I suppose that the only reason for reviewing My Brother’s Book in Books for Keeps rests on the author’s fame in Kiddiebookland (a term he loved to hate). Those adults engrossed by his virtuosity and his hermetic ramblings from the days of Kenny’s Window (1956) onwards will relish another challenge, but, as the publisher hints in a press release, the thing has hardly been conceived with child readers in mind. It may well be though that the inventive responses of the young will make more of the work’s eccentricities than does querulous age. This particular sclerotic reader is baffled by the whole affair. A star smashes into Earth separating Jack from his brother Guy and carrying him off to Arctic chill where ‘his poor nose froze’. Guy, for his part, swoops around in the air till he drops down to ‘soft Bohemia’ where, of course, one may be pursued by bears. Just such a one has a mystic riddling contest with Guy the result of which resolves the tension of the brothers’ parting. Guy bites ‘that nose – to be sure’ and Jack comes to sleep ‘safe in his brother’s arms’.
So what goes on, folks? Why are the brothers transformed into the heroes of We’re All in the Dumps to which no other reference is perceptible? Why is A Winter’s Tale invoked, which Stephen Greenblatt informs us in his Foreword haunted the author’s imagination in the last years of his life? Why do the rhythms of Sendak’s hieratic verse keep going wrong making ‘the story’ even harder to appreciate (towards the end he awkwardly says ‘who’ when ‘whom’ is demanded by both grammar and euphony)?
Puzzle as you may over the near-Blakean obscurities of these emanations, you ought nonetheless to admire the Blakean vision that informs the illuminations opposite each page of the text. True, the bear has a Sendakian magic about him, but the linear energy and the astonishing chromatic landscape of the brothers’ journeyings – rocks, spiky explosions of light, showers of vegetation – these will give you a narrative that satisfies more cogently than what the lame words say. Where WOULD Sendak have travelled next?