In Praise Of: Patricia Duncker

29th Apr 2013

In Praise Of: Patricia Duncker

Patricia Duncker was born in Kingston, Jamaica in 1951 to an English mother and Jamaican father. A voracious reader from the very beginning, she took to writing like a duck to water.

It was her early relationship with her aunt, poet and critic Patricia Beer, that became her spark for enthusiasm when it came to writing.

“ I showed her my poems when I was about 12 and she was the first person to take me seriously.

She told me, very politely, what was good and what was nonsense.”

There was always a niggling need to become a writer in her own right Duncker moved to England aged 13 years to attend Bedales boarding school in Hampshire.  She was a good student and read everything she could get her hands on.

She went on to read English Newnham Collage, Cambridge and further a doctorate from St Hugh’s Collage Oxford.

There was a always a niggling need to become a writer in her own right. Beer had instilled in Duncker the want for perfectionism of her craft. She was taught never to be happy with initial drafts and to strive forward, editing and re-editing her writing down to the bare bones.

This obviously proved fruitful as Duncker’s first novel, Hallucinating Foucault was published in 1996 to great acclaim and numerous awards, including Dillon’s First Fiction award. It is a powerful novel of sexual intrigue, intellect and madness, following an unnamed character to pursue a long lost genius writer who is locked up in a French insane asylum.

Duncker carried on teaching at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth as an English professor whilst writing her second novel James Miranda Barry, the main character of which, had initially been used as inspiration for a short story appearing her collection Monsieur Shoushana’s Lemon Trees.

Never short of ideas, yet understanding over saturation, Duncker’s stringent approach means that she has 3 novels under lock and key, currently unpublished.

“Some of the people I most admire were never published in their lifetime, l

like Emily Dickinson. Even Emily Brontë didn’t want to publish.” 

Her third novel, The Deadly Space Between deals with Oedipal ties and strange relationship quandaries. Duncker is never one to shy away from portraying the deepest of human urges, sexuality is often dissected within her novels  to show all it’s gory workings. Whether they be glorious or uncomfortable to handle, it is used as a tool to peel back the skin of her characters, never as a gratuitous fumble.

Duncker has since written two more novels, a number of short story collections and essays alongside editing and inspiring countless students at the University of Manchester as their current Professor of Contemporary Literature.

A true peer and living legend. I hope the she one day sees fit to unlock those buried novels for public consumption.

Sorrell Waldie