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Tuesday, April 11, 2006


From Brother Unkept, a review of Douglas Martin's Branwell: Novel of a Bronte Brother:

In Branwell, his luminous, cameo-like new novel, Douglas Martin (Outline of My Lover) pays homage to this unlikely subject, creating a moving and evocative portrait of a boy doomed to enter history as a sad footnote to his sisters’ lives.


This kaleidoscopic structure does not, however, lend itself very easily to straightforward storytelling, and the one area in which Martin seems to falter is in conveying the less-than-poetic stuff of everyday history. Little actual information manages to break through the novel’s vague, poetic fugue. Events and personages come and go without explanation, and a reader who does not understand the unelaborated references to the Brontë sisters’ various literary attempts, to their journeys and infatuations and failures, might find the novel overly cryptic. Likewise, no clear map (temporal or otherwise) is provided upon which to chart Branwell’s hazy, impressionistically described wanderings. What seems to be the novel’s most central episode, in which Branwell is dismissed from his post as tutor to a boy with whom he has possibly fallen in love, is also its murkiest: allusions, euphemisms, and fantasies combine in a way that is lovely and sinister, yet also totally baffling. It could be argued that this mysteriousness has its merits, contributing as it does to an overall atmosphere of darkness and uncertainty, but at times one wishes for a little less lyricism and a little more clarity.

I would agree with this. Readers may recall that the publisher sent me a chapter before the book was published, and I reviewed it here. In short, I found it hard to believe that it wasn't a rough draft. On the post the publisher comments that it is the finished work. Unlike the reviewer above, I am not convinced that 'such criticisms are futile.' Now and then it did seem genuinely poetic but the bulk of what I read just seemed like filler. It comes across as poorly written, purposefully confusing and pointless. I have not read the rest of the work but judging by the above reviewers statements, I believe the rest of the work would give me the same impression. I had hoped I was mistaken.

I have also been the only person to comment on the treatment of Anne, which is surprising. She appeared in the chapter I was sent, but only to be put down. She's not as good as Branwell, and she lisps. That's Anne.

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