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June 1, 2011

Mini Review: Look at Me by Anita Brookner

Can you blame me for having kept Anita Brookner’s Look at Me on my shelf for years? Seriously, the cover is hideous. But because it started with B, I got to it finally, and though the start was slow, it grew on me. Which is unsurprising, because the book is so Barbara Pymmish– spinster librarians, their tea rituals and lonely lunches. But only superficially, actually. In her book Felicity and Barbara Pym, Harrison Solow writes that Brookner “lacks the insularity which makes the English, English” and that her heroines “struggle incessantly, never in balance”. There is no charm to Anita Brookner, but this, of course, is why her books seem more literary. (I am not sure that they actually are, or perhaps what I mean is that Pym’s unliterary-ness is only understood by those unschooled in Pym.)

Look at Me is the story of Frances Hinton, spinster librarian, who feels she’s finally glimpsed what life is, what the world is, when she is befriended by Nick and Alix Fraser (who Jonathan Yardly writes “could just as well be Tom and Daisy [Buchanan]’s British cousins”). The couple, however, plays with her affections, and at the end of the story she’s left with her same lonely life, though I wonder about Frances’ own role in her fate. She has cast herself as an observer, but as a result, we have very little understanding of her character, of how she comes across to others. We must put the pieces together with statements by the malicious Alix Fraser, and it is left to us to decide which character is more unreliable. Frances, who is also beginning a career as a writer, may have more control of her narrative than she appears to.

3 thoughts on “Mini Review: Look at Me by Anita Brookner”

  1. Kristin says:

    Wow–that is a seriously hideous cover. Definitely not on my list to read!

  2. Kerry says:

    It was much better than the hideous cover suggests…

  3. Alice Whooley says:

    this book is a prime example of “never judge the book by its cover”.
    It was the first A.B. book that I read (back in the 80s) and I have been hooked on her books ever since!
    I have re-read Look at Me many times and never get tired of it. I seem to notice something different about the story every time. Hmmm…think it’s due another read!
    Anyone else out there this hooked??

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