“Brookner is an artist of an exceptional purity.” —The New York Times
“Brookner has a true gift for plumbing the depths of her characters’ psyches.” —Los Angeles Times
“Depicted with sharp Austenesque humor that makes Making Things Better stick in your memory long after.” –The Boston Herald
“Brookner’s artistry holds you in the novel’s spell. There is wizardry in her writing.” –San Jose Mercury News
From the solitary bachelor in Henry James's Beast in the Jungle to the solitary butler in Kazuo Ishiguro's Remains of the Day, fiction is filled with memorable hesitators. Anita Brookner is the most intrepid contemporary explorer of this terrain, which she refers to, in Making Things Better, as the ''unlived life.'' In the 21 novels she's written over the past 21 years, she has created a distinctive world, a world of widows and widowers, of the divorced and the never-married -- lonely people who yearn for connection with others at the same time as they cautiously guard their privacy. If you look at the descriptions on her book jackets, you might conclude that her range is narrow. Yet Brookner, who won a Booker Prize in 1984 for Hotel du Lac, inhabits her main characters so persuasively, commits her imagination so thoroughly to each novel, that almost every time she returns to her territory, the results are powerful and fresh. — Brian Morton
Julius Herz, a Londoner living alone, is making the somber transition between indeterminate adulthood and the infirmities of old age. He has spent his life wearing a conciliatory smile, trying to make life easier for his brother, a failed pianist, and demanding parents, now dead, who drove away the woman to whom he was briefly married. Now, as the recipient of a large inheritance, Julius is suddenly free to please himself. Brookner, who won the 1984 Booker Prize for Hotel du Lac, has created a novel of fine precision. Her character's name, which means heart, is a reminder of that organ's literal frailtyJulius is faint and ill increasingly oftenbut metaphorical strength. For even in old age, shedding belongings and illusions, Julius nourishes an unrequited passion for a once beautiful German cousin. His life, outwardly tranquil to the point of oblivion, inwardly seethes with longing and regret, sexual curiosity and wild optimism. This lucid novel is a patient homage to the strength of human personality and to the bravery of the heart, ready at the brink of oblivion to essay one last, glorious chance at happiness.
Making things better has been Julius Herz's lifelong responsibility. He is yet another character in Brookner's sepia photograph album of dutiful sons and daughters trapped by familial duties into stoic existences. Like many of her protagonists, Julius is an outsider whose assimilated Jewish parents settled in London to escape the Nazis and never really fit in. His older brother Freddy's nervous breakdown, which ended his incipient career as a concert pianist, hurled their parents into bottomless grief, and firmly placed Julius under obligation to minister to the needs of all three. Now they are all dead. At 73, retired from an undemanding and unfulfilling job and amicably divorced, Julius faces existential questions with a sense of panic. He's desperate to find a purpose for the rest of his life, to create some companionship and perhaps even intimacy, and to put an end to his lonely interior exile. Brookner's gentle exploration of Julius's emotional dilemma is pursued with exquisite precision and empathy. In her novels, fate is cruel and hope of happiness a chimera, yet her characters are so fully realized that one feels the beat of life in their veins and longs for them to yield to their stifled urge for freedom. In Julius's case, the resurgence of sexual desire and an unexpected letter from the cousin he has loved since their youth in Berlin provide insights into what he belatedly recognizes as "the fallacious enterprise of making things better." While he grasps at a last chance at happiness, the narrative becomes a meditation on the longing for love, its risks and dangers, and how its absence makes life itself null and void. If Brookner treads a small territory again and again, there is no sense of dej vu or of staleness. She has the facility to make each of her extended character studies (this is her 21st novel) ring with psychological truth. Agent, Brandt and Hochman. (Jan.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
In her latest novel, Brookner (Falling Slowly) describes the daily routines and musings of Julius Herz, who at 73 has been forced into retirement when his shop is sold. He has been a passive player in his own life, not so much making decisions as accepting the anxieties and responsibilities thrust upon him by his inept family. By his own admission, Julius is tired of and retired from life, and while he seemingly embraces his own solitude, he also struggles to reclaim some intimacy with seminal women from his past, including his ex-wife and the cousin who was his first love. Like many of Brookner's novels, this one explores how those who are no longer sustained by their dreams and who struggle to maintain their dignity while coping with the "endless solitude" of aging reconnect their past and present. Unfortunately, though, Brookner's themes are just as exhausted as Julius. Her renowned, razor-sharp perceptions and observations seem blunted here and expose not the puritanical sensibilities of a complex character but the doleful plodding of a flat one. While Brookner's sundry fans are sure to demand this work, it will leave many of them hoping for a stronger effort in keeping with her high standards.-Caroline Hallsworth, City of Greater Sudbury, Ont. Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.
Another intelligent, emotionally wounded protagonist muses on a life consumed by others' expectations in Brookner's 21st novel (after The Bay of Angels, 2001, etc.). "Making things better seemed to have been assigned to him as his life's work," thinks Julius Herz, who at 73 has outlived both his mentally ill older brother and the parents who extinguished Herz's youth and his marriage with their matter-of-fact assumption that he existed to meet their needs. He's financially secure, thanks to a generous settlement from the owner of the London shop in which he and his father dully labored after fleeing the Nazis, and he has a comfortable flat. But his days are long and lonely, his listless routine of "a newspaper and the supermarket in the morning, and in the afternoon a bookshop or gallery" broken only by an occasional lunch with his ex-wife or dinner with his solicitor, Bernard Simmonds, "during which he would remain on guard against his own indiscretions, while allowing Simmonds full license to indulge his own. That too was what was expected of him." All this will be familiar anomic territory to Brookner readers, as will Julius's lifelong love for his selfish, spoiled cousin Fanny, whom he helplessly adored when they were kids in Berlin, then sought out in Switzerland to propose marriage after his divorce and her first husband's death. Though the proposal was rejected with calm brutality, Fanny reenters Herz's life 30 years later, blithely counting on Julius's fidelity when she's nearly destitute after Husband Number Two's demise. Will Julius upend his comfortable, empty life to fulfill once again someone else's agenda? A man who takes an apartment on the calculation that "with a bit ofluck he would be dead before the lease ran out" isn't the most likely candidate for a happy ending. Sparely written and psychologically astute, as always, from an author who apparently agrees with Herz that "maturity rarely brought cheering insights."