The Baudelaire Fractal

Lisa Robertson. Coach House, $17.95 trade paper (160p) ISBN 978-1-55245-390-2
Poet Robertson’s debut novel (after the poetry collection 3 Summers) is a heady, meditative look at art, the self, and the complex relationship between the two. Hazel Brown, a poet, wakes up one morning “to discover that I have written the complete works of Baudelaire.” This confounding and impossible occurrence, though, is no more amazing to the narrator “than it was for me to have become a poet, me, a girl, in 1984.” The novel eschews conventional plot, instead investigating the narrator’s development as a person and poet filtered through examinations of Baudelaire’s life, work, and milieu, especially the mistreated and forgotten women. The prose oscillates between Hazel’s scrutiny of her younger self—living in Paris, clumsily beginning to write, having sex—and contemplations of, for instance, the erasure of Baudelaire’s mistress Jeanne Duval from a painting by Gustave Courbet. As for the authorship of Baudelaire’s work, Hazel notes that there wasn’t any “tiresome striving after it on my part,” implying that rather it was something imposed on her, just as the legacy of male-centric histories are imposed on women. That Hazel became a poet true to her own voice, that she wasn’t erased or overlooked because of her gender, or because men treat women like “a concept,” is for the narrator the more unlikely event. A difficult work of ideas, by turns enlightening and arcane, part autobiographical narrative, part literary theory, Robertson’s debut novel, for those interested in possibilities of fiction, is not to be missed. (Jan.)
Reviewed on : 11/06/2019
Release date: 01/01/2020
Genre: Fiction
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