My first encounter with this book actually happened last summer when I read in the local newspaper that Patricia Duncker was coming over to Malta in order to give a talk on writing and preview some of her upcoming works. Being a sucker for such things, I ordered the book and it arrived on the day of the talk. I did attend and enjoyed it, plus I got to chat to her a bit (she’s very talkative), got my copy of the book signed and it went back in the shelf for that right time.
It did come as a nice surprise that Hallucinating Foucault is considered one of those books you must read before you die and after reading two so so books in a row, it restored my faith in this list.
An unnamed research student is halfway through his thesis on the (non-existent) novelist Paul Michel, although he has read his works he does not know much about him other than the fact that he was a homosexual and certified insane after the death of his hero, the philosopher Michel Foucault. He is then urged by his girlfriend to fly over to France and investigate his whereabouts and inquire about the thought or inspirations behind the novels he has written, the extent of Foucault’s influence on Michel’s life and ultimately to free him.
After some detective work the narrator finally does find discover the asylum where Michel is situated (it’s in Clermont Ferrand – where I attended the yearly Europavox festival in 2006) and promptly falls in love with him. Eventually Michel is able to join the narrator for two months and they go to the south of France.
I have to admit I was expecting the usual clichés that one finds in a novel about love, either a huge fight and abandonment or that the lover is too insane to . It turns out that this love blossoms but it doesn’t descend into any clichés and a startling twist occurs. It does end in tragedy but not as how you’d expect it.
Ultimately this is a book about love and it’s connection to madness. It’s also about the art of writing and madness as well. It does show the reader the lengths one can go to for one’s heroes. It’s all done beautifully, almost cinematic at times.
Needless to say that I absolutely loved ‘Hallucinating Foucault’. In fact I picked it up this morning at 6:30am and finished it at 9am. It’s incredibly readable, short and yet poignant and packs a huge memorable punch. Ironically I am checking out Duncker’s other novels and I’m wondering if this could be the start of an obsession that is not dissimilar to the main protagonist of Hallucinating Foucault.