marginalia || Hallucinating Foucault, by Patricia Duncker

Hallucinating Foucault, a novel by Patricia Duncker, is one of the most baffling books I’ve ever had the misfortune to come across. And before anyone complains about my apalling habit of finishing books I don’t even like, well–I was bored that night, and there really was nothing else to read (I’d been separated from my trusty TBR LandMass). Anyway, it’s baffling because for all the praise heaped upon it, the reading experience was an excruciating one–at least it was, very much so, in my case. Gah. And, too bad, because that synopsis really hooked me:

A literary thriller that explores the passionate relationship between reader and writer, between the factual and the fictional, between sanity and madness. // In this ravishing tale of sexual and textual obsession, the young unnamed narrator sets forth from Cambridge on a quest. He is to rescue the subject of his doctoral research, Paul Michel, the brilliant but mad writer, from incarceration in a mental institution in France. What ensues is a drama of terrible intimacy and tenderness played out one hot and humid summer in Paris and in the south of France. “Hallucinating Foucault” is a literary thriller that explores with consummate mastery the passionate relationship between reader and writer, between the factual and the fictional, between sanity and madness. In blurring these boundaries, Patricia Duncker has written a novel of astonishing power and beauty.

I happen to like “sexual and textual obsession,” “the brilliant but mad writer” (regardless of the cliches), and, well, Foucault (I love Foucault, that OC idiot). I was intrigued by its claim that it could give me a clue into that murky world of writer-reader, fact-fiction, sane-notsomuch.

I feel bad for myself that I actually read it to its infuriatingly improbable end.

It is a stuck-up book, annoyingly too self-absorbed in its exploration of the reader-writer relationship–quite ironically, an exploration that alienated this reader. I found its high-handed manner annoying, it’s droll and disappointed / giddy and gah tone irritating. I appreciated. The character development went beyond cliche, beyond stereotype–and right onto that musty level reserved for the most mildewed of archetypes. The plot twists were ridiculous, the relationships and coincidences within those relationships even more so.

Come on, people–come on, A.S. Byatt (who called it “One of the best novels of the year.”) Why are so many people urging me to read this piece of crap? (Yes, I read books from cover to cover, quite literally–I love the “praise,” and I find an odd pleasure in reading the acknowledgements page. But enough about me.) (And another: I’ve been trying to read Possession for about two weeks now–given this fact, and this little entry here, I am starting to suspect that I may not be intelligent after all. Haha. Ha. Haaa.)

It is a ridiculous book. At least, I found it ridiculous. Most of it came across as smarmy in its disappointingly succesful attempt to be a writer’s writer kind of work. BAH.

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One comment

  1. Hi Sasha,

    Just to say I entirely agree with your evaluation of Hallucinating Foucault, which was entirely incredible – ie. not credible. And the early pages about a relationship that struck me as interesting is then abandoned in the quest for the posturing writer: a disastrous decision in terms of my interest in the story – which died stone dead.

    Your piece is also written in a lively way – thanks for that. And continue to enjoy your words. (I’ll have a look at some more of yours when I have time.)

    Jon

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