Dancing in Her Doc Martens

Lorna Scott Fox

  • Monsieur Shoushana’s Lemon Trees by Patricia Duncker
    Serpent’s Tail, 197 pp, £9.99, August 1997, ISBN 1 85242 572 5

‘Dares to be intellectual,’ breathed the Guardian’s review of Patricia Duncker’s first novel, Hallucinating Foucault. But co-opting the defenceless Michel Foucault into a romanticised fantasy about the Reader does not guarantee a novel’s intellectuality. The story of the timid Cambridge student who falls in love with the subject of his thesis – French writer Paul Michel, a malign blend of Dany Cohn-Bendit and Guy Hocquenghem – and carries him off from an asylum, struck me above all as daring to be improbable. Not because this couldn’t happen, nor because of any objection to the post-psychological and post-realist, but because the most artificial kinds of writing usually aim at coherence on some non-psychological, non-realist level, whether emotional, formal or imaginative. Or even intellectual. But here some notions are launched only to stagnate in repetition, while the rest are noisily hammered into shape for our entertainment. Foucault, for instance, stars as Michel’s imaginary interlocutor and ideal reader, antagonist and alter ego; his death may have precipitated Michel’s breakdown. But this promising idea is continually restated rather than developed, and has no significance beyond itself.

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