Christine Brooke-Rose falls under the category of being one of the best writers of the Twentieth Century that no one reads. I think part of the problem is that Brooke-Rose is challenging: her prose is exact, manipulative, and obscure; she is postmodern but her works suggest the nouveau roman; her insight is always on target but if you don’t put in the effort, you won’t get the benefit.
Apropos to a recent discussion (in another venue) Christine Brooke-Rose is NOT the author anyone who reads and praises Harry Potter or Stephen King will want to read. But if you like your literature more demanding, intellectual, imaginative, and unique, then Brooke-Rose is for you.
There is an excellent four novel collection of Brooke-Rose published in 1986 that was reissued as an eBook in 2012 by Caranet Press. It contains Out, Such, Between and Thru. I recently read Out and, although I was somewhat lost at first, the novel began to focus on a dystopean vision of the world where ‘after displacement’ the lives of the Colorless have changed to be of a lesser class in the society while those in control continue to assert that there is no discrimination in their lives. Many people identify themselves often as being Ukayans or Uessayans and the political geography of the world has created mega-political-entities much like in 1984.
But this sounds like a novel that Out is not. Out is the story of the interactions of a few people in a resettlement area that may be Africa. It is a small, personal story, developing characters within a somewhat unfamiliar environment. Through the daily lives of these characters we begin to piece together the larger geopolitical forces that now control their lives. Brooke-Rose also uses what T. S. Eliot called the ‘objective correlative’: pharmaceuticals and human testing are spoken of as if they were familiar parts of everyone’s everyday life. People are given pills to make their lives better and they are becoming as docile as the gruel they are given to eat each day.
What is the plot of Out? A novel doesn’t need a plot to be good: plots, although often present, are really something we were easily taught in school and now that we are grown up we should realize that plots are easily ignored in literature.
There is one quotation that for me helps to focus my reading of authors such as Christine Brooke-Rose:
“A conventional good read is usually a bad read, a relaxing bath in what we know already. A true good read is surely an act of innovative creation in which we, the readers, become conspirators.” — Malcolm Bradbury
Christine Brooke-Rose is a reasonably prolific writer but how many of her books have you read? It is a crime that her experimental forms of writing are difficult to find in print anymore, but they are definitely worth looking for. Here is a bibliography from Wikipedia:
- Gold (1955) poem
- The Languages of Love (1957) novel
- The Sycamore Tree (1958) novel
- A Grammar of Metaphor (1958) criticism
- The Dear Deceit (1960) novel
- The Middlemen: A Satire (1961) novel
- Out (1964) novel
- Such (1966) novel
- Between (1968) novel
- Go When You See the Green Man Walking (1970) short stories
- A ZBC of Ezra Pound (1971) criticism
- Thru (1975) novel
- A Structural Analysis of Pound’s Usura Canto: Jakobson’s Method Extended and Applied to Free Verse (1976) criticism
- A Rhetoric of the Unreal: Studies in Narrative and Structure, Especially of the Fantastic (1981) criticism
- Amalgamemnon (1984) novel
- Xorandor (1986) novel
- Verbivore (1990) novel
- Stories, Theories, and Things (1991) literary theory
- Textermination (1991) novel
- Remake (1996) autobiographical novel
- Next (1998) novel
- Subscript (1999) novel
- Poems, Letters, Drawings (2000)
- Invisible Author: Last Essays (2002)
- Harlan Ellison: The Edge of Forever (2002) with Ellen Weil
- Life, End of (2006) autobiographical novel
- Brooke-Rose Omnibus (2006)
Another quotation reminds us that
Ideally a book would have no order to it, and the reader would have to discover his own. — Raoul Vaneigem.
As an addendum: I have had at least two reminders recently that I have been neglecting my reading of Ezra Pound. Brooke-Rose’s bibliography tweaks me again and now I must dive into my bookshelves looking for my dog-eared copy of The Cantos. Join me in some exquisite erudition as only Pound can provide?