The Baudelaire Fractal
Lisa Robertson, 208 pgs, Coach House Books, chbooks.com, $22.95
Furniture, clothes, cinema, money, the city — few have probed these topics as deeply as Canadian poet Lisa Robertson, who renders them luminous in the flighty details of surfaces and passing feelings. Robertson’s new- est foray in these themes is amongst the strongest, and is ostensibly her first published foray into long-form prose. Robertson takes the light reflecting off of the worlds captured by her poetry and turns inward to evaluate her writing life and femininity. The Baudelaire Fractal is deeply personal and intricately philosophical, served alongside fashionable outfits. Inexplicably, this combination offers a precise and inspiring picture of Robertson’s style.
Though published (misleadingly, I think) as a novel, Robertson might be working in a more hybrid genre auto- theory and fictionalization, arranged much like the meandering structures of her critical essays.
The book’s narrator, Hazel Brown, is a vagabond poet and occasional labourer living in Paris. Anecdotes from her diaries while living in Paris open into reflections on art, writing, sex, and freedom. There are also extended biographical tracts on not only Baudelaire, but also his friends and his mistress of two decades, the Haitian-French actress Jeanne Duval. Throughout, Robertson’s aim is movement and sensation; as an older Hazel writes, “To everything I read in the diaries I now give the name novel, I give the name knock-off. Yet I am completely disgusted by literature.”
Like a beautiful stain — her key metaphor for poetry in The Baudelaire Fractal — Robertson’s writing sprawls while also embodying a rich, relentless density. Anyone line, taken on its own, is an endless thread of ideas and intrigue; yet together they form a supportive, homogenous whole, like a sturdy textile.
Perhaps most importantly, Robertson is peerless in her attention to the sheer pleasure of text. Reading her is a requisite indulgence, and long-time fans and newcomers alike will find no better place to dive in than The Baudelaire Fractal.