La Bas is a disturbing book. The hero is writing a biography of Gilles de Rais, commonly thought of as being the origin of the ‘bluebeard’ legend and a thoroughly nasty piece of work. Durtal meets one of the most bizarre creations of a femme fatale ever attempted in literature- Mme Chantelouve.
There appears to be no depths of depravity she doesn’t plumb, culminating in the attendance of a black mass which is truly horrific. Probably as a result of this, Durtal re-assesses his beliefs and eventually repents his old ways sufficiently to convert to Catholicism. In En Route, he has to confess his participation – an event which would fill any reader brought up as a Catholic with dread. Like all Huysmans’ books there are constantly snippets of historical facts of an interesting nature and he provokes minds to wander down many dark recesses.