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.

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