Thursday, November 24, 2022

Christine Brooke-Rose, Between (1968)

I was not kidding when I said I was going to follow up the Freddy marathon with "some bristly, avant-garde fiction."  I've been neglecting Brooke-Rose, but she's still one of my favorites, and here's the third book from the Christine Brooke-Rose Omnibus.

So what's it about?  That isn't even so simple a question to even define, but the concrete “reality” of the novel, if you want to use that word, concerns a Frenchwoman, Sandra, who works as a French-German translator at academic conferences and UN-type meetings (she learned German as a girl during World War II, although she was too young to be ideological).  She has a once-and-possibly-future German lover, Siegfried, and also a French lover (though with much less presence in the novel), Betrand (I don't want to alarm you, but there may be some degree of symbolism here).  The action, such as it is, wends its way through planes, airports, hotels, and conference rooms (“between,” you see).  

And “between” also, of course, in the sense of between languages.  This is an extremely multilingual book.  I think it would be inadvisable to read it without at least some French, and probably German too.  But there are also snippets of Italian, Dutch, Greek, Turkish, Polish, Portuguese, and undoubtedly some that I missed.  It is one hell of an international thing, and it really does create the (I presume) intended impression of a person linguistically adrift, trying to find her bearings.

(Also—I read this in an obituary on Brooke-Rose; I'm a little embarrassed not to have realized it myself, but apparently none of the goodreads reviewers did either, so I feel more or less justified—it doesn't use the verb “be,” to emphasize the protagonist's unclear sense of being.  Clever, although it no one notices it, you have to wonder how effective it is.)

Well, is it good?  I mean, it's definitely “good,” if good means anything; whether I enjoyed it is another question.  The experience I've had with these earlier Brooke-Rose novels—the ones in the Omnibus--is that they're somewhat grueling to read, but ultimately rewarding (her later ones, I've found, tend to be a bit more accessible).  And hey, whaddaya know, that was my experience here, more or less.  Is it possible that I found it, more than the others I've read, a bit wearing in parts?  It is possible.  But fuck, man, what good is language if you're not willing to use it--all of it, not just the easy bits?  I'm grateful that we have fearless wordsmiths like Brooke-Rose willing to take it to the limit.

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