Despite her self-doubt, Michelle Foong from Selangor, Malaysia has provided a review of The Bay of Angels as good as any blogger.
Hope I am not too late in submitting my entry! Just managed to finish my first Brookner two hours ago, phew.... I am not a fast reader plus I lack the discipline to stick to one book before dipping into another (I get distracted easily by the lure of other books calling out from the shelves.... )
Anyway, I am so very glad that you and Simon had set a date for this event, thus forcing me to somehow get down to finishing the book in a week! That's a record of sorts for me :p
Okay, enough preamble, let's get to the book.
Given a choice, I would have liked to start of my acquaintance with Ms. Brookner through Hotel du Lac. Not simply because it was a prize winning book, and that would somehow suggest a promise to showcase Brookner in one of her best forms, but because I was genuinely interested in the themes the storyline seemed to offer. But as providence would have it, I stumbled upon an almost pristine copy of The Bay of Angels at a books clearance sale and got it for only RM1.20 (that's equivalent to about 0.40 USD!) Although the blurb on the back of the book didn't quite interest me and it wasn't the kind of story that I would go for, the cover of the book certainly did otherwise (and let's also not forget about the price .....)
And so, that is how it came to be that my first personal encounter with Ms. Brookner's brilliance, is by way of the Baie des Anges.
I am not a blogger. Neither am I good at writing reviews. Therefore, I shall leave it to those who are better skilled and more eloquent to do so for the book. They will probably do better justice to the book than I can. What I would like to share instead, are my thoughts and the reading experience it gave me. It was probably not merely by chance that I ended up being "made" to read The Bay of Angels despite my initial feelings about how the storyline would not appeal to me much. I say this because once I had started reading, I began to realise how well I could relate to the feelings, the thoughts and the emotions of Zoe, the protagonist in the book.
Like Zoe, I too have a clear understanding of what it feels like to be alone. To find comfort and safety in solitude. To lead a life that seems "not the norm" and maybe even "pitiable" or lacking, in the eyes of those whose value systems are different from ours, those who equate happiness and contentment with what the world in general defines it to be. The ability to put on the right masks at the right time and place, in order to blend in and not invite any further unwelcomed scrutiny. And like Zoe, I too have felt the constant antagonistic struggle between the trappings and burdens of familial duties and the yearning for freedom. But unlike Zoe, who in her own words "has no belief in God", I do. And it is because of this, that I can be alone, and yet know that I am not alone. I can have little, but with contentment, yet find that it is great gain. The fear of having no witness in her life as the days go by, the fear where "one would be more alone in death than one had ever been in life..." as she ponders on the mystery of death while recalling the preoccupied expression on her dying mother's face which would haunt her for ever, all of which I believe would have been very different for Zoe, had she had a personal relationship with God. Reading this book has made me realise what my faith and belief does for me, in terms of coping with the demands and pressures of everyday living. I thank God for providing me with deep reserves, from which I could draw upon freely, and not just have my own resources to rely on. I wish that Zoe had known that for herself. I wish the same too for all who are struggling through life's tough terrains thinking that they have to shoulder it all upon themselves to make it through. They don't. There is a choice.
I really appreciate and love the subtlety and sensitivity in which the many difficult themes and issues are handled and portrayed in the writing. The cleverness and beauty of putting into few words that which speaks volumes. That which has been left unsaid does not remain silent. Ms. Brookner has proven that the less can indeed be more. And I have a feeling that I will be looking out for more of her works from here on, after getting off on what I would say is, a good start. :)
So, thanks again, for having this event, and for introducing me to a writer that definitely deserves to be more widely read.