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Delirium: The Rimbaud Delusion
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|Delirium: The Rimbaud Delusion
By Barbara Scott Emmett
Pentalpha Publishing Edinburgh/Triskele Books
Pub. Date: October 20, 2014
= today, on Arthur Rimbaud’s birthday!
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MY THOUGHTS ABOUT THIS BOOK
I am afraid the French poet Arthur Rimbaud (1854-1891) may not be very well known from English speaking readers. He is one of the must read poets for all French students, well at least he was in my younger years. I even had to memorize one of his poems in grade school! He is a notorious representative of the decadent world of 19th century French artists: part of his creativity is closely connected to drugs and alcohol – absinthe was the big thing then.
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.
A Rimbaud’s statue in Paris.
I took this picture in 2012
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!
WHAT IS IT ABOUT
1872: The explosive love affair between flamboyant French poets Arthur Rimbaud and Paul Verlaine rocks French society. They flee to London, abandoning the manuscript of La Chasse Spirituelle to Verlaine’s scorned young wife. When a lawyer’s clerk salvages it from a dusty deed box, the manuscript begins its journey down the decades, revealing the secrets and betrayals of its various keepers.
2004: Andrea Mann, disenchanted with life and love, travels to France. Driven by her obsession with Rimbaud, she’s chasing her dream – the missing manuscript. Beside the poet’s grave at Charleville-Mézières, she meets a beautiful young man who shows her a single page – from La Chasse Spirituelle.
Andrea embarks on a desperate quest. Drawn into a manipulative relationship with the youth and his Svengali-like mentor, the mysterious Albert, she faces unwelcome truths. The closer she gets to the manuscript, the further she veers from reality.
But is Albert’s copy genuine? And can La Chasse Spirituelle fill the void in Andrea’s soul? [provided by the author]
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Barbara Scott Emmett has published novels, short stories and a book of poetry.
Her work has also appeared in anthologies and magazines.
She has been fascinated by Arthur Rimbaud for many years.
A play about him (Death Without Tears) was performed on the Edinburgh Fringe.
A new novel Delirium: The Rimbaud Delusion will be published in association with Triskele Books in October 2014.
Visit her website and her blog, with lots of extra material on her upcoming novel!
Follow her on Facebook, and Twitter or on Goodreads.
Subscribe to her mailing list (see in the right side bar).
You can also send her an email pentalphapublishing at live [dot] co [dot] uk
Order your copy today on Amazon!
And why not follow @Rimbaldian to get quotes by this great poet?
HAVE YOU READ THIS BOOK YET?
WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE POEM BY RIMBAUD?
IF YOU DON’T KNOW HIM YET,
WHO IS YOUR FAVORITE FRENCH POET?
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Thank you so much for your wonderful and insightful review. I understand that not everyone will agree with the conclusion – but as you point out I wanted Andrea to experience what Rimbaud (I think) experienced.
thanks. Yes I try to both point to it objectively and subjectively. Too many reviews look at books on a merely subjective level. Really, even if this conclusion is not my cup of tea, I would be blind and hypocrite not to recognize you did it masterfully and for very good reasons. Truth was for sure quite relative for him, lol
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This sounds interesting. I love the idea of looking for an old manuscript but not sure the confusion and ecstasy may not work for me. Thanks for sharing!
But that puts you really in Rimbaud’s world!
I’m not familiar with Rimbaud but the book sounds fascinating!
yes, well done. on my post there’s a link to poem hunter where you can find a few famous poems by him
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