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The King of a Rainy Country by Brigid Brophy

The King of a Rainy Country (edition 1990)

by Brigid Brophy

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645186,178 (3.94)11
Title:The King of a Rainy Country
Authors:Brigid Brophy
Info:Virago Press Ltd (1990), Edition: New Ed, Paperback, 281 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:general fiction, Virago

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The King of Rainy Country by Brigid Brophy



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When I came across this old VMC in a seaside second hand bookshop I pulled it out to look through it – never having heard of the author before. The lady serving in the shop noting my choice said ‘ooh I haven’t read Brigid Brophy for years’. Although the slightly bizarre cover art didn’t exactly speak to me – I bought the book. So often it is these random, spontaneous buys that turn out to be among our best acquisitions.

The King of a Rainy Country – was Brigid Brophy’s second novel. As the author explains in her afterword to this edition, the novel does have some autobiographical elements, especially in the characters of Neale and the first person narrator Susan. Brophy creates a fascinating world of both London Bohemianism and European glamour, suffused through with humour, depth and for me moments of poignancy. I absolutely loved it.

“O I’m so afraid that it’s true about to travel hopefully being better than to arrive. It might be all in the quest, all in the search, all in the anticipation. When it came, there might be nothing there.”

In this brilliantly stylish, witty novel Brigid Brophy introduces us to the world of two post war impoverished bohemians, Susan and Neale. As the novel opens Susan is moving in with Neale – although their relationship is somewhat ambiguous. On the day she moves Susan manages to secure a badly paying job, working for a definitely dodgy bookseller, coincidently in premises directly across the road from the flat she will be sharing with Neale. The proprietor Finkelheim is a distinctly odd man, his name an assumed one, it isn’t long before Susan discovers his chief trade is in pornography.

On days when Finkelheim is absent, Susan invites Neale over to spend time with her during the afternoons, the pair start examining some of the stock. Leafing through one of Finkelheim’s books Susan is taken aback to see a nude picture of Cynthia – a girl she had known at school, and for whom she’d had complicated feelings. Seeing the picture of Cynthia brings back memories of Susan’s adolescence at school and her all too brief friendship with Cynthia.

“The memory was quite sharp, but distant. It was like a small photograph in which, if I tried to enlarge it, the detail blurred outwards into nothing. The four of us were there in the sunlight, miniature figures in school blazers: myself a short compact child, with a fringe of dark hair across my forehead, large eyes and a tiny, very white-skinned nose; my satellite, Gill, a still smaller girl, monkey-like in her way of moving and her sense of humour; Annette, tall, thin, unsuitably named, colourless in hair, face and personality, who accompanied Cynthia everywhere; and Cynthia everywhere; and Cynthia herself.”

Neale is quick to embrace the mystery of what happened to Cynthia, where is she now and how did she end up in the pages of that book? Susan becomes determined to find Cynthia, her faltering investigations even taking her to visit her former headmistress. Susan and Neale decide to pursue their quest for Cynthia wherever it might take them. They discover that Cynthia is probably in Venice for a film festival, and so Susan and Neale feel they must follow her there.

Giving up the flat and leaving their belongings with a friend they manage to secure jobs as couriers to a coachload of American tourists journeying through Italy – a tour which will finish in Venice. First time couriers – the duo encounter difficult passengers, eccentric coach drivers and engine trouble as well as breath-taking scenery. There are lots of joyfully comic moments, including a passenger who will only sit in seat number 13 or sleep in room 13- so in one hotel the digits of room 31 have to be hastily reversed.

There is a definite shift in mood in this section, from the first part set in London, but for me that shift doesn’t in anyway jar or feel unnatural – which must say something I suppose for the skill of the writer. The tour ends in Venice, and Neale and Susan freed from their courier duties begin to look for Cynthia – and find her quickly and almost accidentally.

“Neale brushed Cynthia away. He talked with his head bent side sideways, watching Helena Buchan. In the darkness, her gaze apparently fixed on the table top while she listened, she was like the audience to a play we were giving in a small lighted circle. She was outside the arc. We could only project our words towards her, sensing her attentiveness from her silence and immobility; from the dimness there came to us now and then a rustle, occasionally the sound of a spoon against a cup, often a laugh – unexpected by us, because we could not see its preliminaries on her face.”

Having met up with Cynthia they are introduced to Helena Buchan a famous singer, and her friend Philip. Loves and loyalties between the group – who almost immediately start spending more and more time with each other – begin to shift and change. This third section of the novel is quieter, echoing with the ancient beauty of the city of Venice. There are lots of beautiful ambiguities in this novel, some surprises and an ending of quiet tragedy and absolute perfection. ( )
  Heaven-Ali | Dec 12, 2015 |
1956 British novel about a drifting young couple of sexually ambiguous London bohemians, by the genre-defying Brigid Brophy. Last seen as a Virago Modern Classic in 1990, now republished by youthful indie fanzine types Coelacanth Press. This edition also comes with a couple of new introductions, helping to argue why this dusty old novel - and Brophy herself - are worthy of wider attention today.

I'd compare it to the later films of Lindsay Anderson, in that it feels both incredibly British, but also very European, trying to kick back at its Britishness at the same time as commenting upon it. There's doses of dazed Camus-style existentialism, plus a hint of Muriel Spark and Beryl Bainbridge's autobiographical works about bright young women in the post war era. It also echoes the genre of gay coming of age novels, and even a touch of the Beats when the location moves to Italy.

Although it's not as experimental as her later works (eg In Transit), I was particularly impressed by Brophy's device of carefully omitting the narrator's own name throughout the whole book, except at one crucial moment (as far as I can make out). ( )
  Dickon.Edwards | Jun 30, 2013 |
First published in 1956, this is the (partly autobiographical) story of Susan, living in an ambiguous relationship with Neale in London. Money is short; Susan works for a dodgy bookseller. Browsing through the soft porn he deals in, she comes across a picture of a girl she went to school with and once had strong feelings for- Cynthia.
Hearing that Cynthia is now in films, they decide to try to meet up with her at a film show in Venice. This is achieved by getting themselves employed as holiday couriers, taking a group of awful American tourists through Italy...much comedy and lovely descriptions of the country.
Finally they meet up with Cynthia and also the famous opera singer, Helena Buchan.... ( )
  starbox | Oct 25, 2012 |
This book is one of my dearest books because I sent it out on BookCrossing -- and it went all the way to Iran and came home! It's also a swell book, very English, very low-key, very funny. Neglected, I think. ( )
  JandL | Jun 13, 2008 |
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For MICHAEL LEVEY my husband
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I had been scared for a fortnight.
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In this captivating novel the stylin Brigid Brophy portrays the impoverished bohemianism of young Londoners during the post-war years. Susan, workiing for a distinctly dubious bookseller, is in love with the elusive Neale but still obsessed with the memory of Cynthia, a rangy beauty from her schooldays. Their fumbling detective work reveals that Cynthia is due in Venice for a film festival and, in a richly comic odyssey, they journey there as couriers. Cynthia is found...and they also meet the famous singer, Helena Buchan. The ensuing shifts of love and loyalty recall the Mozart operas for which Helena is renowned, and whose music hauntingly threads the latter part of the novel. Here is love, poverty, friendship, betrayal and enlightenment. Even a breath of tragedy serves only to underline the laconic wit and optimism of this vivid and intelligent novel.
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