Colm Tóibín

  • Profane Friendship by Harold Brodkey
    Cape, 387 pp, £15.99, April 1994, ISBN 0 224 03775 7

One of the early chapters in Harold Brodkey’s first novel The Runaway Soul is entitled ‘The River’. The narrator, after his father’s death, returns to a landscape which he had known in early childhood. Some of the prose is plain and clear: ‘At the mouth of the stream, where it emptied into the inlet, under willows, lay a very large, ungainly river dinghy. It was greenish and heavy, made of thick and heavy pieces of wood, scarred and scratched, peeling and warped, moored to a ring in the trunk of a willow.’ But Brodkey sets out in this book to find another language, broken and fast-flowing, to slow down experience as it is rendered in fiction, to make it more exact and true, to establish, if he can, the way in which several things happen in the mind at once, the way in which sensations come not single spies but in battalions.

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