Thursday, July 07, 2022

Alan Burns, Europe after the Rain (1965)

Burns (1929-2013) was an experimental writer, part of the British movement that emerged in the sixties and seventies and also included the likes of Ann Quin, BS Johnson, and Christine Brooke-Rose (and then didn't last because fifty percent of its members ended up killing themselves).  You'd think I'd've discovered him through my readings of those writers, but actually, I think it was just from hearing John Foxx's song "Europe after the Rain" and thinking, huh, that's an evocative title.  Does it come from something?  As it turns out, both Burns and Foxx named their works after a painting by Max Ernst which unfortunately seems to not be (split infinitive ftw!) prominent enough that there's a good-quality image on the internet.  That's annoying.

Currently, this book is available for ereaders, so it's easily accessible, but when I discovered it, it was extremely out-of-print and commanded crazy prices.  I read it in The Alan Burns Omnibus volume 1, which includes his first four novels, from the invaluable and much-missed Verbivoracious Press, which went under before they could put out the second volume, which would've included his other four.  And dangit, most of those are STILL wildly out-of-print.  It sucks, man!  It sucks!

I realize I'm just rambling here, but if you look at Burns' wikipedia page, you may raise an eyebrow at something in his bibliography called To Deprave and Corrupt: Pornography, Its Causes, Its Forms, Its Effects.  I kind of assumed this was just another Alan Burns, but per this dissertation, it is indeed THE Burns, though he didn't actually write it; he just edited it together from an American report (also, that dissertation looks extremely interesting; I may dive into it).  There: now I've taken a weird, interesting fact and made it much more prosaic and boring.  Don't thank me; it was my pleasure.

Crud!  So what about Europe after the Rain?  Well, it's a very short book; barely more than novella-length.  It's an anti-war novel, and it takes places admidst an indeterminate war--could be World War II, but it could as easily be the Yugoslav Wars of the nineties, and yes, obviously, this book predates those.  Nonetheless.  The narrator is a guy: it's unclear who he's working for or exactly what he wants, except that there's a girl he's looking for whose father has some kind of important role.  Basically, he wanders around, motives seemingly shifting, surrounded by random soldiers and civilians and bandits.  It's a strongly surrealist work, filled with inexplicable digressions and juxtapositions.  The nearest comparison for this that I can think of is Barthelme's "Indian Uprising," but that's far from exact: the similarities lie in the detached tone the narrators of both take, as well as some of the surrealism, though Burns' work is much less concerned with language specifically.

Well, but did I like it?  Yeah, it was all right.  Its mutability and sense of constantly impending violence creates a compellingly ominous tone.  I do feel, though, that it's on the verge of being a bit much.  Burns was wise in keeping this short; it's just not doing enough to support being any longer.  And yet, I couldn't help feeling it could be a bit shorter, and certainly if it were longer it would've really tried my patience.  Regardless, though, I may try some of Burns' other books (probably not the pornography one) at some point.


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