Thursday, April 16, 2009

Same Difference

'Anyone want the Anita Brookner? Don’t all shout at once.’

My audience of three were less than ecstatic. One glanced momentarily from a Colin Forbes, one cleared her throat and flipped the pages of ‘Jamaica Inn’, the third laid aside ‘Great Expectations’ to reach for a glass of water. Much as I’d expected.

For me, though, she's the perfect holiday read.

Contents include a modest heroine of private means and scholarly/artistic leanings, a more wordly, flightier friend, a tepid romance, ailing relations, and plenty of long walks. Usually it's set in London with side trips abroad - France as a rule.

Her Booker Prize-winning 'Hotel du Lac' had rather too much abroad in it, in my opinion, also rather more plot than the others. The film was good, with Anna Massey as the heroine and Denholm Eliott as the male let-down, all very misty and miserable.

In 'Leaving Home' Emma Roberts, in her late twenties lives with her widowed mother in the familiar Brookner ambience: a sombre West London flat not too far from Harrods.

When Emma, the perpetual student, is 27 and shows no signs of getting married or a job, her uncle suggests she gives up researching garden design and stay home to tend her mother. Emma feels a sudden urge to research in a Parisian library, an excuse to break loose. We’re told quite early on her studies are a metaphor:

‘I have tried to live my life according to the classical idea, that of order and control and self-mastery. That was the principle that imposed itself on the unruliness of nature in the shape of paths, parterres, rigorous right angles. Now I saw that such symmetry was only temporary, and that at some point nature would resume the upper hand.'

She’s glimpsed a semi-naked Adonis, in the shape of her elderly suitor's sleeping son. What happens next is nothing much, because it's not that kind of book. It's not one to be read in snatches on London trains and buses, but to savour, on a Cornish terrace overlooking the sea.

When I looked into the Colin Forbes someone was chopping someone up . I imagine 'Jamaica Inn' is like 'Rebecca' , very silly, only with smugglers. 'Great Expectations I know is full of unlikely characters in unlikely settings because I've had the funny bits read aloud so often. R, like me, wants something predictable for holiday reading . Unfortunately Dickens can't carry on churning out books.

I once saw Anita Brookner walking stiffly in a turquoise suit, auburn hair in a French pleat, near Charing Cross station. She looked as if she'd last for years, although she was born in 1928.

It's just as well nobody else wants to read the book, because I got it from the library. I'd better swap it for something more lively now I'm back: something to read in snatches.

John Grace's funny 'Digested Read' of Brookner's most recent novel:

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