We’ve had lines and shapes – let’s look at numbers. I’ve written a novel in 88,888 words; a novel about a mathematician in 28 chapters (28 is a perfect number) – both still in the bottom drawer –  and a published novel (Whitebait & Tofu (UK) (USA) in 107 sections – why 107? Because 108 is a complete number for a reason explained in the novel – so why didn’t I write it in 108 sections? Again the answer to that puzzle is also in the book.

I was reminded of these kinds of games ( inessential but…very satisfying when you pull them off) that some of us like to play when I read the obituaries this morning. The novelist Christine Brooke-Rose died in March aged 89. Who? The great author of A ZBC of Ezra Pound among other works (Great title). She too played games. Her novel Between was written entirely omitting the verb ‘to be’. Her autobiography, Remake, was written entirely without using the first person. Her novel Amalgememnon was written entirely in the future tense. I love her already.

However, there is one number – actually a whole range of numbers – that I detest. I absolutely abhore any number greater than 200,000 appearing in the following sentence: Humans emerged as a distinct species around _______ years ago. You read it all the time – the assumption that humans were walking this planet one million years ago. Now it is true that various homo species (No! Not that!) existed several millions of years ago: Here is Wikepedia:

Humans (known taxonomically as Homo sapiens,[3][4] Latin for “wise man” or “knowing man”)[5] are the only living species in the Homo genus. Anatomically modern humans originated in Africa about 200,000 years ago, reaching full behavioral modernity around 50,000 years ago.[6]” 

But this means Neanderthals were not humans; Peking Man was not a human. They were hominids. Homo erectus and Homo habilis did live millions of years ago and spread widely across the Eurasian land mass but they are not humans – OK?

Can we have agreement on this – or do we have to get a UN fact finding mission to sort it out? It’s irritating details like this (numbers!) that get my goat. My goat was last got this morning as I read Colin Wilson’s The Occult. Now I like Colin Wilson – or rather, I like the idea of Colin Wilson. If you remember he was the self-educated young enfant terrible (can you have an old enfant terrible?) in the 1960s (?) -[just checked (always check!) – actually 1956] – when he published his book The Outsiders. 

I love the idea that someone with simple fire, grit and a bit of the maverick about him/her can produce work that is new and thrilling and sells loads – it is, after all, what I aspire to. Sadly, it’s a bit late for me to be an enfant terrible! A dotard terrible, perhaps?

The problem is that Colin Wilson is wading in deep waters with his accounts of magic and other stuff in that vein – this book is 750 pages long and I too, at page 200, am drowning. What on earth is he saying? What is the purpose of it in the grand scheme of things that he is conjuring up? It’s too much and much of it is nonsense. Let’s take incest, which is all I can remember of the book right now (200 pages and all you can remember is incest? I’m afraid so.). He sets himself up against Claude Levi Strauss who argues very reasonably (I am speaking as a one time student of Social Anthropology) –  that the incest prohibition is really explained by the need to engage in gift linking with other groups. The unmarried girls are the gifts. No, says Colin Wilson, that’s not it. The reason is that ‘primitives’ (his words) do instinctively understand that intermarriage will lead to a genetic weakening and so must be avoided. Hmm? Assertion isn’t demonstration or proof of anything – it’s not even an argument, frankly. And there is too much of that kind of thing, I’m afraid, in The Occult. And he’s not a great stylist either sadly so I, for one, was not carried along.

Why did I start to read the Occult? Because of the death theme – leading to the hereafter – which is why I started taking an interest in obituaries which reminds me: Don’t you just hate it when they don’t tell you why someone died? OK, at 89, as with Ms Brooke-Rose, we can accept old age as sufficient. And indeed as I read through the obituaries in this morning’s Times, I find that person after person is said to have died of cancer. I am always sad when I read this. There is a voice in me that wants to scream: If only they had read my cancer book they would have… But it’s a waste of breath, frankly. But if you want to respond to my question: Is dying of cancer optional? go to

And while I’m on the subject of facts: I discovered many years ago that a typical Guardian article (and sadly, the same goes for The Observer) tells you what the attitudes and conclusions are without providing the facts so you can form your own opinion. There, that was fermenting for some time. The Guardian is certainly on my list of Most Annoying Things.

So: Numbers? When your number’s up, it’s time to go. And I am this minute going to see what it will cost me to buy a book or two of Christine’s. Perhaps we should form a fan club? Any takers?

P.S. I have just had a quick browse of Ms Brooke-Rose’s books on Amazon and sadly, I won’t be joining any Christine Brooke-Rose Appreciation Club. Sorry. So it seems that I don’t like Ms Brooke-Rose – but I do like the idea of her!

About Jonathan Chamberlain

I am a novelist and creative writer attacking all genres indiscriminately - Dreams of Gold (humour) - Alphabet of Vietnam (literary suspense) - Whitebait & Tofu (noir suspense) - Wordjazz for Stevie (memoir) - King Hui (biography) - Chinese Gods (cultural analysis) - The Cancer Survivor's Bible (self-help) My literary blog is In Praise of Older Books see My Fighting Cancer website is My cancer information archive is at
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1 Response to Numbers

  1. nialld says:

    neat writing and condensed with ideas -so much so i needed to read twice x 2 partly because i Two is one of my favourite numbers; one is another and gets lots done but the compromise of two is …..well a compromise and means having to get things done in another way that is satisfying in a very homo sapien sort of way …see you soon I hope niall

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