A Journey to Mount Athos, By François Augiérastrs Sue Dyson and Christopher Moncrieff

A youth finds himself in a strange village, near the sea, in the cool of the evening. He does not know how he got there, or who he is. A beautiful young woman explains that he is dead; if he becomes her lover, she will return him to the land of the living. Though tempted, he chooses instead to travel further into the land of death, to the island of Athos where he will try to reach the summit of the Holy Mountain.

That's just the first four pages. It gets weirder. As he journeys round the island, the youth is offered hospitality by monks, some of whom exhibit an unexpected tendency to nibble his flesh and have sex with him. For a while he takes a lover of his own, a beautiful teenage boy named Joshua, servant to a crabby old monk, who visits him in his mountain retreat. But mostly he is a loner, with little but contempt for the stupid, superstitious monks – one of the themes of this novel is the pleasure of solitude. But the main theme is the voyaging of the spirit in the afterlife "according to the strictest Buddhist or Pythagorean orthodoxy" (as François Augiéras puts it in the Afterword).

The youth becomes an old man in the course of his journey. He changes his identity, wearing the uniform of a Luftwaffe officer at one point and later donning a monk's habit himself. Some of his ideas seem to bear the stamp of Nietzsche, such as his scorn for the common herd, or his belief that Christianity is "a religion for little people".

A Journey to Mount Athos is rich in sensory detail: the resinous scent of pine trees, the bitter taste of coffee, the singing of cicadas, the feel of a boy's bare wet hips, the sight of mountain paths, sunset over the forest and the soaring white peak of Mount Athos. André Gide described Augerias's writing as "a bizarre delight", and that about sums it up.

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