Not really sure why this is on the 1001 books list. Didn’t grab me. Seemed a bit too much like navel-gazing for the Cambridge set (e.g. “we went to Browns for lunch” – oh did we now? It’s not what it was, though) and littered with characters who are a just far enough removed from everyday reality to actually relate to insanity.
So, there’s this guy whose written some novels and he’s a bit like a cross between Jack Kerouac and Holden Caulfield, an anarchist homosexual who has to be French (I mean, could he be anything else?) And this undergrad at Cambridge falls in love with his writing which is really a metaphor for falling in love with the novelist and so he hears that no one has a clue where he is now and it turns out he’s been sectioned and is in some asylum outside Paris. With the thinly veiled excuse of research trip, off trots our star-struck student on a quest that is as much a search for self as it is a search for other.
And they strike up this relationship and it’s all a bit coming-of-age, even though this undergrad is supposedly not only an adult by this point but also part of the Oxbridge elite. Anyway, the inevitable happens and some of the anarchy rubs off on the impressionable protagonist but before it can all end in tears in one way, it ends in tears in another way.
It all seemed a bit predictable to me and I would definitely NOT follow the advice of the Observer review that says “If you buy one book make it Hallucinating Foucault…” No, really, don’t. This is an okay novel that really doesn’t “explore with consummate mastery the passionate relationship between reader and writer.” If you want to really see “consummate mastery” of that topic, see If on a winter’s night a traveller…