Friday, April 13, 2007

#25 - Hallucinating Foucault

I've been wanting to write about this book all day. Last night I was about 20 pages from finishing but I was so tired after my new dance class (I'm taking a Thursday night class at the School of the Toronto Dance Theatre; it's just a beginner class, but it's perfect for me right now), that I finished it on the subway ride to Writer's Group tonight. I hate that, leaving 10 or 20 pages to the next day instead of finishing a book, but sometimes your body just says that's enough reading for now.

So, Patricia Duncker. She's my born-in-Jamaica author, but according to the most basic Google search, Duncker now lives and teaches in the UK. Again, the theme of authors no longer living in their homelands comes up in my Around the World in 52 Books challenge. I guess, in a way, I'm not really reading as many countries as I imagined I would, trying to balance the 1001 Books list (page 856) and my quest to broaden my reading base, but I have I've ended up reading a lot of good books by authors writing about Europe and/or the States. Mainly, I haven't spent as much time trapped in the lovely and deliciously wonderful world of Can Lit, and that's actually okay.

(Oddly, I've been reading a lot of novels, like this one, set in Paris and in France, which makes me think the world is trying to tell me it might be time to book a ticket or something?).

Regardless, Hallucinating Foucault brought up a lot of memories of undergraduate and graduate school. The book tells the story of a young man working on a thesis of an imaginary French writer named Paul Michel, who has been institutionalized and utterly forgotten by the establishment. After a particularly intense affair with a young woman called The Germanist, he sets out to save his idol from utter decay in a psychiatric institution.

The title comes from Michel's relationship with the French philosopher, who is described by the author himself as his perfect "reader." Intertwining all kinds of post-modern themes with a very basic coming of age story, Duncker's prose remains sharp throughout. In fact, I'd like to note that the epistolary aspects of the novel,the letters between the novelist and the philosopher that the student uncovers while in France are especially lovely.

The story is very much about the insular life of a student studying for an advanced degree. Not unlike Possession but without the Victorian overtones (Byatt even blurbs the book), Hallucinating Foucault has a central literary mystery to solve: why did Michel stop publishing books? And is he really, truly crazy? Part love story, part philosophical tribute to the work of Foucault, it's a short, intense novel that I feel lucky to have discovered.

However, it's told me nothing of life in Jamaica. I have to admit that I would have much preferred to read Michelle Cliff, oh how I loved No Telephone to Heaven, but my challenge isn't about re-reading books I already know I like, but about finding gems I never would have noticed had it not been for a little guidance.

My favourite quote is from one of the letters that Michel has sent Foucault:
My writing is a craft, like carpentry, coffin-building, making jewelry, constructing the walls. You cannot forget how it is done. You can adjust, remake, rebuild what is fragile, slipshod, unstable. ...You can say anything, anything, if it is beautifully said.

1 comment:

Melwyk said...

I read this one years ago. Just loved it, even though I didn't know anything about the author at the time. I've just picked up another of hers, The Deadly Space between. When I get to it I hope I'll enjoy it just as much.