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Pickle Me This

April 18, 2012

Mini Review: Brief Lives by Anita Brookner

“There is no charm to Anita Brookner”, I wrote last year when I read her novel Look At Me. Like Barbara Pym with just the lonely bits. The book was slow and depressing, and while I appreciated what was good about it, I didn’t like it. I probably would never have picked up an Anita Brookner novel again except that I found this one in a cardboard box on the curb in January. We had a ridiculously mild winter this year, a cardboard box of free books on the curb in January was an even surer sign than lack of snow that something was askew climatologically speaking. But it was the only such box I’d seen in months so I picked through it, took this one home and I read it over the last couple of days.

And that I read it over a couple of days suggests that pace-wise it was better-going than my last Brookner. Though it features the same kind of self-effacing narrator whose unreliability is never affirmed, only subtly suggested (and how does she do that subtlety? The narrator who ever so subtly is not really so subtle). With all tell and very little show, Brookner tells the story of Fay Langdon, a singer who gives up her career when she marries Owen whose business brings her into contact with the magnificent and obnoxious Julia. Fay asserts continually that she and Julia have little in common beyond their husbands’ relationship, that each exists on the other’s periphery, but the careful reader will discern otherwise.Who is the true victim here, and who is the villainess? What are the limits to Fay’s extraordinary self-denial?

Still not much in the way of charm, even better this was really good. A compelling and enjoyable read.

3 thoughts on “Mini Review: Brief Lives by Anita Brookner”

  1. m says:

    What is this Toronto place, where boxes of books magically appear for you to find interesting books? Either I’m living in the wrong city all-together, or at the very least, the wrong neighbourhood. Lucky you!

    1. Kerry says:

      I live in a neighbourhood of university professors and book reviewers. It makes for good pickings.

  2. Naomi says:

    I stopped reading Brookner some years ago. Loved her style but found her characters so SAD. My small “collection” of her works will probably end up on the curb as well . . . in Kitsilano, Vancouver. Dibs, anyone?

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