Saturday, July 16, 2011

Review: The Rules of Engagement

Martine of Silencing the Bell didn't exactly have a love affair with The Rules of Engagement.

I went to Chorlton library and found Rules of Engagement, it was the only one of her books they had. It turns out I should have popped down to Didsbury, where they seem to have a much better choice of Anita Brookner novels.

I am not sure that they will want me to join in when I say how bored I was by this book. I mean there is introspection and there is introspection ... and this book takes it all to a whole new level (or is that depth?) I mean no wonder this woman spent so much time worrying about her motivation and her 'relationships' and her emotional reactions and what people thought ... because she had *absolutely* nothing else in her life. And the real trouble with all this introspection was that the woman was so devoid of personality that she never thought anything interesting. She never once said anything meaningful to anyone or had a real conversation about anything or really showed any interest in another human being or interest in anything beyond her own thoughts (ok she read a few books, but a very limited selection and only thought of them in terms of how they reflected back her own thinking or opinions.) She is never really happy, sometimes contented, never has a strong sense of attachment to another person, even her supposed affection for her lover is couched in oblique language. I am sorry because, on reflection, I feel like my intense dislike of the woman and her life distracted me from the writing, which was plainly very effective since the book had such a strong impact on me and created such a powerful reaction. The book was the story of a wasted life.
Now my mood changed to one of weariness and incipient revolt. I played my wifely part adequately, and yet I could see it for what it was: a sham. And it was not only my married life that was a sham; my other life too did not, could not, bear active scrutiny. I saw the point of those grim days in Paris. They had been the means of preparing me for a life lived according to my own rules, rather than rules imposed on me by other people. I had had a glimpse of the freedom available to the purely selfish, though that freedom could be limited by desire. Once again I wanted to roam the streets unobserved, my thoughts confined to myself rather than anticipating another's movements, another's wishes. I wanted everyone to die and leave me alone. I particularly wanted Edmund to die, for I knew that without him I should be myself again and not the person I had becomes once I had chosen him, or been chosen by him.(p.60)

The whole book just goes round in circles as she rethinks herself: her friendship with Betsy, which is frequently broken beyond repair and then reestablished, her marriage, tedious to a fault but with Digby repeatedly referred to as 'honourable', her affair with Edmund, acknowledged as shallow and physical but to which she ascribes deep feeling, she recognises she should 'do' something with her life but utterly fails to act. Years go by, taking her from a newly married twenty-something to being middle aged, in which *nothing happens* apart from a couple of boring people coming round for dinner.

I wanted to scream in frustration, I wanted to give her a good hard slap. It's as if she never moved anywhere from the young woman she was bought up to be, learned nothing from her experiences, had such narrow expectations of life and no imagination. And as I often do I found myself clinging to the hope that it was all leading somewhere, an epiphany, anticipating some kind of denouement that never came, it just kind of dribbled to a halt at the end. I plodded through it, just as I am struggling with this review, because I wanted to contribute to the IABD. I do not feel inspired to read any of her other books.


  1. Martine, I agree with you. I am currently reading this book and your reveiw strikes home. I also read "Falling Slowly" and had the same I reaction:"clinging to the hope that it was all leading somewhere, an epiphany, anticipating some kind of denouement that never came". However, I really enjoyed "Hotel du Lac", so if you ever need to read Broonker again, you might try that one.

  2. I'm laughing because Ruthiella has already cautiously warned me about this book but I was charmed by Emily's review. I do want to read this anyway and find MY reaction to the ongoing introspectionness.