Part Two of the Christine Brooke-Rose Omnibus
This 1966 novel by intellectual and academic literary experimentalist Christine Brooke-Rose (posher, cleverer, somehow more sexually repressed (because of class????) than Ann Quin & even BS Johnson) is more engaging than her slightly earlier novel of similar style, Out, yet – for me – never quite reached a point where reading it didn’t, ultimately, feel like a bit of a chore.
This one reminded me a lot of the stream of consciousness sections of Doris Lessing’s 1971 novel Briefing for a descent into hell, and the similarities – the medical, institutionalised, setting, the presumption that the protagonist believes deeply that what they are experiencing (/have experienced) is completely real, despite big evidence to the contrary.
The setting – someone scrabbling at the edges of consciousness and life – definitely suits the style of the prose, the disjointed, dreamlike bouncing between memory and fantasy, between regret and shame, triumph and envy, hope and its opposite. Lovers turn into friends into children into strangers into rivals and yes it does get a bit incesty and paedophilic.
Is the narrative it tells, that of a failed psychicist turned psychician turned wannabe early retiree and possible TV personality (tho that might be his friend and former colleague or it might be him) an interesting one? I’d argue no; this is experimental writing focusing on the bank balances and status plays of the affluent middle classes again, exactly the kind of setting that the modernists and realists (and popular culture more generally) have been eternally labouring so hard to convince us are the most important parts of the world to explore.
SUCH is drawing room type experimental writing, this is experimental writing of – and for – the people who already had experimental writing written by and about and for them before.
This lacks the class consciousness and working class focus of Ann Quin, BS Johnson and the one Eve Figes book I’ve read, with similarities to the most disappointing of Alan Burns’ novels I’ve read, Celebrations.
Does SUCH work? Yes.
Do the execution and Brooke-Rose’s experimentalist flourishes suit the narrative that is being told? Yes, absolutely.
On its own merits, SUCH is a successful novel.
Did I enjoy it? Not really.
What was I hoping for? Who fucking knows.