Brolliology is not, blessedly, one of those ambitious tomes that purports to explain the whole of civilization via some quotidian element such as salt or coffee. Instead, Rankine deftly combines a sociological touch with a survey of the umbrella in literature from Defoe to Roald Dahl and beyond ... The color illustrations throughout Brolliology are marvelously selected and reproduced, leaning heavily toward the opulent style of commercial illustration common to Edwardian Britain. And like the umbrella itself, which seems in some essential way both eccentric and comical, Rankine’s book has a very English affect — both amused and amusing, droll in temperament, maybe slightly dotty. The performance is so polished as to skirt weightlessness. One comes away from Brolliology with a quiverful of cocktail-party-ready facts ... best of all, Brolliology offers the feeling of having consumed something delicious but light: a tea sandwich, perhaps.
Rankine is not claiming to bring much new research, but she is a thoughtful anthologist of the diverse literary examples she collects. Not content for her book to be merely quirky, she mixes her brolly facts with strong feelings about shelter, containment and changefulness ... Rankine has taken a series of photographs of abandoned umbrellas lying limp in gutters and at kerbsides, spokes jutting out, coloured canvas slicked with mud. One feels, for a moment at least, her attraction to the sad, soaked relic of what was once a welcoming shelter, or to the near-animate presence of a handle protruding from a bin. Perhaps it’s not so surprising that the Japanese imagined old umbrellas to have lives of their own.
Marion Rankine’s delightful Brolliology: The History of the Umbrella in Life and Literature unfurls the world of umbrellas, instilling an unexpected appreciation for these handy accessories in its readers. The book is also filled with illustrations and plenty of fascinating facts to pull out when conversation lulls—say, at a holiday dinner when you’re seated next to your wife’s boss.