Brooke – no, not THAT one… or THAT one… THIS one

January 21, 2008

What are you reading?

Jocelyn Brooke.


That pretty much sums up what happens when you mention the author that mysterious and enchanting mid-20th century masterpiece The Image of a Drawn Sword – even assuming the person who you’re talking to has some pretensions to literary knowledge. It certainly would have been my response until recently. Like much of his writing, Brooke’s reputation seems to have inhabited a fog-bound, liminal world, cut off from this one, gesturing towards but never achieving fulfilment –

…the focal centre of that land remains
Unstable, undefined; the pathways cross
And recross, the landmarks shift, and in the evening
The mist like an infection creeps
Through the drenched thicket,…


The privacy and quietude of his life have persisted beyond his allotted span and into the digital age; his scant ghost barely even troubling the supposedly infinite library of the internet. His self-declared futilitariansim has become self-fulfilling prophecy; like those who hold themselves back at parties, Brooke has been taken at his sardonic, slightly self-deprecating word and is ignored. It seems probable that he is better remembered among the botanical community than the literary one – his lifelong interest in orchids made him slightly more than an amateur expert.

There have been attempts at rehabilitation – Anthony Powell was a sympathetic spirit – but these  seem to have failed. There have been reprints, but they haven’t stuck; his brief flowerings have been too delicate to last.

Good job then that those eagle-eyed clerks over at The Midnight Bell have over their lunchtime pints given him the nod, with optimistic prognostications as to future reprints.

Here’s to that.

God I want a beer…

Is it too early?


Anyway – I want to write a LOT MORE on Brooke, but personal experience teaches me that I don’t read anything over a certain length on a computer screen and it seems wrong to burden potential readers with expectations of tenacity and concentration that I am not myself capable of fulfilling. I shall save it for another entry.