Malpertuis Explained

Malpertuis is a macabre novel written in 1943 by the Belgian author Jean Ray.

Malpertuis is a crumbling, ancient house where a dying warlock has trapped the aging gods of Olympus inside the "skins" of ordinary Flemish citizens.

It is divided into four narratives:

  1. The modern-day narrator (who remains unnamed) explains in a prologue that he stole the manuscripts that comprise the rest of the novel from the Convent of the White Penitents. In the epilogue, he locates Malpertuis, sees Eisengott and Old Mother Groulle in a tavern, enters the house, has a brief encounter with Euryale then flees.
  2. Doucedame the Elder's story of the capture of the Olympians; it has presumably been assembled by Doucedame the Younger.
  3. The diary of Jean-Jacques Grandsire (also broken into two parts) that ends when he and Bets leave Malpertuis.
  4. Father Euchere (aka Dom Misseron) of the Convent of the White Penitents, and reveals the final fates of both Jean-Jacques Grandsire and Doucedame the Younger.

Film adaptation

In 1971 the Belgian director Harry Kümel made a film adaptation of the novel, starring Orson Welles, Susan Hampshire and Mathieu Carrière.

Plot summary

'Malpertuis' is the name of an old, rambling mansion which is in reality a labyrinth where characters from Greek mythology are imprisoned by the bedridden Cassavius (Orson Welles). He manages to keep them (as well as his nephew and niece) as prisoners even after his death, through a binding testament. As the Jan, the nephew, (Mathieu Carrière) unravels the mystery, he discovers that he cannot escape the house because Malpertuis is far more significant than he was led to believe.

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