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Delirium: The Rimbaud Delusion Paperback – September 30, 2014
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However, if you are fan of complex, deftly told tales with multiple narrators, multiple timelines, and historical personages used as fictional characters then this is a book you'll enjoy. If you happen to be a fan of Rimbaud's poetry, you''ll love it. If like me, you're a fan of John Fowles' novel, The Magus, you might find a little bit of that here as well.
The search begins with the source, the poet Arthur Rimbaud, the manuscript’s author. We hear first the voices of Rimbaud, his lover Paul Verlaine, and Verlaine’s wife, Mathilde, giving us a glimpse of the world as it was then, in the late 19th century. Other voices add to the story as we follow the manuscript through the 20th century and into the 21st.
Knitting the story together is the central narrative of Andrea Mann, who, in 2004, goes in search of Rimbaud’s lost poem, La Chasse Spirituelle. Andrea’s meeting with a young man at Rimbaud’s grave starts her on a journey that may or may not connect her with a manuscript that, if genuine, would be worth a great deal of money. It’s not the money, though, that intrigues Andrea. We sense that the lost poem represents something else.
The intertwining threads of the history of the manuscript—caught up with its various custodians in the senseless tragedy of World War I, the cruel barbarity of World War II, and the lives, hopes, and dreams of ordinary people—I found fascinating. Andrea Mann’s story I found less so. Perhaps because part of her search involves knowing, or not knowing, what is real and what is not, I was never sure what was real and what was not. While that may have been a conscious choice by the author, it kept me too cautious, unwilling to enter fully into Andrea’s story. As in real life, if I believe I’m being misled, I will stay a bit removed from a situation. That remove also made me too critical—even judgmental—of Andrea. I never really got a sense of who she was; I only saw her jerked around by the manipulations of others.
Delirium is an ambitious book. I believe the author did not quite achieve her ambition in telling Andrea’s story, but it was a worthy attempt. I’m still mulling over many of the issues she raised and questions she never answered fully. And I’ve also started reading fin de siecle French poetry.
I received this free of charge in return for an honest review on behalf of the Awesome Indies.
So when Barbara Scott Emmet contacted me for a guest-post on France Book Tours on his birthday, I accepted with enthusiasm. She graciously offered me her novel on La chasse sirituelle, a possible missing manuscript by Rimbaud: I was thrilled! Her novel Delirium: The Rimbaud Delusion, is a perfect Rimbaldian novel, with all the ingredients worthy of the man!
The literary novel is built in three parts all entitled with famous words or works by Rimbaud:
Derangement of all senses (Le dérèglement de tous les sens). In a 1871 letter, he wrote:
“I’m now making myself as scummy as I can. Why? I want to be a poet, and I’m working at turning myself into a seer. You won’t understand any of this, and I’m almost incapable of explaining it to you. The idea is to reach the unknown by the derangement of all the senses. It involves enormous suffering, but one must be strong and be a born poet. It’s really not my fault.”
Life is a farce. He wrote: “Life is a farce we all must play“
A Season in Hell (Une saison en enfer) – which is the name of one of his most famous poems, an extended poem in prose written in 1873.
Intertwined within these 3 parts are 8 different tracks to follow. At first, it seemed confusing and I had to take notes, but then everything made sense. It is also a wonderful way of conveying the confusion experienced by Rimbaud himself and of creating a perfectly Rimbaldian and delusional atmosphere:
Terence Tanfield’s Blog – in 2004. It took me a while to figure out things about this old guy. Through the internet and Google, he tries to track down what happened to La chasse spirituelle, this mysterious missing manuscript some Rimbaud’s specialists think is still somewhere. Is this manuscript for real, or another fake, like the one that showed up in the 1940s and was eventually identified as a hoax put together by several authors? But will he live long enough to find out?
Andrea Mann – in 2004. She teaches business French in a private school. Her partner Patsy left her. In the ambiance of Rimbaud’s life, see next entry #3, it made sense to make Andrea a lesbian.
Distraught, she focuses on her other passion, Rimbaud. She visits Charleville-Mézières, Rimbaud’s home town, with its Rimbaud’s museum. At his tomb, she meets a young guy pretending to be Rimbaud reincarnated. He has papers entitled La chasse spirituelle. She always dreamed of discovering this text, so this is enough to pull her in into a crazy adventure with that mysterious creature and his weirdo friend Albert, a magician? A hypnotist?
She gets totally entangled as they ask her to make public the discovery of La chasse spirituelle. But is it the real text? A forgery? As she even seen all of it? Where is this going to lead her?
This alludes to another major element for Rimbaud, this mysterious grey zone between what is real or not, mostly due to the use of drugs and alcohol. And drugs and alcohol there is, with semi rituals around absinthe drinking to which Andrea is introduced.
There’s a funny passage when Andrea and “Rimboy” meet in a bar. As absinthe is no longer served in 21st century France, he drinks Ricard!!
Rimbaud does that to people. It’s not enough to like him. You find yourself wanting to be him.
Diary of Mathilde Verlaine – in 1871-1872. Paul Verlaine, another great poet of the time, was married and had a son with her, but Verlaine and Rimbaud were also lovers, with quite animated and complicated relationships. This is perfectly rendered here through Mathilde’s diary. Naïve, protected by a rich milieu, she quickly goes from the excitement of meeting a famous poet to being appalled and scandalized when she finally realizes the nature of their connection. She has the most interesting words to describe the “rascal”, eventually “the monster”: “untidy…filthy, ill-mannered, surly, insolent – and pungent.” Her father worked out their legal separation.
Journal by Rimbaud – in 1871-1872. Written in France, England, and Belgium, it illustrates his relationship with Verlaine, with lots of cat-and-mouse play, sex, and violence. Paul ends up accidentally shooting Rimbaud. The former got two years of hard labor, even though the latter was only slightly wounded. But remember that homosexuals were not accepted by the society of the time.
Many f* words are used in these sections. I believe a contemporary Rimbaud would indeed use them profusely.
The entries of his journal witness to his discovery of hallucinations and degradations (cf. the derangement of all senses) as a way to becoming a seer and a poet.
The secret papers of Jean Martins – in 1872-1902. Jean is a legal clerk at Verlaine’s father-in-law’s attorney. A poet himself in his leisurely hours, he can’t but have a look when he is asked one day to put away poetry papers owned by the Verlaines. He will not forget them when decades later, the owner of the law office dies, and he needs to empty the place.
Letters from Simone to Edouard – during WWI. Edouard is at the front. As this is not mentioned in the synopsis, I am not going to tell you the connection with the manuscript. But this is an important historical background of course. Rimbaud even wrote a most famous poem on a dead soldier – the one I had to learn as a young kid! I will only say that this added an extra place to look for the manuscript and made the quest even more complicated.
Her letters also mention the terrible influenza epidemics in Paris in 1916.
My Life in Paris and Berlin – 1926-1939. Diary by Aurore Lefevre and her friend Dora, a Jewish girl. They used to work at Les Folies Bergère, the famous Paris cabaret music hall established in 1869. This is part of the chain to follow the manuscript. And of course the Holocaust is alluded to.
The Case of the Missing Manuscript: A Charlie Dick Mystery. Mr Dick is an American private detective in Paris. Someone, I won’t reveal who, comes to ask him to track down the manuscript. Who is she? Why? Will he succeed? How? Through him, lots of missing pieces of the puzzle get put together.
Along the narrative, the author manages to insert elements of Rimbaud’s poetry, for instance his famous synaesthesia, also experienced by the other great French poet Baudelaire, through which he associated names and nouns with colors.
Also, Andrea experiences constant uneasiness and memory issues. She is totally confused about what’s going on, wondering if this is all real, or a nightmare, or the effect of drugs and hypnotism. Typically Rimbaldian.
And she really has no clues as to the main goal behind all this. The reader has no clue either. I was a bit disappointed when everything was revealed, it fell a bit flat to me after this amazing chasse (hunt) for La chasse!
I did not feel comfortable either with Andrea’s ecstasy and illuminations, but I guess she is represented as experiencing what Rimbaud experienced about what she sees as the relativity of truth. And I have to disagree with that, I think reality and truth are not relative. I may be wrong, but that’s how I perceived this passage, the way the reader was led to it through Andrea. Inserted in Rimbaud’s diary, this would not have bothered me, but where it came, in Andrea’s ultimate experience, it made me uncomfortable in the sense that I found it presented as an important message of the book.
Nothing was real. It’s all made up. All invention. We decide what reality we want, everything is right.
There are neat descriptions of France, of Paris. I loved the evocation of the vast flea market (we use the same expression in French: le marché aux puces) area in Saint-Ouen, where Andrea and a journalist go to try to find clues about the manuscript.
VERDICT: With its multiple stories withing the story, Delirium is the perfect Rimbaldian novel to make you familiar with the world of the most famous French poet. Barbara Scott Emmet manages a tour de force by mixing Rimbaud 19th century and 21st century France, as her character chase the elusive manuscript Rimbaud may have left behind. Enter the chase, be ready for the trip!