Anita Brookner’s Look at Me, my first of her books, rewards persistence, though occasional sentences, very infrequent, just clang: “In any event, he was, as the police say, helping them with their enquiries.” Often such a sentence is enough for me to add a book to the bag I keep by the door, ready to go, when full, to my local charity shop.
I was in ruthless mood after persisting with a Fleur Jaeggy book that proved unrewarding. Testing my deflated reaction after finishing the Jaeggy, one review described it as “entirely sufferable“, another commented on the tiresomeness of its “vague profundity“. Both reviews seem broadly on target though entirely is an overstatement. I found the last Jaeggy I read equally insipid.
But Brookner is more interesting, capturing the casual cruelty between people exceptionally well. Unlike Rachel Cusk one senses Brookner as participant in her story of loneliness and love rather than voyeur. It is an utterly English story, wrapped in the hesitancy and froideur of its people.
Oh, you are very hard on Brookner. I read her in the 1970s and 1980s, and she pitilessly showed her readers what the world was like for mostly single women living mostly isolated lives in London. She is a hard-boiled novelist of hard-boiled woman mostly unheard and unwanted. She does have only a few themes, and only a few kinds of characters, but she always hits the mark. That ‘clangy’ sentence you cite is probably a case of free indirect discourse, where it is spoken as if in the head of a character, and shouldn’t be blamed on the writer! Hope you read ’em all. Annie J.
Was I so hard? I enjoyed Look at Me very much and fully intend to read more of Brookner’s books. I’ve got A Start in Life to read next. Her protagonist in this story is sufficiently sophisticated and intelligent that even as free indirect discourse, it doesn’t ring entirely true. But such instances are very infrequent, as I wrote. I thought I was harder on Jaeggy, who I have no plans to read further.
I’ll concede your point about FID — I was amazed that I even remembered that category! But I am now glad to be reminded of her and think I will do some re-reading myself! AJ
Do you have a favourite Brookner, Annie?
I recently re-read A Start in Life. Early Brookners can be clunky in places – issues with focalisation and so forth. Try some of her late novels from the 2000s. http://brooknerian.blogspot.co.uk/2017/01/starting-new-year-anita-brookner-way.html
Thanks. Look at Me wasn’t very clunky, a couple of jangly sentences is all. I’ll take your advice though. From reading your blog, I rather think I’d enjoy The Bay of Angels, so I shall order that one.
I really like A Family Romance, and Hotel du Lac, (which was later made into a lovely film starring Anna Massey( but looking through a list of her books, I see that I can’t remember any of the plots, so I suppose I would be happy re-reading any of them! In any event, I am going to pick one up tomorrow!
So pleased to have inspired your rereading. I’ll read those you’ve suggested. Thanks, Annie!
Bay of Angels surely comes in as the bleakest Brookner ever, if you like that sort of thing. I do.
I rarely go wrong heading for the bleakest novels.