Thursday, December 20, 2018

Christine Brooke-Rose, Amalgamemnon (1984)

Brooke-Rose never ceases to astonish. I mean, maybe she should; honestly, this isn't that unlike Such. It's not a break in the same way Subscript was. But still: it's amazing. To me. Anyway.

So it's narrated, more or less, by a humanities professor facing getting laid off because the field is being overtaken by electronics and technology, a concern which somehow feels simultaneously quaint and still-relevant. She thinks about her future through a number of different plotlines (her identity, not surprisingly, is at least somewhat mutable). The most prominent...thing in the book is her fantasizing about starting a pig farm somewhere in the midwestern US, and maybe or maybe not embarking on an affair with a man whose salt-of-the-earthiness contrasts with her erudition; there's also an element of this where terrorists of a sort at least some of whom are also her former students have sort of taken the place over and kidnapped capitalism itself and hidden it in the attic. Another major plot which may or may not intersect with this involves a Somali girl who starts off in mythological times until, running away from an undesirable marriage, she ends up in the modern-day Middle East with all its geopolitical instability and terrorism and stuff. There's a shitload of Joycean wordplay, as per that title. Also, the entire book is written in the future tense (in point of fact, English doesn't really have a future tense; if you think it's okay to just call it "will" and be done with it, you have to explain why other modal verbs shouldn't count as separate tenses, but YOU GET THE IDEA); it's all speculative.

This is all much less straightforward than it sounds, no matter how straightforward it sounds. This is a surreal novel, and, like, in the authentic sense of "surreal," not just "this is kinda weird." Disorentation is inevitable. Careful study would no doubt reveal much, but I think there's always going to be an irreducible inexplicability to it. And that's great. I wouldn't want to read nothing but books like this, but boy am I glad they exist.

You know, Brooke-Rose isn't exactly a household name. And when people who know her do talk about her, there's often a certainly...well, either smugness (look how cool I am for knowing about obscure authors!) or chiding (kids today, what with their not knowing about obscure writers I ask you) attitude. But...while I am a confirmed fan, I think it's not really fair to be upset about her obscurity. Sure, in theory I'd like it if she had a higher profile, but isn't it the case that for that to be true in practice, she'd have to be a completely different writer? Writing of the sort that she did is just never going to appeal to a wide reader base, and that's okay. As much as I might like to think otherwise (and, let's face it, still kinda think is true on some level, deep in my heart), liking abstruse fiction is a sign neither of great intelligence or moral superiority. It just means you have something weird going on in your brain, and if that sounds sorta kinda like a humblebrag, well yeah, I like the things I like, and therefore I think liking the things I like is good. It's unavoidable. But still. Whatever. As long as her books remain available, I'll be basically happy.


Post a Comment

<< Home