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IoS paperback review: Disaster Was My God: The Life of Arthur Rimbaud, By Bruce Duffy


As a teenager, Arthur Rimbaud shocked 19th-century Paris with his experimental verse and taste for debauchery (he had an affair with the married poet Paul Verlaine, who later shot him in a fit of jealousy).

But, on the verge of his 20th birthday, he renounced literature and later reinvented himself as a gunrunner in Ethiopia. Suffering from cancer, he returned to France in 1891, where he died aged just 37.

In Disaster Was My God, Bruce Duffy tells this remarkable story with vigour and flair, filling the gaps in Rimbaud's biography with fictional extrapolation. His prose is a joy: his adjectives hunt in threes (Rimbaud is a "realist, scientist, cynic"; the poetry "dissonant, obscurantic, crazy") and his phrases have a wonderful, imagistic compression (a vulture is "two pumping swells of wing"). A deliriously enjoyable read.