Book Review

Between by Christine Brooke-Rose

Christmas Brooke-Rose quadrilogy day 3/4

Part Three of the Christine Brooke-Rose Omnibus

Nov 24th 2022

Finally – and I say finally because I genuinely felt a little sad that I didn’t love Out (1964) or Such (1966) as much as I had hoped and expected to – here is an earlyish Christine Brooke-Rose novel that I would heartily, highly and effusively recommend, were I do still have people in my life to whom I could recommend books.

Perhaps you, TriumphoftheNow.com reader, but are you a person?

Do I recognise your personhood?

Do I respect your autonomy and sense of self?

Are you real?

Are the readers who the analytics tell me I have – who never comment, rarely like and certainly don’t seem to share – even real, or just blips from feedback, WordPress falsely telling me that I exist and am seen when, really, it is just code and robots passing a baton back and forth?

Do I exist? I ask, and I must ask, because if you – anonymised TriumphoftheNow.com reader – may not exist, and if you are my only connection to the world, then do I?

Do I?

Does anyone?

Does anything?

Is this eternal nightmare only ever broken by the dreams of sleep within the dreams?

Waking nightmares, waking dreams?

I have said before I feel as a ghost, haunting my own past lives. Maybe I am. Maybe I should be. Maybe ghosts don’t exist and in that case I don’t know what I am, because I’m certainly not living and I don’t think I’m dead.

What else is in-between? I don’t have the power or the hunger of a vampire or a zombie, I merely have the the the the the the the aimlessness and emptiness of a soul stalking the earth that never knew its purpose in life and cannot yet find it – and thus a release – once the moving and the living is done…

I loved Between (1968). Maybe because its depiction of a life lived between people and places is one that seemed ideal, tho is also hollow, is also sad, is also lonely and boring and exasperating and dull.

There is no way to live well, with any introspection.

///

Between is the kind of novel that I could hate, but instead it is a novel I love.

Of everything I’ve read, it reminds me most of – imo a future Nobel laureate – Mathias Enard’s magnificent Zone, although structurally and linguistically it is very different.

Between is about, though is also not about, translators and translation, people who live, fuck and work in between languages, who are constantly and immediately hearing in one tongue and speaking in another, who lose certainty and stability through constant movement – from city to city, plane to plane, conference to conference, from predictible small talk and meaningless unfilfilling casual bang to predictible small talk and meaningless unfilfilling casual bang, Between is a novel about a life untethered, where even the moments and the elements that have freshness and unfamiliarity are rendered unexciting due to their familiar kind of unfamiliarity: when you’ve seen a hundred different cities how can one more be a revelation? When you speak and live in four languages, how can a fifth, a sixth, a seventh enrich it?

Are we where we are?

Where are we?

How do the places we are positioned in and the languages we speak confine us? How do they define us?

///

The text of Between is mostly in English, but it dips, often for words and clauses and sentences and paragraphs at a time, into French, into German, into Italian, into (these ones for shorter periods and never really full sentences) Portuguese, Spanish, Turkish, Greek, Romanian (I think), Latin, and – possibly – Serbo-Croatian. It’s polyphonic, polyglot but in a way that doesn’t feel alienating and confusing like in Finnegans Wake (autocorrect wanted to add an apostrophe in there before the s the fucking philistine phwah phwah), but in a pulsating rhythmic symphony of the sounds of moving around Europe.

Between is what it feels like to travel and to try to exist in a way that doesn’t feel stultifying, to hear words that you don’t understand, to see alphabets that don’t quite commute to you a word or even a sound that you can recognise.

With conversational (tho like unedifying conversation) Spanish, high school German, phrasebook French and Italian and the ability to recognise other European languages and thus context, Between doesn’t become a book that drowns a non-polyglot, in fact through repetition and translation from language to language and narrative context provided by the passages in English, there isn’t a lot of Between that is unknowable, and even when the language is something one cannot understand, that lack of understanding is almost always shared by someone in the narrative so failure to read fifteen languages never feels like an impediment to engaging with the work…

Between is about the gaps between translation and meaning, and thus it does not feel like – as tbh I felt when reading the more famous polyglot novel mentioned above (perhaps because it’s written by a straight white man hmmm?) – a failure to comprehend every single sentence limits an enjoyment of the novel.

Between is glorious, it is funny and it is serious and it is intelligent and articulate in English and articulate-seeming in several other languages.

It explores the sameness of difference, the hypocrisies and lacking imagination of the global population, it looks at how – as is a cliche to say, but it’s fucking true – there is more that makes us the same (as humans) than there is that sets us apart.

So. Yes.

Between is fucking excellent. Give it a go. If there’s even anyone even there to see me make that point.

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