Thru by Christine Brooke-Rose

Wednesday, February 2, 2011 § 0

Thru by Christine Brooke-Rose: The Avant Garde Typo(ling)uistic Novel in the Classroom

A Book Review by 
David Detrich

Thru (1975) by Christine Brooke-Rose, included in the Christine Brooke-Rose Omnibus, is an innovative novel written by the British novelist who taught in Paris. Thru is written in spatial form with the page becoming a visual play of meaning, with the use of parentheses which create an awareness of the words within words, with the arrangement of individual letters on the page, and with notes on the linguistic theories of Ferdinand de Saussure used in a classroom lecture. Since Thru the avant garde novel has become something to be discussed in a university classroom, where linguistic theories have inspired the writing of novels, with the discussion of Semiotics, Structuralism, and the sign as signification.

O but handsome all told whatever all is and who ever tells a young god yet the lower eyes lie blue to the tarnished replicas higher up the brow which whoever speaks (Nourennin?) calls too low.
                                                          Christine Brooke-Rose

Looking in the mirror is one of the main themes of Thru, with the image showing someone looking through, and now a "handsome" face, the face of a "young god," and even the face is a work of art with blue shades, and "tarnished replicas," where the reader can imagine a sophisticated art image: a photographic superimposition of images, blue tints, and the idea of make up.

entering a         roomful of          freshmanfaces          floating audio
visually over    rectangular        tables minds             into which you enter 
                                                          Christine Brooke-Rose

The students become the main characters of the novel, interacting with the narrator who is teaching the class, as the classroom lectures become the subject of the novel. This is metafiction that reflects the reality of the theoretical novel, a genre that exists in the context of the university: the graphic design shows the experimental spirit that inspired the writers in the years before 1975, with the novels of Tel Quel, and the book designs of Jacques Derrida, while Thru is closer in to the novels of Maurice Roche, with innovative variations in design on each page.

Well then I found myself with a magician on a helluva stage as his stooge you know in tights and a sequin bodice and my bust like it was busting tight out of it and I was handing him colored scarves
                                                         Christine Brooke-Rose

There is the narrative about a woman with a "sequined bodice" on stage, which becomes a plot line that is parallel to the classroom drama, and which represents the narrator's first person perspective with erotic memories of a "bust like it was busting tight out of it," which parallels the thoughts of the appreciative reader, who enjoys the intertextual allusions to the "tightness" of her act.

Christine Brooke-Rose: Probably, yes. Itʼs a little exasperating to be told all the time that one is difficult and unreadable, but also donʼt forget that my path had to go through "Thru," which is a very special sort of unreadable book. I had to write it because—there I was teaching narratology and being a writer. The contradiction, the tension, was such that I had to write "Thru," which is a novel about the theory of the novel. Itʼs the most self-reflexive novel that itʼs possible to write. Itʼs a text about intertextuality, a fiction about fictionality. But it is very difficult and I knew that I would be rapped on the knuckles. Still, I needed to write it, I needed to send up the structuralist jargon, also to use it as poetry, to use the very jargon on narratology as metaphor, in a way, to deconstruct it. Itʼs a very Derridean book. In fact, all the things it spelled downwards in the beginning, announcing certain themes acrostically, are straight out of Derrida. I was influenced by Derrida at the time, but I didnʼt want to do just a deconstruction of realism. . . . Yes, that really is a very difficult novel. It was almost written tongue-in-check for a few narratologist friends. I never thought it would be accepted. It was something I had to do. My publisher loved it; at least my editor loved it...
                                           A Conversation with Christine 
                                           Brooke-Rose By Ellen G. 
                                           Friedman and Miriam Fuchs

The reader of innovative fiction loves a novel that uses typography in a creative way, particularly the acrostics inspired by the writings of Jacques Derrida, and other writers, such as John Cage, have used acrostics, and mesostics as a way of structuring poetic works.

Christine Brooke-Rose has written a novel that brings eroticism to the theoretical novel, so that Thru becomes a model of what the avant garde novel written in English could become, with the introduction of the classroom to scene of writing, a metafiction for writers of metafiction, a self portrait that brings poetic language to narratology.

David Detrich lives in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan where he has just completed The Convergence of Two Narrative Lines Ascending, an ultramodern Surrealist novel written in minimal squares. He is working on Dream the Presence of the Circular Breast Starfish Topography, a monumental Surrealist novel written with innovative typographical design. His first novel Big Sur Marvels & Wondrous Delights (2001) is available from Amazon. He is the editor of Innovative Fiction Magazine and Surrealist Star Clustered Illuminations.

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