One morning, the poet Hazel Brown wakes up in a Vancouver hotel room to find that she’s written the complete works of Charles Baudelaire. Surprising as this may be, it’s no more surprising to Brown than the strange journey she’s taken to become the writer that she is. Animated by the spirit of the poète maudit, she shuttles between London, Vancouver, Paris, and the French countryside, moving fluidly between the 1980s, the 1850s and the present, from rented room to rented room, all the while considering such Baudelairean obsessions as modernity, poverty, perfume, painting and the perfect jacket…
Part magical realism, part feminist ars poetica, part history of fashion, part bibliophilic anthem, The Baudelaire Fractal is the long-awaited debut novel by the inimitable Lisa Robertson.
Poet Robertson's debut novel (after the poetry collection 3 Summers) is a heady, meditative look at art, the self, and the complex relationship between the two. Hazel Brown, a poet, wakes up one morning "to discover that I have written the complete works of Baudelaire." This confounding and impossible occurrence, though, is no more amazing to the narrator "than it was for me to have become a poet, me, a girl, in 1984." The novel eschews conventional plot, instead investigating the narrator's development as a person and poet filtered through examinations of Baudelaire's life, work, and milieu, especially the mistreated and forgotten women. The prose oscillates between Hazel's scrutiny of her younger self living in Paris, clumsily beginning to write, having sex and contemplations of, for instance, the erasure of Baudelaire's mistress Jeanne Duval from a painting by Gustave Courbet. As for the authorship of Baudelaire's work, Hazel notes that there wasn't any "tiresome striving after it on my part," implying that rather it was something imposed on her, just as the legacy of male-centric histories are imposed on women. That Hazel became a poet true to her own voice, that she wasn't erased or overlooked because of her gender, or because men treat women like "a concept," is for the narrator the more unlikely event. A difficult work of ideas, by turns enlightening and arcane, part autobiographical narrative, part literary theory, Robertson's debut novel, for those interested in possibilities of fiction, is not to be missed.