Anita Brookner's first novel appeared in 1981. Since then she has published it again, slightly altered, almost every year. It is a remarkable feat. Nor is it irrelevant to what she has to say, for quiet persistence is part of what her fiction affirms. The same characters, the same situations, the same histories of seclusion and distress appear over and over again. Lonely children are brought up in exiled families. The middle-aged become helplessly old, and eventually die - often from cardiac disease. Violence is rarely a threat in Brookner's etiolated world, but hearts constantly give way. The central characters are fastidious, scrupulous and articulate. They exhibit no worldly ambition, though their taste and intelligence are indisputable. They wear respectable clothes, carry clean handkerchiefs, know a great deal about painting and literature, and are formidably perceptive about the forces that have defeated their lives. They are widowed, or have never married, and are generally childless. They spend time in France, Germany or Switzerland, often in lakeside hotels, in misty weather, overwhelmed by memories of irreparable mistakes. Doleful alliances between disappointed women are common - mothers and daughters, sisters, disenchanted friends. Their comforts are modest, but uncompromising. Anita Brookner is always persuasive on the solace of a cup of good coffee. No sensible reader would venture to offer her Nescafé.
LRB 27 June 2002 | PDF Download