Book Review

THRU by Christine Brooke-Rose

Christmas Brooke-Rose Quadrilogy day 4/4

Part Four of the Christine Brooke-Rose Omnibus

And so I have come to the end of this massive book of Christine Brooke-Rose, and tho Thru didn’t fill me with love and excitement like Between did – which is probably one of the better “experimentalist” novels I’ve read over the past few months of returning to the wider fringes of that era and circle – I certainly enjoyed it more than the first two novels in this compendium and I laughed a lot. And I like to laugh. Hahaha. Funny. Humour. Gags.

Thru covers similar ground to Between, in terms of content. It also looks at love and sex and linguistics and forms of communication, but rather than the use of polyglot text to show and explore the absences, limits and complexities of expression and understanding, Thru uses concrete poetry/visual poetry/non-standard textuality. Writing appears in circles, in tables, in the shape of petals peeling off a flower (or maybe an onion that’s been left in the cupboard too long and when you cut into it all of the layers have like weird gaps between them – you know what I mean, probably, I presume anyone reading this also has time to cook – if you don’t, and you’re instead reading this instead of stabilising and organising your life into more sustainable patterns, then I advise you to walk away and go cook a nutritious, flavourful meal. I might post a recipe below. I won’t, I’m typing this on the tube and thinking about eating while stood here tightly packed and probably contracting some awful air bourne (or polyester bourne) disease. By even having the skin of my hands exposed to fingertipbang my phone screen I’m probably imbibing scabies via the knuckle. Yuck. There’s a man behind me with a moustache and a pleather jacket that looks like it cost less to produce than a tube of toothpaste who is drinking an off-brand energy drink. It is terrifying the way that people choose to live.)

Sorry. Eurgh. THRU.

There is some Italian scattered about, the odd sentence of French or Spanish or German or whatever, but never is it as important or as central as non English is in Between. Here, the main narrative takes place in an educational institution, the kind of institution Brooke-Rose herself taught in for decades, in a theory heavy, structuralism-focused linguistics department. Although I do have two degrees, I know very little about theory in general and structuralism more specifically, but this is something that my lover (an academic) lectures about on the regular, so the names of the people Brooke-Rose is referencing and gently, teasingly, mocking are familiar to me from overheard lecture run-throughs and, more crucially, seen on spines in the sections of our shared bookshelves that don’t predominantly contain volumes and volumes of mentally ill middle class alcoholics writing about how sad they are. Boohoo. Life isn’t easy. (I highly recommend the pleasure of regret (by me) if you – or someone you’re gifting to this holiday season – also like whingy slice of life woe is me (woe I am) books).

There are handwritten sections, there are sections that contain writing by students interspersed with feedback given from a tutor that is presented as non-punctuatiom-delineated dialogue.

There is metatextual stuff around what is real and what isn’t real, about who and how books and writing and texts are created and who by… it is a structuralist exploration of “the novel” from a structuralist adjacent perspective. Teasing, as I said above. Mocking, but affectionately, rather than bullyingly. Like a university or a sixth form pantomime – these are “in” jokes, and tho some of them remain funny to an outsider, I imagine to an insider – i.e. a structuralist academic – they must be absolutely freakin’ hilarious.

Thru is a funny book, but it’s not as generalist as Between, tho it’s full of references to popular and intellectual cultural history and texts, and is a lighter read (for me, at least), than Brooke-Rose’s earlier novels included in this collection, which were – for me – a little too dense to be pleasurable.

All told, I loved Between, and Thru I enjoyed significantly while seeing how and where/when it too could be loved.

Absolutely no regrets in reading The Christine Brooke-Rose Omnibus cover-to-cover, and tho there’s only one of these novels I can see myself ever coming back to, at least half of this book contains novels I would definitely recommend to others.

A great collection: thank you, Carcanet, for keeping the Brooke-Rose fires burning!

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