Thursday, June 30, 2011

I know you can read 200 pages in 16 days

For most of us reading 200 pages is like a walk in the park. We aren't like those sad people who only manage to read a book a year.

So, there is nothing (and I mean nothing) to keep you from participating in International Anita Brookner Day:
  • I don't think any of her 24 novels are over 200 pages. If they are over 200, it can't be by much.
  • Her books are pretty darn easy to find in second hand shops and in libraries.
  • You have 16 whole days to read one and then write something about it in time for Brookner's 83rd birthday on July 16--and this in the year that marks her 30 years in writing ficiton.

And here is food for thought:
  • I know Brookner will not be everyone's cup of tea, but I have been amazed by some of the reactions I have gotten so far. One blogger wrote to tell me that she meant to sit down and read 20 pages in her first attempt to read a Brookner novel. Instead she had to pull herself away from it 130 pages later so she could eat something.
  • Perhaps even more amazingly, another blogger tried one Brookner novel and couldn't finish it. But then, somewhat reluctantly tried another one some weeks later and ended up loving it (hope I didn't put that too strongly). 
  • And then there is the blogger who reads mainly non-fiction who took IABD as a reason to read her first Brookner and she was very glad she did.
So what are you waiting for? Sixteen whole days to read 200 pages.

There are prizes!

You can include your pet!

There are almost no rules!

You don't have to be a blogger!

Be a part of Internet history! There is a dedicated website where your review, pet photo, or other Brookner-related posting will live on in perpetuity (or at least until Blogger ceases to exist). It will be the most comprehensive place on the web for blogger and blog reader reviews of Brookner's novels.

And if you have a blog, this is a perfect time for you to exhort your readers to be part of the fun.


Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Review: The Debut/A Start in Life

The following review was written by Sarah at Citizen Reader. I am particularly pleased that Sarah participated because she almost never blogs about fiction.

Anita Brookner's novel The Debut pleased me very much.

And that is the exact phrase I'm sticking with. I did not love this novel. It didn't really change my life. Although I will certainly read more Anita Brookner novels in the future, based on my experience of reading this one, I will not be running out to read everything she's written immediately (as I did with someone like, say, Helene Hanff). And there is something fittingly British, and even middle-aged, about the phrasing of "pleased me very much" that seems just right for this book.

It's a slim novel, at 192 pages, and, like its title, it was Brookner's fiction debut (the original British title was A Start in Life, which, here's a surprise considering my unconditional love for all things British, I think I prefer). It can be called an actual story in only the loosest possible sense: Ruth Weiss, looking back on her life from the vantage point of 40, explores how she came to learn that "her life had been ruined by literature."

The question I kept coming back to was, "But had it?" Or its corollary: "Shouldn't life be ashamed of itself, that it couldn't compare a little more favorably to literature?"

Brookner's protagonist Weiss relates her childhood spent loving books, watching the increasingly (but always quietly) volatile marriage between her parents deteriorate, and her young adulthood spent studying the works of Balzac in Paris. Along the way she tries to make friends, take lovers, explore the City of Light, and get out from under the thumbs of her completely selfish and childish parents (and their cook and servant, Mrs. Cutler, who only encourages their worst impulses).

But the story is not the story here. In fact, I can picture many readers, especially those more in tune with the pace of James Patterson and Lee Child-esque thrillers, becoming distinctly annoyed with the lack of action and overall story arc here. (When I worked in a bookstore, ages ago, my lovely boss loved Brookner's similarly languid novel Hotel du Lac, and I remember eavesdropping on his conversation with a friend who thought it was the biggest snoozefest ever.) So what pleased me about this book?

First and foremost, every now and then there is a line in it that sparkles. Absolutely sparkles. With truth and humor and resignation and all my other favorite human attributes. Lines like this, when Ruth asks a potential love interest to a meal at her house and is stressing out about what to cook for him:

She did not realize that most men accept invitations to dinner simply in order to know where the next meal is coming from. Her father, who could have told her this, had not. (p. 55.)
Oh, my god, it's brilliant. Centuries of annoying back-and-forth between the male and female sexes and how they do not and never will understand one another, distilled into one depressing sentence that is simultaneously exhilirating because it is steeped in truth. And how the encounter with this man ends is so, so perfect. Again, depressing as hell, and it will make you want to hit the man. But trust me. Those few chapters alone would make the whole book worthwhile, even if the rest of it wasn't.

The other fascinating thing to contemplate is how much of this novel came from life: Brookner herself has never married, and spent many years caring for her aging parents (as does Ruth Weiss). Does Brookner feel her life was ruined by literature? Or, because she didn't start publishing novels until she was in her fifties, does she feel literature reinvigorated her life? I wonder. And the wondering, combined with the fun of actually reading this novel, made this whole experience very satisfying. Anita Brookner's novel pleased me very much.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

My First Brookner

Florence taken by jgcastro on Flickr
He has lots of other great shots of Italy

There appears to be a gap between the way I remember first encountering Anita Brookner and the way it actually happened. The mythology that I have built up around my first meeting with the work of Ms Brookner is that I came across her novel Altered States on a bookshelf in my bedroom in a cheap but charming pensione near the Palazzo Pitti in Florence in October 1998. I remember it clearly because my friend Kevin who had never been to Europe before thought I was stealing the book, whereas I was operating on the international traveller's principal of take one leave one. (Although, in retrospect perhaps I did steal it. I just consulted my Books Read list for that time period and there is no way I had any of those books with me, let along left any of them behind. Unless maybe I left a book that I didn't finish reading, but that doesn't seem likely either. I guess I need to find that pensione again and replace the paperback I stole 13 years ago.

Lest you think I am a liar as well as a book stealer, I should note that the above did indeed happen. What is incorrect about this supposedly clear memory of my first Brookner, is that this stolen novel wasn't actually my first Brookner. I had actually read her novel A Friend From England in May of that year.

So why the faulty memory? Who knows. As I sat and puzzled it out tonight it occurred to me that rather than stumble across my first Brookner in Florence, I no doubt picked up my first Brookner A Friend from England at a used book store in Minneapolis because it had the word "England" in the title. My reading choices were pretty haphazard back in those days and I certainly didn't have a good handle on how to effectively slake my thirst for all things English so I needed such obvious cues to help me along. And I suppose that I had visions of what a book with the word England in the title should be like, and while Anita Brookner may be very English, it wasn't quite what I was expecting.

Part of the memory of my first Brookner novel was that I had a love/hate relationship with it. I remember thinking it so depressing and dreadful but also somehow compelling and enjoyable. But my overall impression was "no thank you, I don't need to read her again." But then of course something did indeed make me read her again. And once you get Anita Brookner, you get Anita Brookner. And that book from the pensione in Florence, although my second not my first Brookner, was the one that convinced me that I got Anita Brookner. And within a year of that second Brookner I read four more of her novels and continued on into the new century reading her back list with some speed.

So Florence may not be the city where I first met Anita Brookner, but it is certainly where I first began to appreciate her.

Crossposted on My Porch.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Review: Look at Me

This review of Look at Me was  originally posted by Simon at Savidge Reads.
Well, I admit that after a great first paragraph, with the brilliant first sentence ‘once a thing is known, it can never be unknown’, I was actually seriously worried that I was going to loathe ‘Look At Me’ from its first five or so pages. The term wading through treacle springs to mind, endless paragraphs on depression, melancholy, death and lunacy. It wasn’t looking good. Thank heavens then that I decided I would give it a first chapter then, because in a single page I was rewarded by some of the types of prose and characters that I have experienced and loved in Brookner’s work before.

‘That’, says Mrs Halloran heavily, after every other one of Nick’s disruptive visits to the Library, ‘is one hell of a man’, at which point Olivia asks her to be quiet and observe the rule of silence, and Mrs Halloran says, ‘Miss Benedict, why don’t you get a hold of that sodding offprint I’ve been asking for every day for the last month instead of telling me what to do? I don’t tell you what to do, do I?’

 ‘You just have’, says Olivia, who is never less than totally composed , and after that they subside for an hour or two, until dissension breaks out again over the matter of whether Mrs Halloran gets a cup of tea or not. Oddly enough, Olivia quite likes her, although I suspect that she finds her life in the Library rather painful at times. But she never says anything. How could she? Apart from her unspoken love for Nick, there is her unspoken dislike of his behaviour. Neither, of course, will ever register with him. It is when I think about this that I congratulate myself on not being in love with anyone. I am not in love with Nick. I am not in love with Dr Leventhal (difficult to imagine) or Dr Simek (even more difficult) or even with James Anstey, even though he is tall and ferocious-looking and presentable and not married and undoubtedly what Mrs Halloran would call a bit of a handful.’

That’s all I am going to give you in terms of plot because really with a slim volume of 192 pages, if I said too much I would give everything away and you wouldn’t then be put through the emotional (both high and low) wringer that Brookner has in store for you and that would very much be to the detriment of ‘Look At Me’. It’s a book you need to read in order to actually experience it.

I don’t know if that’s enough to satisfy you and ponder giving it a read but I do advise that you do. Brookner is on fine form (well after the initial hurdle) in this book and everything after the awkward start makes up for it without question. Frances is one of Brookner’s wonderful heroines who starts out a little acidic and brittle and yet slowly wins you over. It’s also interesting to watch a character like that unfold, and possibly even unravel.  I don’t know why but I think the fact that she is writer made me like Frances all the more. I did wonder if there was an autobiographical note to this book, maybe that’s just clutching at straws though. I also loved Nancy, Francis’ maid, who it seems loved Francis’ mother, who hired her, and far more than Francis did and won’t let her forget it. The background characters are always vivid and fully formed another thing I love about Brookner.

I know it’s not the longest review, but its not the longest of books – which makes it even more of an ideal read for giving Brookner a try if you haven’t already, or to take a tentative step. I am trying to think of the last time I started a book thinking ‘oh I don’t want to read this’ and ending up thinking ‘oh I don’t want this to end’. That is exactly the effect that ‘Look At Me’ had on this reader. It is such a shame it is out of print. I am only hoping that my further reading of Anita Brookner carries on in the same way.
So what is the subject of ‘Look At Me’? It is interesting that the initial part of the book that bored me with the descriptions of depression and melancholy are in a way what this book is about. In fact I think the best way to describe, our narrator, Frances Hinton’s life is a solitary one, and one that Brookner can do so well. Frances admits that her life is one lived very much alone, where she lives is ‘for old people’, and really for the main the most interaction she has is with her colleagues and that’s how she befriends Nick and his beautiful wife Alix and then becomes adopted as their ‘pet project’.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Review: Hotel du Lac

This review of Hotel du Lac was originally posted by Simon at Savidge Reads on July 27, 2009.

... I also bought ‘Hotel du Lac’ by Anita Brookner as I am slowly but surely determined to read through all of the Man Booker Winners and this was one that I didn’t own already. It being so short and having heard very mixed reviews I sadly admit that I wanted to read this straight away to ‘get it out the way’ which just goes to show you should always start a book with an open mind as you might just find a diamond before you. 

I absolutely loved Anita Brookner’s 1984 (I was two when this won) Man Booker Winner, seriously loved it. I can easily imagine this becoming a slightly underground classic in the future as the characters and story are just wonderful. Hotel Du Lac is the story of Edith Hope as she takes a break from the world and her writing of mildly successful romance novels. She has, it unfolds, been sent away by her best friend Penelope Milne who she is in disgrace of (along with a fair amount of her social circle) and would only be forgiven if she went to Switzerland to “disappear for a decent length of time and come back older, wiser and properly sorry”. If you loved that line, like I did, then you will love all of the wording and wit Anita Brookner provides throughout a mere 180 pages.

Of course you then want to find out just what disgraceful act Edith has been apart of and as the novel and her character develop you soon realise it could be more than one thing. Once she is in the hotel though you also want to learn about all the stories of the other random guests who are staying in Switzerland ‘out of season’.
There is the fabulous Lady X or ‘the lady with the noisy dog who smoked endlessly and ate only ice cream and cake’ who we learn to love and learn her real name is Monica, sent by her husband to stop eating and loose weight. We also meet Madame De Bonneuil who has been dumped there by her son who visits once a week whilst he and his wife, who hates her, spend all her money and live in her fabulous mansion. There are the fabulous and incredibly wealthy Iris and her daughter Jennifer Pusey who have come merely to shop… endlessly, and drink unbelievable quantities of champagne and gossip. They also like to think they are talk of the town and whilst Iris is her daughter Jennifer “inexpressive as a blank window” doesn’t seem to be following her mothers lead, though there is a dark twist where she is concerned. 

One final quest is Mr Neville who claims himself ‘a romantic’ and thinks he knows just what Edith needs to sort her life out if only he can show her. As the obvious romance story evolves between the two characters I was initially touched and then started to get very disappointed in where the novel might be leading. I shouldn’t have worried as Brookner pulls out a very final and very clever twist as well as finally letting us in on Edith’s past.

I actually hugged this book when I had finished it and really wanted to start the whole thing all over again. It reminded me of the wit of lethal wit, scandal and romance of a Nancy Mitford novel only with modern twists and turns. It also looks at the roles of women at a time, I am guessing it is set in the late sixties early seventies though you are never sure, when rules and ways were changing and they had more options yet weren’t really meant to use them.

All in all this was a short riveting funny and clever novel and what in my eyes isn’t what a Man Booker Winner is normally like. If the judges were to choose a ‘Man Booker Dozen’ filled with novels like this then I would read the whole long list without stopping...

Review: A Start in Life/The Debut

This review of A Start in Life was originally posted by Simon at Savidge Reads on April 7, 2010.

I was looking for something short and sweet to read the other day and after perusing my immediate TBR I was shocked that nothing new seemed to leap out at me (more on that tomorrow). I decided I would have a look at who I read last year and had been meaning to read again and decided on ‘A Start in Life’ by Anita Brookner. I really enjoyed her subtle Man Booker Winner 'Hotel du Lac' and so wondered if her debut novel would have the same success with me.

‘A Start in Life’ is really the tale of Ruth Weiss and as we meet her she seems to be undergoing some sort of mid life crisis all of which she blames on literature in the wonderful opening line. ‘Dr Weiss, at forty, knew her life had been ruined by literature.’ From this point of her realisation of this we are taken back through Ruth’s childhood at Oakwood Court, her schooling days, life in London and Paris and onwards meeting her family friends and lovers along the way to find out why.

There is a plot to the book as it is based on one woman’s life and the experiences she has. However its not plot driven, really it’s a book that through some rather wonderful characters looks at many different themes. For example through George and Helen, Ruth’s parents, you are given the story of both the aging process and some of its perils and marriage as it goes through several decades. Anthea who Ruth meet’s at school illustrates the varying emotions, protectiveness and competitiveness of friendship. Through Ruth’s varying relationships we see differing views of love and their effects on people.

It’s the characters their backgrounds and wit that Brookner gives to them that make this such a joy to read. Ruth’s mother is hilarious and a complete scene stealer which is apt as she is a retired actress. With her looks faded she now spends most of her days in bed with some alcoholic drink and the memories of her fame and beauty. She does venture out of bed now and again, though slightly begrudgingly and always dramatically, and always gives you wonderful lines. One of my favourites was after meeting Anthea and being delightful the whole way through she turns and says ‘she has the soul of an air hostess’ there are many, many to choose from though. In fact one line which made me laugh out loud was about Helen ‘she was feeling much better herself, and allowed an extra sleeping pill as a treat.’

In fact really to show you just how good Brookner is, and remember this was her debut novel, with characters I found a brilliant short description of the Weisses new live-in maid that sums a person up in a paragraph. ‘So they got a woman in, a Mrs Cutler, ‘our darling Maggie’, as Helen instantly called her, a wry, spry widow, quick to take offense. She served meals at unpunctual intervals, so that Ruth always found herself too late or too early, kept the radio on while she worked, and smoked all day.’ Brookner does this with characters quite often or will cause a situation where one line or action defines a character who is new into the story.

I can see why some people say that Brookner should have been writing in the 1930’s because it has that feel and charming appeal. I think this book is actually set between the 1960’s and 1980’s but it could be right now even though it was written in 1981 (it’s aptly called ‘The Debut’ in the US). I am really shocked to discover that many of her books are now out of print because with stories and characters like these they are begging to be discovered. Maybe I should start some kind of Brookner campaign?

If you haven’t read Brookner then I think you should definitely give her a try, I will definitely be reading much more of her work over the coming months as when I was allowed to bookshop, all those months ago, I had a lot of second hand success with Brookner and got lots of books, including this one, for 50p each, a bargain for such a pleasurable read. I am hesitant to say I have found a new favourite author but it mightn’t be far from the truth. Who else has read Brookner and loved her (if you didn’t your not welcome in these parts ha, that’s a joke) what other books of hers should I try and find?

Review: A Closed Eye

This review of A Closed Eye was originally posted by Thomas at My Porch on November 26, 2010

Having now read A Closed Eye, I have only one of Anita Brookner's 24 novels left to read. Hopefully the prolific 82-year old Brookner will keep writing, but as her output slows (she no longer writes a novel a year) I have come to a certain pre-emptive peace with the reality that it can't go on forever. One of the reasons for my sanguinity is that her shortish novels are all so packed with nuance and emotion that they seem like the perfect books for re-reading.

I have often commented that I am not so good at distinguishing between Brookner's novels. On the surface they all seem to be very similar. Inevitably the characters are loners who seem to get a sort of exquisitely painful pleasure out of their self-imposed isolation and their inability to connect emotionally with those around them. They all speak at least a little French, usually have flats in London, spend the majority of their time walking the streets, and seem to be waiting for sleep and/or death.

All of these things are present in A Closed Eye, yet I think it is the most different of all Brookner's novels. Protagonist Harriet Lytton rages against the inertia of life like no other Brookner character in my memory. But true to Brookner's fach, Harriet's rage is silent and largely unacted upon. So intensely does she want her daughter Imogen to capture all the life she herself has missed that she fails to do anything about her own situation. She accepts, in fact encourages (albeit silently), Imogen becoming spoiled, self-centered, and insufferably intolerant of her. And although, like most other Brookner heroines, Harriet's life is once of complacency, surrounded by death and depression and feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, she does at least have old school friends that form a support network. And Harriet makes at least one bold move that separates her from the typical Brookner model. And in the end--so subtle that one could miss it--there is a glimmer of hope.

There is something about these bleak books that not only fascinate me but comfort me as well. I recognize that there is something about the isolation that I find alluring. But I have opined before that I am also drawn to these characters because they are cautionary tales. Perfect examples of what I don't want to become. A typically bleak scene:
Suddenly there was nothing for her to do. Freddie ate lunch out, so she made do with a sandwich. She could have taken a long walk, for in the early days of her marriage she had keenly regretted her lost liberty, but now that she was older she preferred to stay indoors and look out of the window. There was little to see in the quiet square; few people passed, and if she saw anyone she knew she retreated instinctively.
So what of the plot? There is one, there always is with Brookner. But the details and the emotions are so much the point that plot doesn't really matter. And for once I have an answer to the question: "Which Brookner should I start with?" I have never been able to answer this before because of the sameness of Brookner's novels. For those that think you would be predisposed to like this kind of book, you can start anywhere. But for those of you who aren't sure, you should start with A Closed Eye. It contains enough action that it could unwittingly ease you into the depressing, but cosy, warm-bath-water-world of Brookner's fiction. Like slipping into a coma.

On the other hand if you are prone to depression you might want to steer clear of Brookner entirely.

(And for reading fiends out there this one has lots of little references to literary works.)

Review: Providence

This review of Providence was originally posted by Thomas at My Porch on May 15, 2010.

I thought I knew Anita Brookner. Before reading Providence I had read all but 3 of her 24 novels and was fairly confident in the knowledge of what I would find when opening any given Brookner. Without exception her novels are somewhat thin volumes with direct, spare language that focus more on internal thoughts than any external action. Her characters are usually financially secure, upper middle class, academically inclined loners, often without the need of work, who seem to drift from one emotional disappointment to another. Or more accurately, who drift around a single emotional disappointment for 200 or so pages. Her characters never really quite experience tragedy, but the entire arc of their lives could usually and fairly be characterized as tragic.

Describing her work as predictable and depressing could give one the idea that I don’t like Brookner’s work, which isn’t the case at all. And there are some who may think I overstate the case or am entirely off base. I know I am certainly oversimplifying, but to me, after reading 21 of her novels over the course of the past 15 years, I have never really thought much differently than what I describe here. Brilliant, powerful books, but also brilliantly and beautifully depressing. I often describe Brookner’s characters as people who never act but are rather acted upon. Usually solitary women who suffer from almost crippling emotional intertia. Joy or happiness are not words I would apply to Brookner’s work.

So I was more than a little surprised in this, Brookner’s second novel, to discover a world that seemed to me to be very different than any other Brookner I have read. All the emotional paralysis and sad, lonely characters are in place, but in Providence Brookner has created a character who actually attempts to make something happen in her life. Kitty Maule is a scholar of the Romantic period and is profoundly, and mostly unrequitedly, in love with a colleague and she is determined to seal the deal.

But the more I thought about it, the more I began to understand that despite Kitty actively trying to shape her future and develop some outward momentum, her emotional momentum doesn’t really keep up. Little of the external realities seem to impact her internal reality. So maybe this Brookner, at least at a fundamental level, is not really so different after all. But the details of Kitty’s daily life certainly feel different than most of Brookner’s other sad protagonists. At least in this one I’m wasn’t silently yelling at the character to take the bull by the horns. Well, at least not as much as usual.

Reading this, you might think that I don’t really like this (or any other) Brookner character, but there are at least two things that really make me enjoy them. The first is that I like reading about their solitary existence because it appeals to the OCD loner in me. Despite all their angst, their worlds are quite tidy and well ordered. But orderly lives can be lonely lives. The overweening need for peace and quiet and unruffled feathers can often lead to a detachment from others that is ultimately not terribly fulfilling. So the part of me that isn’t basking in the peace of solitude of a Brooknerian life is standing on a proverbial table shouting at the characters to engage life before it is too late. I think I love them because they are cautionary tales for my own life. A “there but for the grace of God go I” sort of thing.

I have no doubt that if Anita Brookner were to read this “review” she would probably sue me for malpractice. I am sure she didn’t write these brilliant, wonderfully nuanced books to have them reduced to “she writes about sad people”. But, there it is. I love her anyway. I guess when you are famous you don’t get to choose your fans.

(And speaking of sacrilegious literary exegesis, I read one analysis of this novel in a book called Understanding Anita Brookner by Cheryl Alexander Malcolm. I know that my analysis might be crap, but I sure didn’t agree with Ms. Malcolm’s take that the whole thing was just about Kitty trying to fit in and be English.)

So tell me, why you haven’t read any Anita Brookner yet? You will either love her or hate her, but you need to find out sometime.

Review: Incidents in the Rue Laugier

This review of Incidents in the Rue Laugier is provided by Erich Mayer. At 81, Erich is two years younger than Brookner and is an organic walnut farmer in Wallace, Australia, about 90 km out of Melbourne. He is also the father of Brookner scholar Peta Mayer.

The writing is most compelling and insightful and the characters so real, that we squirm at their discomfiture and glory in their occasional bouts of near happiness. It is a sad book in which the main protagonists, like the blind man’s dog, are aching to fulfill their destinies, while building almost impregnable cages around themselves and thus severely restricting their future choices. Largely self-imposed cages of constriction from which there is, for them, no escape. Yet at least one of the main characters builds a cage which becomes more comfortable and spacious with time while another character builds a cage which increasingly constricts and stifles.

Why people should voluntarily limit themselves in the way Brookner describes so vividly is not explained, perhaps because there is no need for explanation as all of us are constrained by circumstance, by our environment, our inheritance and our abilities as are Brookner’s ever-so-real people.

Also brilliantly displayed is the undertone of cultural difference and underlying similarity between provincial French life and a pseudo-suburban English way of living. Yet the miserable imperative of a suitable marriage as the ultimate, the supreme, the unquestioned goal both for young women and young men in both cultures is starkly evident and brilliantly described.

Many, many things make Brookner such a great novelist, not least the seemingly unforced beauty of her language and the subtlety with which she is able to convey mood. We understand the love and hate relationship of the two sisters and their temporary and later final reconciliation.

We are captivated by the irresponsible charming rake while simultaneously sharing our dislike of him. We find it hard to put the book down as we become deeply and personally involved with many of the people whose ordinary lives somehow become utterly fascinating.

Perhaps it is unfair, maybe even stupid, to call this a sad book. So many people in the book are less than happy most of their lives. And yet we see at the end, so briefly and amusingly sketched, the hope that for a later generation the cage may be so big as to be almost unnoticeable, and that for some in old age may be found a tranquility and enjoyment despite life’s disappointments.

Originally posted at My Porch.

Review: The Bay of Angels

This review of The Bay of Angels comes from Wendy Mayer in Wallace, Australia. Besides being a fine writer, she is the mother of Brookner Scholar Peta Mayer. Wendy's reviewing abilities put my own pedestrian reviews to shame.

The Bay of Angels is Anita Brookners’s twentieth novel; it was published in 2001, twenty years after her first novel. If it had not been written by Brookner, it would have likely been simply identified as a ‘coming of age’ novel, or an exploration of the ‘generation gap’ rather than the tender, thoughtful evocation of a warm and close relationship between a mother and daughter. As the narrator, it is the daughter’s voice that charts the experience of growth and change in their lives.

In The Choice of Hercules, British philosopher A. C. Grayling discusses the notion of friendship between a parent and child:

Friendship is the ultimate aim of parenting too, for the mark of success here must ultimately be to produce independent adults capable of managing themselves in life.  A mark of success in this would be the development of genuine friendship between parent and grown-up offspring.

Brookner’s novel covers this terrain, contrasting the varied approaches to life of the different generations, but as the responsibility for family decisions inevitably shift from the mother, Anne, to the daughter, Zoe, the need to express these differences becomes apparent. The opening pages review the calm pleasure of their early lives together after the mother’s premature widowhood. Zoe enjoys school, her friends and the atmosphere of calm in the flat they live in when she returns home. She is aware that her mother may be lonely, but they both share the pleasure of reading. The tranquility of the flat is occasionally disturbed by visits from ‘the girls’, women married to distant cousins of Zoe’s father. Zoe does not refer to Anne as anything other than ‘my mother’ until page twenty, reflecting how Zoe views Anne – her identity is delineated by her role as a mother.

The Bay of Angels explores the developments in the relationship between the women as they grow up and age. In doing so, Brookner draws out the different approaches to responsibility taken by individuals operating in diverse social environments. As an adult, Zoe’s horizons widen and change, but even while experiencing these differences, the bond between mother and daughter survives and remains strong.

Characteristically, Brookner also skilfully explores the impact of ostensible minutiae on people’s lives in The Bay of Angels. Nobody but Brookner could so effectively utilise an obsession with plastic shopping bags to communicate a sense of these women’s identities, of rushed dishevelment and disempowerment. She builds very real characters as she establishes the inner differences between people, their insecurities and embarrassments that form a part of everyone’s lives.

In The Bay of Angels, Brookner beautifully creates and explores the development of a genuine friendship between a parent and her adult offspring. Such a background provides Zoe with the tools to manage her own life satisfactorily. It is not a book about a prototypical ‘hocky mom’ and her progeny, but rather a description of the different pains and pleasures suffered and enjoyed during the lives both of her protagonists and her readers, and it thus brings to life Grayling’s ‘mark of success’ in parenting.

Originally posted at My Porch.   

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

IABD: Winners get to choose their prize!

We are just slightly over a month away from International Anita Brookner Day on July 16th. For those of you who have yet to begin the very, very easy challenge of participating in IABD, this is meant to be a kick in the pants. Remember all you have to do is read one novel by Anita Brookner by July 16th and then post about it on your blog or send me your thoughts/reviews and I will post them on here.

All winners will get the paperback of their choice from the huge selection at The Book Depository.

Remember, you don't have to have a blog to participate and win.

One prize will be given for each category:

Best Review

Best Brookner Related Musing  (non-review)

Best Picture of your pet reading Anita Brookner (this can be interpreted loosely)

Participation Prize (random draw from those who didn't win any of the other awards)

The fine print:
  • Prizes will only be considered for those who submit their writing/picture or link to their blog post to my email address. This is the only way I can ensure that everyone who wants to be included is.
  • You must notify me no later than 11:00 PM U.S. Eastern Daylight Savings Time in order to be eligible.
  • All entries will be posted on here on this website. 
  • Co-host Simon of Savidge Reads and I will be the judges.

***SPECIAL REQUEST: If you are a blogger submitting, please when you submit the link to your review/music post via email, can you also copy and paste the HTML draft of your review/musing in its entirety in the body of your email. I know in Blogger when you are editing a post you can click on the "Edit HTML" tab and then copy every single bit of info there and past it into the body of your email. Hopefully other blog platforms allow you to do likewise. This will greatly help streamline getting your post up on the IABD website.***

What are you waiting for?  Get reading.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Review: Hotel du Lac

This review of Hotel du Lac was originally posted by Julia at Pages of Julia Blog on April 30, 2011.

This is a book about a woman named Edith Hope, who at the start of the novel, arrives at the titular hotel for a medium-length stay on the coast of Lake Geneva in Switzerland. She seems to have been sent away from her home in some disgrace by friends and cohorts, but it’s not altogether clear why. She also seems to have a very passive role in her own indefinite exile. It’s odd.

Edith’s new life at the hotel is quiet and slow, which is not unlike her home life; she works on writing a romance novel (her umpteenth) and socializes by listening to women with larger and not entirely attractive personalities who are also ensconced. She writes letters home to a married man who was or is her lover – it seems to be past-tense – but it’s not clear that she mails them. She’s generally a passive and quiet person. I felt it was so descriptive of her that
…the action startled her, as if her plans had been made final without her having reached any conscious decision.
It’s a generally quiet book. There’s very little action, just musing. And it is depressed, if not depressing. But it is insightful and very funny, too. Brookner’s choice of words is extremely cutting, articulate, and rare. I point you towards a recent post in which I marvel at the line, “not drowning, but waving.” Indulge me with one or two more:
[The schoolchildren] were not given to excess or noise, and once the ship had left the shore they were summoned into the glassed-off observation lounge by their teacher for some sort of lesson. Obediently, they turned like swallows and left Edith and Mr Neville alone on deck.
Only one of many instances in which silence is discussed. It’s a theme. Or, how curious is it that such a coldly civilized man as Mr Neville would say,
Please don’t cry. I cannot bear to see a woman cry; it makes me want to hit her. Please, Edith.
It’s a strange, calm, quiet, leisurely, literary novel in which not much happens, but it’s such a luxurious joy to read it slowly, and go back and re-read. I failed to note where Brookner wrote that
The company of their own sex, Edith reflected, was what drove many women into marriage
and had to go back looking for it; and re-reading 50 pages was pleasurable, not at all a chore. The book might be read as a statement on love or marriage, but I feel like this subject matter is incidental; to me, it’s more of a book of tone, of language, and of character sketches. (How fascinating is Mrs. Pusey as a creature?) It could be about anything.

This book is beautiful. I want to read more Brookner. Will I do so before IAB Day? Who knows; there’s lots to read in my world. But I will definitely read more, eventually. She’s a real treasure.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

What is International Anita Brookner Day?

The Case 
Thirty years ago next month, Anita Brookner had her first novel, the aptly titled A Start in Life (or The Debut in the U.S.) published at the tender age of 53. An art historian by profession and author of works of nonfiction, she has managed to produce an additional 23 novels since that first one. So in 30 years Brookner wrote 24 novels, that's 0.8 books per year including the 1984 Booker-winning Hotel du Lac. In my humble opinion each one is brilliant in its own quiet, often depressing way.

The Plan
On July 16th (Brookner's 83rd birthday) I will be hosting International Anita Brookner Day.* I don't quite have the details worked out and more importantly I have yet to come up with a cute, clever button to go along with it. But it is going to be great. Expect prizes.

The Intent
My hope is to get more people to pick up at least one of her 24 novels and give it a try. I know some of you have already read some Brookner, but it seems like there are many more of you out there who have always meant to read something by her and just haven't. Well now is the time. Brookner may not be for everyone, but you have to find that out for yourself.

The Ask
No big commitment. Just read at least one Anita Brookner novel between now and July 16th. Then either come to My Porch on July 16th to tell me what you thought of the book you read or post a link to your review or other Brookner-related post.

***SPECIAL REQUEST: If you are a blogger submitting, please when you submit the link to your review/music post via email, can you also copy and paste the HTML draft of your review/musing in its entirety in the body of your email. I know in Blogger when you are editing a post you can click on the "Edit HTML" tab and then copy every single bit of info there and past it into the body of your email. Hopefully other blog platforms allow you to do likewise. This will greatly help streamline getting your post up on the IABD website.***

Bloggers, once I have my clever graphic ready I am hoping some of you will help me spread the word even if you don't plan to participate yourself.

*As a citizen of the world I felt it was completely appropriate for me to declare July 16, 2011 International Anita Brookner Day. Simon Savidge may be cohosting, he was the one who first put the idea in my head.

13 March - UPDATE
Simon Savidge will indeed be cohosting International Anita Brookner Day. And, I finally came up with a button that I think is worthy of the day. Hopefully you will agree and use it liberally.