Monday, April 21, 2008

Why Weeps the Brogan? by Hugh Scott

I would be lying if I said I found Hugh Scott’s Why Weeps the Brogan? consistently gripping and entertaining. In fact, for a book that struggles to fill 100 pages of a back-pocket-sized paperback, it often feels like a bit of a drag. However, this isn’t because it isn’t interesting, but because it is incredibly frustrating.

I’m afraid I’m going to have to frustrate you too now, as I can’t really tell you why it’s frustrating without spoiling the entire book. All I will say is that Hugh Scott drops you in the middle of a strange, alien situation, with rather sketchy, fragile characters. The initial pages are less of a story and more of a puzzle, where you, as the reader, have to decode the world you’re presented with. Although this in itself doesn’t take very long, figuring out why these characters are in this world, what’s happening to them, and of course, why weeps the Brogan, takes virtually the rest of the book. There is a lot of repetitive action, which, in its apparent futility, takes on the feel of a Beckett play. The dialogue is likewise playfully and wilfully incomprehensible at times.

It’s a masterful work of science fiction and human drama and ends with a nasty, sickening twist. Travelling up the hill on the #59, my stomach kicked and flipped when I read the end, after which, everything that has come before is cast into sharp relief. It shook me up as a twenty-five year old. Had I been twelve when I’d read this, I think it might have turned me upside-down.

Why Weeps the Brogan? won the Whitbread in 1991, yet is now no longer in print. I find this depressing, but hardly baffling. There are no quick access points into this book. Though brief, it’s an intense, yet often dull, reading experience. It most definitely cannot be made into a global-selling series or licensed onto stationery, backpacks or t-shirts. It confounds reader’s expectations of the narrative, and offers a wholly shocking, yet satisfyingly unsatisfying ending. It can probably only really be re-read once, for as soon as you know the answer to the question, Why Weeps the Brogan? your time with the book is arguably done.

But as a brilliant mystery, an exercise in narrative, and proof of the force and power of such taut, uncompromising writing, it is a gem. Weird, alienating, and yet by the end, all too human and all too terrible, Why Weeps the Brogan? is about as uncommercial as a children’s book gets, whilst also getting probably as good as it gets. This is quality writing.

I often bore my friends with a review of the children’s/YA book I’m reading and more often than not, they politely nod and ask me what I’d like to drink in the hope conversation will turn to something more grown-up/bawdy/bitchy etc. But with Why Weeps the Brogan? I’ve got people reading it, or at least asking to. My boyfriend already knows too much about the story, but the strange, ill-formed impressions I gave him halfway through my reading, alongside the fact that the ending made me feel sick, is enough for him to ask to borrow it. (And it’s very short. And he’s just finished Philip K. Dick) My good friend, let’s call him Dylan, both because he drinks like Dylan Thomas and looks like Dylan Moran, has ordered it because I couldn’t tell him anything about it, except to say the ending made me feel oddly sick. And my other friend, a cohort in the children’s book publishing business, read it for the same reasons I did – because nobody would tell us what it was about, except that it was essential, and would leave you with your heart rammed in your throat.

So, read it. I can’t tell you what it’s about. But like some other of life’s pleasures, it will make you gasp, shudder and (here’s a rare one) think.

For those of you who are interested, on Thursday, Portishead at Brixton Academy were polished and proficient, but alas, sadly, not as glittering or ethereal as they were in my head. Roseland or Glastonbury, clearly, were better gigs. And they didn’t play All Mine. However, my companions at the gig were second to none, bona fide, brilliant people, which made it rather lovely.

Also this week, Jean Luc Godard’s Weekend had me a-chuckling and entertained most of the way through. My initial feelings about Fritz Lang's Metropolis were confirmed; stylistically magnificent, ideologically naïve. Destination of the week is The Illustrator's Cupboard on Bury Street nr. Green Park tube station. A big thumbs up also goes to another old fave, Polly Dunbar's Penguin, after a fresh pair of beautiful blue eyes made me look at Polly's delightful illustrations anew. And song of the week is Under My Thumb by The Rolling Stones. Because I am.
Not under my own thumb of course. That would be weird.


At 27 April, 2008 08:44 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

hey love! i had no ida you'd started blogging again - but i'm desperately glad you have! And you will probably be pleased to know that unless you can lend me Why Weeps the Brogan *and* Henry's Tumour, i will now be spending far too much money on children's books...

I *hate* Under My Thumb. For probably obvious reasons. HatehatehatehateHATE. But if it makes you happy...

At 05 November, 2012 18:04 , Anonymous Elizabeth said...

As someone who has read this recently, can you tell me if my vague memory of it being in the British Museum is correct, or total nonsense?


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