Delirium – The Rimbaud Delusion

Delirium – The Rimbaud Delusion
Published: July 30, 2014
Author's Twitter: @BSE_Writer
How many times had I dreamt of coming across the yellowing manuscript of La Chasse Spirituelle? Inside an old book on a stall in Paris, perhaps. Or in the attic of some befriended ancient. How many daydreams had I enjoyed over the possibility that one day…? I shook myself. It couldn’t possibly be true. 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?

 

There are a lot of voices to listen to in Delirium, and they’re all talking about one thing: a lost manuscript.

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.

Books in this series:
The Land Beyond Goodbye
A Taste of Triskele

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