The calm of Reynard Langrish’s quietly predictable life is shattered when, on a night of rain-swept storm, a stranger – a young soldier called Captain Archer - appears at his remote Kentish cottage. He takes Langrish to an ancient hill fort and introduces him to the men under his command, all of whom share a mysterious tattoo – two snakes entwined around a drawn sword – and are engaged in preparations to defend against a nameless menace, referred to only as ‘the Emergency’.
As the dreamlike narrative rapidly accelerates into Kafkaesque nightmare, Langrish is drawn into a world where illusion, paranoia, and reality unite with lethal consequences, and disorienting shifts of time and perception culminate in a terrifying moment of pure horror.
Originally published in 1950, The Image of a Drawn Sword is steeped in the themes and images that occupy much of Brooke’s writing – the relentlessness of time, suppressed homosexuality, condemned love, self-hatred, and futility; and, above all, an England that was both real and uniquely his own, a mystical, half-known natural world.
‘In its way not inferior to Kafka . . . [it has] a haunting, sinister quality’ – Anthony Powell
‘Seldom have naturalism and fantasy been more strangely merged’ – Elizabeth Bowen
‘He is subtle as the devil’ – John Betjeman
‘The skill and intensity of the writing made peculiarly haunting this cry of complaint on behalf of a bewildered Man’ – Pamela Hansford Johnson, Daily Telegraph