Reading is a solitary act, yet the relationship between reader and writer is eerily intimate, a faraway mind locked in a text reaching out to touch another across a silent chasm. But what happens when an isolated reader is so moved by the writing before him that he feels he must seek out his author and consummate their distant love affair? In her first novel, literary scholar Duncker has crafted a moving, mysterious answer to that question. Her unnamed protagonist is a 22-year-old English university student preparing his thesis on the work of Paul Michel, a brilliant novelist now confined to a French insane asylum. ""University libraries are like madhouses, full of people pursuing wraiths, hunches, obsessions,"" he explains. ""The person with whom you spend most of your time is the person you're writing about."" Immersing himself in Michel's serene, indifferent prose and searching for clues about the rebellious, uncontrollable man behind the text, the student uncovers Michel's admiration for the transgressive French philosopher Michel Foucault. Urged on by his single-minded girlfriend, the student travels to France, where the tragically insane author and his unseen reader meet for the first time and become inextricably involved in entirely unexpected ways. Blurring the line between the historically real (Foucault) and the invented (Michel), Duncker's writing is oblique and thoughtful, a blend of playful narrative twists and meditations on the act of reading, the nature of fiction and homosexuality and the relationship between love and madness. (Jan.) FYI: Duncker teaches writing, literature and feminist theory at the University of Wales. She was born in the West Indies, educated at Bedales, Oxford and Cambridge, and now divides her time between Wales and France.