Harold Brodkey an appreciation

This is about “The Runaway Soul”, a novel that was almost universally slammed on publication  and has now disappeared into almost total oblivion. Critics felt it was unreadable and/or too self-obsessed for its own good. Only John Fowles, Salman Rushdie and I ever read it and liked it. Rushdie’s view is that you’ve got to read every single sentence (no mean feat) to appreciate it.

What I like about it is that it conveys precisely what it’s like to be alive.  I was mesmerised by the brilliant use of language as Brodkey describes living in the moment (the “clattering now”) and have kept that sense of being caught up in time’s flow ever since. Few books have changed my life but this one certainly did. Some of the characters are really well drawn, from a WASP patrician who embodies imperial America to a little girl who probably killed her brother.

I’ve never understood the reception this book received other than a kind of inverted snobbery and a reluctance to engage with  anything that might be challenging. It’s brilliant. Read it.

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7 responses to “Harold Brodkey an appreciation

  1. Thanks for highlighting Brodkey on your blog. I, too, have noticed how he tends to get a bum rap. Perhaps it’s due in part to his near agony-inducing ability to attend to “precisely what it’s like to be alive,” as you put it. Some readers would rather have certain things simply glossed over, I guess… His story, “Innocence,” is one of the most brilliant pieces of short fiction I’ve ever read. You should check it out if you haven’t already.

  2. Nobody’s reviewed it on Amazon either. But DM Thomas seems to have liked it. You’ve sold me. I’ve just checked the database and my local library has it in stock. I’ll let you know how I get on with it!

  3. Sarah, thanks for agreeing- it’s good to know that there’s someone else who is a fan. Although his ability is agony-inducing it’s also unique and compelling. I haven’t read any of the short stories- is “Innocence” from the fifties or is it later?
    Jason, well done, are you a Brodkey virgin?

  4. There’s a conspiracy. Trundled off down to the library this morning but the book wasn’t on the shelf. Had the staff hunting all over and they finally worked out that it hadn’t been checked out since 1992. Chances are someone’s nicked it. They’ve now tagged it as a missing copy. I’ll pick it up at some point.

  5. It’s definitely a conspiracy, what is it about the citizens of Brighton that they’ve ignored a major post-war novel for 17 years?

  6. Every single page of “The Runaway Soul” is filled with some of the most amazing sentences ever to be written in our language.

    http://www.taintmagazine.com/index.php?dept=Archive&work_id=94&arc_needle=brodkey

    and also

    http://www.badgerinternet.com/~bobkat/brodkey.html

  7. And those amazing sentences portray a world that is truly radiant

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