the grace and style of Bullington’s skilled prose.

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