Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
A recluse vanishes from her London flat and a gullible professor dreams of love at a provincial British university in Brookner's two novels about discontented women. (Jan.)
The women in Brookner's quiet novels often lead narrow, circumscribed lives. Although they are usually financially secure and well educated, they are barely touched by the world outside their well-furnished walls. Anna Durrant is another such heroine. As the novel begins, the police are investigating her disappearance. The action then moves back through her life of dutiful companionship to her invalid, widowed mother and her disappointments in love, looking for clues to her whereabouts. We come to see how Anna and her associates have erected false facades to conform to society's expectations. Very little actually happens in Brookner's novels, yet the characters live such rich inner lives that her devoted readers inevitably come to care deeply about them, as they surely will about Anna Durrant and what has become of her. Recommended for all literary fiction collections.-- Barbara Love, St. Lawrence Coll., Kingston, Ontario
Brookner is a master, carrying the tradition of Jane Austen and Henry James forward into our perhaps glibber, but just as stratified, times. Her prose is impeccable, her psychology intrepid, specific, shrewd, and brutal. Brookner creates minds, not just characters, minds as creviced, formidable, and arduous as a mountain range. Her latest concentrated drama pulses within the confines of a small, reticent group. Anna Durrant, immaculately turned out but dauntingly virginal and good, seems to have vanished. The doctor who cared for her and her recently deceased mother is perturbed enough to call the police, who question Mrs. Marsh, an elderly woman for whom Anna occasionally did favors. This precipitates a prolonged flashback and brings us, for a time, into the labyrinth of Mrs. Marsh's impressions and memories. In her eighties, stubborn, judgmental, and proud, Mrs. Marsh dislikes the perpetually cheerful Anna and wonders why she devoted her youth to her pretty but flaky mother, but Mrs. Marsh's real concern is combating the press of old age. Anna's disciplined and astute psyche plays in revealing counterpoint. As she muses on opportunities not taken and assesses the damage wrought by timidity and contrived selflessness, she finally recognizes fraud in all its confounding forms, from the noblest to the crassest, the most altruistic to the greediest and most cowardly. By the strikingly lyrical conclusion, each member of Brookner's select cast has suffered the consequences of artifice and the loneliness of concealment, but some will survive and transcend. A triumph of intuition, eloquence, and compassion.
Sophisticated and Intelligent…Although Brookner has often been compared to Jane Austen, Henry James is the author she brings most to mind. She is [as] responsive to mystery as she is to the mysterious inner matters of her characters' minds. Brookner has written a novel of…suffering and of momentary but somehow very large triumph.
Again, Brookner (A Closed Eye, Brief Lives, etc.) acutely limns the lives of women shaped as much by temperament as by circumstance, but this time she liberates her heroineboth from herself and her situationin an uncharacteristically upbeat ending. Like a typical Victorian daughter, 50-ish Anna Durrantkept in her place by "the habit of affection" and "the iron discipline to which she had subjected herself"has devoted the best years of her life to taking care of her ailing mother. Anna seems incapable of breaking these old habits even when her mother dies. She tries to help Mrs. Marsh, an elderly widow of stoic independence, who is more irritated than gratified by Anna's well- meaning attentions. When Anna suddenly disappears, her family doctor, Lawrence Halliday, a once likely suitor, alerts the police, but Anna cannot be found. The events of the months leading up to her disappearance are then recalled by the earlier Anna and her few acquaintances in scenes that, like an indictment, accumulate to reveal how much of Anna's life has been a fraud. The precipitating moment is a ghastly dinner with Lawrence Halliday, whom Anna realizes she shouldand couldhave married, and his wife, attractive only because of her obvious sexual greed. Back home, Anna considers the lines of Val‚ry that describe "the strength born secretly out of idleness or inaction." Consideration is followed by resolve, and Anna returns to France, where she had once been a student, determined to go out into "the bright, dark, dangerous and infinitely welcoming street" of life. As she tells a friend surprised to find her in Paris after all: "I believed my mother, who told me that thebest things in life are worth waiting for. And I waited. That was the fraud....I blame myself....I shouldn't have been so credulous." A quietly powerful exploration of the insidious costs of the unrelieved self-sacrifices expected ofand so usually madeby women. Brookner at her best.
From the Publisher
"Starts like a classic detective story and continues like a metaphysical mystery...fascinating [and] deeply satisfying. Brookner's most enjoyable novel in many years." San Francisco Chronicle
"Sophisticated and intelligent...Although Brookner has often been compared to Jane Austen, Henry James is the author she brings most to mind. She is [as] responsive to mystery as she is to the mysterious inner matters of her characters' minds. Brookner has written a novel of...suffering and of momentary but somehow very large triumph." Frederick Busch, Chicago Tribune
"Brookner's usual satiny prose is carefully disciplined, beguilingly smooth.... A study of character [that] skillfully evokes the vicissitudes of friendship." New York Newsday