Friday, September 02, 2016

Christine Brooke-Rose, Out (1964)

Right! Brooke-Rose (1923-2012) was an experimental British novelist. And that's about all there is to say about that! She doesn't seem to be especially well-known these days, but she was pretty prolific. This one time, she won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. So there!

(I do wonder sometimes about labeling fiction "experimental." All it really seems to mean is "trying something different," which is really nothing at all like what it means in science. You do a scientific experiment, you're trying to get data for or against a hypothesis, but what data are you trying to get from an "experimental" novel? None that I can see, apart from "can a novel like this be good?" which obviously is wildly subjective and non-rigorous. Fortunately, no one cares.)

I have here a book known as The Christine Brooke-Rose Omnibus, including four similarly-titled novels: Out, Such, Between, and Thru. As I understand it, Out is supposed to be her first overtly avant-garde novel, though she wrote a handful prior. And it's certainly an abstruse one. Of that there is no doubt. As near as one can make out, it concerns a dystopian future South Africa in which apartheid has been turned on its head, and black supremacy is the norm, even as people pay lip service to egalitarianism. White ("colourless") people are also prey to a disease ("the malady") that is...apparently...due to the fallout from some nuclear incident. The unnamed, wildly-unreliable semi-narrator is a colourless man of unclear provenance looking for work and ultimately finding it granted by a wealthy black woman, Mrs. Mgulu. And...well, that's about all one can say about it, really. It's not a plot-heavy novel.

As I said, one is limited to saying what the novel is "apparently" about because it really goes out of its way to be unclear. There are bits of dialogue which flit to and fro between different characters in different situations, sometimes veering off into fantasy or other nonsense. The identity of the characters is mutable as heck. There are long paragraphs of medical and scientific description, and others as from the perspective of a camera focused on a specific object or scene and thus providing information that, without context, isn't invested with much or anything by way of meaning. There's lots of repetition. Cause and effect get muddled, and dubious correlations are asserted. Things get revealed, to the extent that they do, slowly and obliquely. And there you have it.

At first I wasn't too sure about this book, but you know what? Once I got on its wavelength, I really dug it. It's just an interesting mode of storytelling. Why is it the way it is? That is not always super-easy to say. It clearly is at least somewhat related to the narrator's own disordered mental state, and his strained relationship to the world around him. Language breaks down, blah blah, semiotic chaos, etc. I just thought this was a really clever and well-executed...jeez, now I feel self-conscious about saying "experiment." But there you go. Not to all tastes, clearly, but I think I will be reading more Brooke-Rose in the future. Obviously, it would be difficult or impossible to find her books in Indonesia, but I still have the rest of this omnibus, though alas, I'll still be missing out on books with titles like Amalgamemnon, Verbivore, and Textermination. All in good time, my flock. All in good time.


Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. pontificated to the effect that...

Holy shit, man. I would delete the above spam, but it's just too...something. Running this through google translate, I find it's specifically Saudi Arabian spam, for a bunch of really boring-sounding companies. WHY AM I GETTING SAUDI ARABIAN SPAM I'M IN INDONESIA NOW SHEESH GET IT RIGHT. Also, just for the record, let me note that Saudi Arabia is very possibly the worst country ever. Well, okay, not in a world with North Korea. But still! Pretty damned bad.

11:37 AM  

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