A formidable voice is no longer with us. Christine Brooke-Rose, one of Britain's foremost experimental writers, has also been one of the most deplorably neglected. Yet, as her close acquaintance Roland Barthes said, it is only once the voice loses its origin that writing may begin. Was Brooke-Rose ever really with us?
Born in January 1923 in Geneva to an English father and a Swiss-American mother, Brooke-Rose was brought up in Brussels speaking English, French and German. The linguistic crosscurrents were to feature heavily in her work, fictional and critical alike, giving her a keen ear for the commonalities of utterance, and also securing her a position translating decryptions of the Enigma code at Bletchley Park during the second world war. After completing a PhD in medieval French and English philology at Oxford shortly after the war, she began to write fiction in order to combat the stress induced by the near-fatal illness of her husband, the Polish poet Jerzy Peterkiewicz. Her first novel, The Languages of Love, was published alongside her scholarly study A Grammar of Metaphor, in the late 1950s. As a critic in the Empsonian line of the time, she is lively and crystalline, testing out the academic lacerations to language that would comprise her artful, prankster lyricism.
It was her own serious illness in the early 60s, however, that prompted the turn away from her first four comedies-of-manners novels, and from the literary orthodoxy of postwar Britain. Upon recovery, she claimed to have attained a different level of consciousness – "a sense of being in touch with something else" – and the solitary hours confined to her bed produced the highly wrought novel Out (1964), inspired by the nouveaux romancierAlain Robbe-Grillet (whom Brooke-Rose later translated). Following her move to a volatile Paris in 1968, to teach linguistics and literature at the Université de Paris VIII, she never again wrote a novel that didn't risk some breach of the realist contract. Lauded by Frank Kermode as the "sole practitioner" of narrative on the British side of the channel, hers was also a style denigrated as "resplendently unreadable".
Yet in all the hardball of her lipograms, jargons, and typographical play – often likened, much to her discomfort, to the work of her British compatriots Ann Quin and BS Johnson, as well as French counterparts George Perec and Philippe Sollers – her prose is also intensely funny. Her novels prod at literary pretention: Derrida is 'Cramping / HIS styl us' in Thru (1975); in Xorandor (1986), a pebble Lady Macbeth attempts to blow up the world; famous literary characters gather in Textermination (1991) to pray for their continued existence in readers' minds. Brimming with all the "affrodizzyacts" of misaligned references, deliberate malapropisms and tricksy puns, she makes us realise that the true pleasure of language is not in recognition, but in the delight of discovery. As she claimed in 2002, "I've always tried to avoid the expected word."
I was due to meet and interview her in a matter of days. Flights booked, winding bus route plotted – I'd even wrapped a bottle of sherry in brown paper – to Cabrières d'Avignon, her home for the last three decades. She was prolific to the last. And her relevance will be lasting. The "passionate concern for language" may have been entirely her own, but her language-games were designed to be played. She was as much with us as against us. If she has taught us anything, it is that shifting curiosity is the very lifeblood of language. And literature must make us work for the reward. So, says Brooke-Rose: "Let us play: there are more theories in heaven and earth."
Christine Frances Evelyn Brooke-Rose (16 January 1923 – 21 March 2012) was a British writer and literary critic, known principally for her later, experimental novels.
Christine Brooke-Rose was born in Geneva, Switzerland to an English father and American-Swiss mother. She was brought up mainly in Brussels, and educated there, at Somerville College, Oxford and University College, London. During World War II she worked at Bletchley Park as a WAAF in intelligence, later completing her university degree. She then worked for a time in London as a literary journalist and scholar. She was married three times: to Rodney Bax, whom she met at Bletchley Park; to the poet Jerzy Pietrkiewicz; and briefly to Claude Brooke. On separating from Pietrkiewicz in 1968 she moved to France, teaching at the University of Paris, Vincennes, from 1968 to 1988. After she retired she lived in the south of France.
During Brooke-Rose’s time at Bletchley Park “assessing intercepted German Communications”, she mentioned how being exposed to that otherness, helped her in constructing her journey into becoming a novelist, making her aware of the “viewpoint of the other”. In 1968, Brooke-Rose crossed the Channel, by this time Brooke-Rose had already separated from her second husband, Claude Brooke, this added to what was “Brooke-Rose’s third marriage”. Whist teaching “linguistics and English literature at the University of Paris”, in 1975, she became “professor of English and American literature and literary theory”. In 1988, Brooke-Rose decided to “settle down in a village near Avignon”, after deciding to retire from teaching in 1988. 
Her novel Remake (1996) is an autobiographical novel:
- It is an autobiographical novel with a difference, using life material to compose a third-person fiction, transformed in an experiment whose tensions are those of memory -- distorting and partial -- checked by a rigorous and sceptical language which probes and finds durable forms underlying the impulses and passions of the subject. It is not a simple process of chronological remembering. Remake captures not facts but the contents of those facts, the feelings of a war-time child, the textures of her clothing, tastes and smells, her mother, an absent father, a gradual transformation into adulthood.
She shared the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction for Such (1966).
She was also known as a translator from French, in particular of works by Robbe-Grillet.
- Gold (1955) poem
- The Languages of Love (1957) novel
- The Sycamore Tree (1958) novel
- A Grammar of Metaphor (1958) criticism
- The Dear Deceit (1960) novel
- The Middlemen: A Satire (1961) novel
- Out (1964) novel
- Such (1966) novel
- Between (1968) novel
- Go When You See the Green Man Walking (1970) short stories
- A ZBC of Ezra Pound (1971) criticism
- Thru (1975) novel
- A Structural Analysis of Pound's Usura Canto: Jakobson's Method Extended and Applied to Free Verse (1976) criticism
- A Rhetoric of the Unreal: Studies in Narrative and Structure, Especially of the Fantastic (1981) criticism
- Amalgamemnon (1984) novel
- Xorandor (1986) novel
- Verbivore (1990) novel
- Stories, Theories, and Things (1991) literary theory
- Textermination (1991) novel
- Remake (1996) autobiographical novel
- Next (1998) novel
- Subscript (1999) novel
- Poems, Letters, Drawings (2000)
- Invisible Author: Last Essays (2002)
- Life, End of (2006) autobiographical novel
- Brooke-Rose Omnibus (2006)
- Christine Brooke-Rose and Contemporary Fiction (1994) Sarah Birch
- Utterly other discourse : the texts of Christine Brooke-Rose (1995) Ellen J. Friedman and Richard Martin
- Nicoletta Pireddu, "Scribes of a transnational Europe: Travel, Translation, Borders," "The Translator" 12 (2), 2006: 345-69
- Verbivoracious Festschrift Volume 1: Christine Brooke-Rose (2014) G.N. Forester and M.J. Nicholls.