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Brookner's 24th book is an often monotonous meditation on an elderly man's solitary existence. Much of the first several chapters are dedicated to 72-year-old Paul Sturgis's stuffy reflections on his attitudes toward life and loneliness. The narrative shows some promise when Sturgis meets recently divorced Vicky Gardner on a trip to Venice, but their ensuing relationship-in Venice and later, when they both return to London-is mired in a painfully polite restraint. As if in a parody of English manners, Vicky and Sturgis labor over countless afternoon teas without forming anything resembling human contact. Vicky often approaches moments of vulnerable honesty, only to act appalled if he shows any interest in these rare glimpses of humanity. Sturgis's interactions with his ex-lover Sarah, meanwhile, are slightly more candid, but these merely highlight Sturgis's painfully apparent dull formality. (They also give him more material to pontificate over.) While the novel happens in the current day, the occasional mobile phone feels as out of place as it would in, say, one of the Henry James novels that could be the inspiration for this tedious exercise in drawing-room politesse. (June)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.