The Baudelaire Fractal by Lisa Robertson

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But I will venture this: it is no more singular for me to discover that I have written the complete works of Baudelaire than it was for me to have become a poet, me, a girl, in 1984.

Poet, Hazel Brown, wakes up in a strange hotel room to find that she has written the complete works of Charles Baudelaire. 

This book reads as a memoir and transcendental experience. Hazel doesn’t become Baudelaire, she is the receiver of the Baudelairean authorship. She has written the extraordinary French poets works, understands it with a perfect clarity that is likely delusional. Fans of Baudelaire knows he wrote about lesbianism, see Les Fleurs du Mal (The Flowers of Evil),  certainly at the time was a religious offense, indecent. In fact he was tried because of it! He was of the spirit that fought, with his art, against modern society. He could be grim, he had his own delusions (often drug induced) and was what rock stars are today, pushing against the constraints of the times, rebelling. That he turned to literature was as unexpected as Hazel herself absorbing his gift. He was scandalous, some said depraved and so very awake to the hypocrisy, the corruption in cities, in man himself. He had bouts of melancholy, experimented with drugs, slept with prostitutes, indulged himself every way a man can. He understood the anguish of being young, the pain of passionate love. He was an art critic in France.  What could Hazel possibly have in common with Charles, how does the long dead poet animate her existence? Does he move through her or is she moving through him?

Hazel’s journey takes her to London, Vancouver, and France. Just like Baudelaire, she has awoken to a ‘sensual clarity’, she becomes the eye of we how he wrote while remaining, always, herself. She drifts, as too the reader does,  moved by her prose. It has a dreamy quality, and her eye is that of an artist, seeing even one’s garments as an expression, an experience. Being young in the 80’s, the past and present both here and gone, remembering days of wandering, dingy and beautiful surroundings. Remembering being young, lacking worldly aspirations (unlike people say they were born self-formed, wise, literary geniuses) I actually enjoy authors who confess to being ‘heavy with stupidity’ yet hungry and ambitious. A girl, before she arrives at her fully formed self, the older woman looking back at that young self with curiosity. How art, life forms you, traveling, discovering. It’s an intelligent and poetic book, a memoir, a mystical journey, a merging with the great Baudelaire’s mind, work. I am only scratching the surface here.

Publication Date: January 21, 2020

Coach House Books

 

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