Disaster Was My God
Disaster Was My God
A Novel of the Outlaw Life of Arthur Rimbaud
By Bruce Duffy
Doubleday, Hardcover, 9780385534369, 384pp.
Publication Date: July 19, 2011
The author of the critically acclaimed novel The World as I Found It brilliantly reimagines the scandalous life of the pioneering, proto-punk poet Arthur Rimbaud.
Arthur Rimbaud, the enfant terrible of French letters, more than holds his own with Lord Byron and Oscar Wilde in terms of bold writing and salacious interest. In the space of one year—1871—with a handful of startling poems he transformed himself from a teenaged bumpkin into the literary sensation of Paris. He was taken up, then taken in, by the older and married poet Paul Verlaine in a passionate affair. When Rimbaud sought to end it, Verlaine, in a jealous rage, shot him. Shortly thereafter, Rimbaud—just shy of his twentieth birthday—declared himself finished with literature. His resignation notice was his immortal prose poem A Season in Hell. In time, Rimbaud wound up a prosperous trader and arms dealer in Ethiopia. But a cancerous leg forced him to return to France, to the family farm, with his sister and loving but overbearing mother. He died at thirty-seven.
Bruce Duffy takes the bare facts of Rimbaud’s fascinating existence and brings them vividly to life in a story rich with people, places, and paradox. In this unprecedented work of fictional biography, Duffy conveys, as few ever have, the inner turmoil of this calculating genius of outrage, whose work and untidy life essentially anticipated and created the twentieth century’s culture of rebellion. It helps us see why such protean rock figures as Bob Dylan, Jim Morrison, and Patti Smith adopted Rimbaud as their idol.
Praise for Disaster Was My God:
"There are many lovely touches in Duffy’s novel. ... [He] persuasively penetrates the layers of myth and produces characters who suggest the real people they once were. By far the most impressive—and, in its way, the most moving—of these characterizations is that of Rimbaud’s mother, who here emerges not as the familiar harpy of many biographies but as a figure of almost tragic stature, a woman as tormented as she was tormenting.”—Daniel Mendelsohn, The New Yorker
“Mr. Duffy’s take on the Rimbaud mystery shapes a novel that…pleases. [His] hyperbolic prose style…grows on you. … Disaster Was My God delivers a Rimbaud who forces literary true believers to ponder an unwelcome thought: that artistic ambition may sometimes be, as the guidance counselors say, just a phase that troubled teens—even geniuses—go through.”—Carlin Romano, New York Times
"Derangement of the senses is what Bruce Duffy has achieved in his astonishing novel about Rimbaud, Disaster Was My God. ... By an extraordinary feat of fictional imagination, Duffy has joined [Rimbaud the] artist and [Rimbaud the] gunrunner. ...[I]t is the content and quality of the scenes that achieves the join. Duffy has created a fiery mosaic of brilliantly conceived and written pieces...the adorned texture of [his] writing becomes addictive. Among other things, Disaster is the rare example of a page-turner whose pages are richly weighted."—Richard Eder, Boston Globe
"Readers of The World as I Found It, his magisterial debut novel, will already know that Bruce Duffy is an author who possesses the powers of imagination to construct biographically inspired fiction that transcends the aims and limits of biography. ... [W]ith his new book, Disaster Was My God: A Novel of the Outlaw Life of Arthur Rimbaud, Duffy has found a subject whose ability to fascinate rivals that of Wittgenstein’s, and the literary results, once again, are impressive."—Troy Jollimore, San Francisco Chronicle
"Duffy portrayed philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein in his extolled first novel, The World as I Found It (1987). In his second work of biographical fiction, Duffy takes on poet turned arms dealer Arthur Rimbaud. Patron saint for Patti Smith and Jim Morrison, the precocious French farm boy and rebel visionary scandalized Paris, radically transformed poetry as a teenager, put down his pen before turning 20, and instigated mayhem wherever he went. Infused with the wild energy and mystical images of Rimbaud’s poems, Duffy’s saturated novel veers between Rimbaud’s galvanic escapades in France and his brutal last days in Africa as he crosses the desert to the sea delirious with pain, journeying home to die at 37. Duffy revels in his intense characters: brilliant and feral Rimbaud, his ogress of a mother and longsuffering sister, and, most sympathetically, absinthe-poisoned poet Paul Verlaine, who abandoned his young, pregnant wife for a doomed affair with scoundrel Rimbaud. Impassioned and melodramatic, keenly
detailed and hallucinogenic, Duffy’s reeling novel avidly encompasses the terror and beauty, despair and ecstasy of high-pitched lives and tradition-shattering art."—Donna Seaman, Booklist
"...[A] dynamic portrait of a fascinating life. Duffy’s vivid language and marvelous descriptions reveal a genius full of wanderlust and inner conflict...Intriguing, at times disturbing, and always compelling, [it] is hard to put down. Highly recommended for fans of Duffy’s other work, including his fictional biography of Wittgenstein, The World as I Found It; those interested in French poetry, history, and historical novels are sure to like this too."—Library Journal
Praise for The World As I Found It
“Bruce Duffy's novel . . . was one of the more astonishing literary debuts in recent memory. In defiance of common practice, Mr. Duffy gave the world not a tender, autobiographical coming-of-age story or a slim collection of finely wrought tales of family dysfunction but more than 500 pages of dazzling language and dizzying speculation on the life of Ludwig Wittgenstein.” —A.O. Scott, New York Times
“Duffy has sustained a miracle. A rich, eloquent, poised masterwork that succeeds beyond one’s most generous expectations.” —Philadelphia Inquirer
“By turns wicked, melancholy, and rhapsodic, The World As I Found It is an astonishing performance, a kind of intellectual opera in which each abstraction gets its own artist.” —John Leonard, Newsday
“It is hard to know which is the more outsized—the talent of Bruce Duffy or his nerve. Duffy is a superb writer.” —Los Angeles Times
“Abundant with life and almost unflaggingly interesting . . . The enigmatic Wittgenstein could imagine the unimaginable, but never would he have imagined it possible that he would one day appear as the protagonist of a novel and a delightful one, at that.” —Publishers Weekly
Alan Cheuse reviews a novel based on the real life of the French poet Arthur Rimbaud, called Disaster Was My God. More at NPR.org
NPR Audio Player Requires Flash Upgrade: Please upgrade your plug-in to view this content.