Book Review

OUT by Christine Brooke-Rose

christmas brooke-rose quadrilogy day 1/4

Part one of the Christine Brooke-Rose Omnibus

Christine Brooke-Rose was the intellectual one.

The academic one.

The indefatigable one.

The one from the group of mid century British novelists often (increasingly) referred to as “the experimentalists” who kept writing and publishing and innovating throughout the length of her very long life.

Brooke-Rose’s final book – and the only one I had previously read – was published in 2006 when she was 82/83 years old, and details the physical and psychological deterioration that comes to all who live long enough.

Life, End Of is a beautiful, powerful and deeply moving text that degrades along with its protagonist-narrator, an experimental novelist who grieves every loss as her world gets ever smaller until, finally, it doesn’t exist at all.

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Out (1964) was not Brooke-Rose’s first novel (that would be The Languages of Love, published in 1957) but it was the first that dove deep into an experimental, an avant garde, structure.

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Brooke-Rose was old enough to have been a (young) linguist hired to work on codebreaking during the second World war, making her a decade and a half or so older than Quin, Johnson, Burns etc, becoming almost a William Burroughs-type figure for the scene. (Check that, this may be absolute bullshit. (I typed that as a note to self, but I may as well consider it as a note to reader. I think it’s true, but I don’t know it’s true, y’know?))

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Out is a stream of consciousness type piece, full of digression and repetition, but also – thankfully – proper punctuation, paragraph breaks and all those other things that make something legible but massively turn off Joycean-Beckettian prose stylists.

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The novel is set somewhere unspecified in Africa following a major, civilisation-destroying event in the northern hemisphere – some combination of pandemic and nuclear armageddon – which makes white (always referred to as “Colourless”) people a conspicuous global minority, and suffering the same kind of economic and social disenfranchisement as was practiced (via capitalist colonialism) in reverse for centuries.

Brooke-Rose doesn’t make Out a simplistic “omg imagine if..?” type text, with the novel focusing on individuals rather than a “big picture” narrative. It is a character study looking, mostly, at someone as they disintegrate in an unfamiliar (to them) world… it is about a person whose memory, sense of self and worldview have become incompatible with a vastly altered reality they now live within. I’m making the novel, in summation, sound a lot more proto fascist than it felt while I read it, so I suppose I should emphasise that the novel doesn’t necessarily say that the mass death of the “global north” is a bad thing?

As a character study, as a work of speculative fiction, as a piece about physical decline or as a text looking at the dangers of ecological collapse, Out is not breathtaking, though to combine all of these, within the rhythms and textures of more typisch modernist-style writing that is traditionally associated with the minutea of interwar middle class lives, it’s certainly interesting enough to hold some attention and justify (perhaps?) its reputation.

I’m sliding straight into Brooke-Rose’s next novel now, so see you next post here for thoughts on Such.

2 comments on “OUT by Christine Brooke-Rose

  1. Pingback: SUCH by Christine Brooke-Rose – Triumph Of The Now

  2. Pingback: Between by Christine Brooke-Rose – Triumph Of The Now

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