An itinerant poet makes an autofiction of her wayward wandering youth in this debut novel.
One morning in the spring of 2016, the poet Hazel Brown awakens in a Vancouver hotel to discover that she’s written the complete works of Charles Baudelaire. Although “perhaps it is more precise to say that all at once, unbidden, I received the Baudelairean authorship, or that I found it within myself.” Already middle-aged at the time of this curious inheritance, the poet attempts to trace the contours of this bequest through a kind of fragmented, allusive double biography: both of Baudelaire brooding amid the onset of industrial modernity and of her young self, coasting through Paris, the city Baudelaire left behind, more than a hundred years in his wake. Throughout the book—part Künstlerroman, part biography, part artist’s statement, part political tract—we track Baudelaire’s bourgeois dispossession, his revolutionary and then reactionary politics, his love, his losses, his furniture, his friendships. All this interpenetrates with the loose and jumbled story of Hazel’s artistic awakening as she spins a set of concepts (the hotel room, the stain, the garment) into a tapestry of memory and desire. Through Hazel, poet Robertson (3 Summers, 2016, etc.) meditates on the impossibility of any coherent “I”—especially that of a woman writing poetry. But as Hazel reads philosophy and cleans apartments and seduces men and writes in her diary, she grows into herself, in glimmering, beautiful sentences that illuminate as much as they obscure: “First, I knew nothing, then I believed anything, now I doubt everything.”
An intense if abstract portrait of the poet as a young woman in search of a kind of language that might lead to liberation.