Sunday, November 12, 2017

Review: Fraud

[Number 12 in my chronological re-read of Brookner's 24 novels.]

Anna Durrant is a "woman in her middle years" who has gone missing, but it has taken four months for anyone to notice. Her physician, Dr Lawrence Halliday, notified the police after she had missed several appointments. As the police begin to investigate we are introduced to the handful of people who are closest to Anna and in turn discover that none of them are really very close to her. There is her char woman Mrs Duncan, her late mother's frenemy Mrs Marsh, and Dr Halliday--the man her mother expected her to marry.

As the investigation continues the story of Anna and her relationships with her social circle is explained. Mrs Duncan really only sees her as a paycheck. Mrs. Marsh resents Anna's attentiveness, almost taking umbrage at her willingness to run errands, walk her to church, and take care of her while she is ill. Despite Mrs Marsh's old age and relative isolation she seems to feel that Anna is the one to pity. It's as if Mrs Marsh feels that associating with Anna--who had never been married or led any kind of interesting life--might reflect poorly on her own image. I have always obsessed about getting old and and being alone. Now that I am 48 I am beginning to wonder if even the best laid plans can go belly up and one can still end up alone in old age. Which is why I wonder why Mrs Marsh doesn't lighten up and appreciate Anna. But then I think about how sensitive I am to people that don't suit me perfectly and how little patience I have for them, and I can only imagine what kind of miserable bastard I am going to be in 30 years. I found this scene with Mrs Marsh particularly sad and beautiful.
Failing God, one turned to Nature. If only the year would turn, she thought longingly, as she plodded down the stairs to her own flat. If only I could smell grass and feel heat and see the sun! For now she craved only light and thought that if she lived until summer she would stare at the sun, taking its radiance into her very substance, letting her eyes burn until they were sightless. She would not mind dying, if it could be in the summer.
Dr Halliday's relationship with Anna is slightly more complicated and intimate. Not only is he Anna's and her late mother's doctor, but also the man her mother assumed she would marry. It seems Anna and Dr Halliday also assumed at different times the same thing. But Lawrence succumbs to the physical charms of Vickie Gibson, a slightly younger woman of a particularly superficial bent. Knowing how much the news will distress her ailing mother, both Anna and Lawrence keep the news of his marriage to Vickie a secret and Mrs Durrant goes to her grave thinking that Anna and Lawrence will be married. Although never spoken of, it eventually becomes clear to both Anna and Lawrence that they both would have been happier if they had married. Lawrence quickly tires of vapid Vickie and doesn't quite know what to do about it other than go on two-hour runs each night after work. This indeed, might be the earliest clear indication of the fraud in Fraud. First the charade of Anna and Lawrence pretending to Mrs Durrant and then fraud of Lawrence's marriage itself.

A fraud Anna perpetrates on herself is what she has done, and what she means to do to fill her life. Not needing a job, Anna is adrift except for her "research". When her mother is gone, Mrs Marsh is distant, and Lawrence occupied with Vickie, Anna doesn't know what to do with herself.
There was always her work of course, that not altogether invalid project to write a series of articles, or even, if she were capable of it, something more substantial, on the great salons of Paris during the Second Empire. The research had given her some agreeable moments, but she could not quite hide from herself the knowledge that until now the work had been more alibi than pastime, enabling her to escape...
The big fraud of the book is eventually identified and articulated by Anna herself. In the end we find her in Paris seemingly having figured out what to do with herself. It is kind of a deliciously odd ending because up until the final pages of the book it seems like we may never hear from Anna again with the action focused on Mrs Marsh and her daughter Philippa. But then Anna bumps into Philippa in a cafe and is surprised to learn from her that her absence in London has been noted. Anna expresses surprise at Phillipa's assertion that Mrs Marsh was very fond of her. Anna, tapped into some new source of self awareness and confidence, expresses her doubts about Mrs Marsh's feelings about her and explains to Philippa that she has spent her life being what others wanted her to be. The scales pulled from her eyes, Anna is no longer willing to continue the fraud that others have perpetuated on her through their expectations of her.
"I've grown up at last. Do you know how long it takes some of us? And now I'm free. Free of the old self. Free of expectations."
"Free of hope?"
"Oh, no, never free of hope. Hope is an old habit, not easily dislodged. No, free of expectations. I reserve my hope for a good outcome, a good cause. That is important, I think. A good cause."