AMALGAMEMNON by Christine Brooke-Rose


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Brooke-Rose, all but unknown in America (her last US publication was The Dear Deceit, 1961), is a British professor/translator whose later fiction has moved from conventional satire to experimental narratives--influenced by Beckett, Joyce, ""metafiction,"" Nabokov, and the nouveau roman of Robbe-Grillet. (Her four most recent titles: Out, Such, Between, and Thru.) Here, in a brief, dense, discursive yet tightly ironic monologue, a literature professor named Sandra muses on her imminent ""redundancy,"" on the spreading poison of the electronic culture, on feminism and terrorism and the death of humanism. ""I shall soon be quite redundant at last despite of all, as redundant as you after queue and as totally predictable, information-content zero,"" Sandra begins. She imagines seeking a new job by seducing ""the suave and portly man at the National Education Computer."" (""If he were someone in a nineteenth-century novel I might ironically detach him."") She anticipates a call from her current lover: ""Will his seduction always mean her reduction producing the inducement to reduce back, rather than fungame of equals in a futureless world and not as need, could sex as open-eyed choice of half a mind to opt for other riches from time to time unheaded unmanned unpersoned not yet be deemed also a woman's privilege now despite the viceversatile myth of man's deep independence?"" Imagining a future world where children may choose to bear their mothers' surnames (or their fathers'), she produces a funny ""alternate family"" tree. And the narrator's gnarled ruminations soon go on to include fanciful alter egos (especially the doomed seeress Cassandra), mini-plots derived from classical literature and ancient history, swirls of contemporary politics/culture (rock-stars, guerrillas), economics and science. Is the result nearly unreadable and less profound--in confronting the interrelated decline of language, history, civilization--than it means to be? Yes, on both counts. Still, in her wide-ranging allusions and her high/low comic energy (from witty, rhyming subtleties to groan-worthy puns), Brooke-Rose is more appealing than many purveyors of the ""anti-narrative""--and this is a worthy, modestly rewarding challenge for connoisseurs of extravagant, hyper-intellectual wordplay.

Pub Date: March 29th, 1985
Publisher: Carcanet--dist. by Harper & Row