"Beautifully rendered. . . . Unexpectedly and intensely moving.” –The New York Times Book Review
“Few novelists can stand with Anita Brookner when it comes to the interior revelations of the human heart. . . . A single sentence, a certain expression, a look or a gesture convey worlds of meaning. . . . Every page has a felicity of wording that makes you want to reach for a pen, to underline passages that you don’t want to forget.” –The Seattle Times
"Beautifully written. . . . The Rules of Engagement demonstrates the triumph of a keenly introspective mind." –The Atlantic Monthly
“The Rules of Engagement is vintage Brookner in the grace and ease of its language. The Booker Prize-winning author is a gifted storyteller, weaving in twists and turns that make the book hard to abandon.” –Chicago Tribune
“Elizabeth Wetherall is clearly recognizable as one of Brookner’s exquisite gem solitaries. . . . To read Brookner is to come into contact with a first-rate mind. . . . [She] is relentlessly existential. But also comic.” –Miami Herald
“The story is told . . . with such elegance and polish that its surface–satiny, flawless and smooth as an onion, as always–holds a fascination equal to its content.” –The Washington Post Book World
“One of the great strengths of Brookner’s fiction: her ability to lay bare in limpid, measured, luminous prose her characters’ least admirable, most desperate motivations.” –Los Angeles Times Book Review
“[Brookner renders] her characters with intense fidelity. Few novelists have such a subtle, portrait artist’s sense of their characters.” –San Francisco Chronicle
“Brookner is a master of the art of the middle distance and as graceful as a matador when she uses the bright cape of her elegant Jamesian sentences to keep intimacy at bay.” –The Boston Globe
Elizabeth, like many other of Brookner's protagonists, resists connection, intimacy and emotional risk. Turning away from both friendship and love, she holds fast to a fatalistic and inexplicable belief that she is doomed to solitude and silence. This melancholy assumption of exclusion, this incapacity to ask anything of life, reverberates in The Rules of Engagement, as it does in much of Brookner's work. The story is told, however, with such elegance and polish that its surface -- satiny, flawless and smooth as an onion, as always -- holds a fascination equal to its content.
Brookner's spiritual and syntactic masters are Jane Austen and Henry James, and The Rules of Engagement contains, in places, passages worthy of these august forebears. Indeed, she pays specific homage to the shades whose style and concerns suffuse her prose.
To read Brookner is to be reminded of fiction's potential to stun, with full, complex characters in a richly imagined world, as she draws on her insights into human nature to explore the strained yet enduring friendship of two women of "the last virginal generation." Born in 1948 and friends from childhood, the open, eager-to-please Betsy and the cooler, analytical Elizabeth appear to have little in common. But they share many things, including stubbornness, strength and, dangerously, the same married lover. Seen through the eyes of 50-something Elizabeth, the novel chronicles the often devastating choices the two women make as they age; as such, it is more a book of thought than action. The reclusive Elizabeth, conscious of the mysterious "virtue attached to being a witness," dissects the minutest of human interactions, imposing elaborate rules of self-governance with which she often does battle. Her gaze is ruthless but brilliantly illuminating. "I saw our childlessness as an indictment, a reproach to what had been our folly," Elizabeth observes of herself and Betsy. "We had seen ourselves always as lovers, whereas sensible persons, or perhaps those with greater understanding of the world, make their peace with existing circumstances.... we had chosen, she and I, to stay within the limits of this exalted and fragile condition." Within those limits, in Brookner's skilled hands, vast worlds of human possibility exist. (Jan.) Forecast: Brookner has established a dedicated readership through such books as the Booker-winning Hotel du Lac and Making Things Better. This elegant, thought-provoking novel will surely increase it. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
There is a predictable formula to Brookner's novels. Start with a middle-aged female heroine of modest wealth, genteel breeding, and solid education: in this outing, it is Elizabeth Wetherall, who may live in an era of email and text messaging but would still seem at home in the pages of a Victorian novel. Give her a lonely history: Elizabeth has escaped her parents' fractious marriage to a quieter one of her own-to a man many years her senior who spends his days at work and his evenings asleep in front of the television. Throw in some minor complications: she becomes estranged from her only friend when the childhood schoolmate takes up with her lover. Finally, end with disappointment: it is a rare Brookner heroine who exits buoyant and hopeful. Verdict: well crafted but soulless. Purchase where demand warrants.-Barbara Love, Kingston Frontenac P.L., Ont. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Brookner (Making Things Better, Jan. 2003, etc.) again chronicles with surgical precision lives distorted by temperament and circumstance. Elizabeth, now in her 50s, narrates a grim tale about two women, friends since childhood, whose illusions about love have tragic outcomes. Elizabeth and Betsy are quintessential Brookner characters who realize early on that life cannot be fought but only endured. Both are affected by a past that shapes the rest of their lives. Betsy's mother died young, leaving her to be raised by her father and a maiden aunt. She yearned to belong to a "real" family like Elizabeth's, which was in reality riven by discord and, eventually, divorce. After school, Elizabeth studies cooking in Paris, where she is miserable and lonely. Back in London, no happier and now bored as well, she marries the much older Digby. Betsy comes home from Paris, where she is living with French radical Daniel, to attend the wedding. Elizabeth observes that her friend is happy and in love, a condition that suits Betsy's romantic nature. Though both women come of age in the 1960s, neither is able to enjoy that decade's freedom or opportunities Still bored, Elizabeth next falls into bed with Edmund Fairlie, a colleague of her husband's; she finds their affair curiously stimulating, but when Digby suddenly dies she breaks it off and retreats into quiet loneliness. Betsy, alone after Daniel is killed in an accident, meets Edmund at Digby's funeral and is soon in love with him and his entire family. Elizabeth observes at a distance her friend's doomed liaison with the cool and ruthless Edmund, whose wife is equally cynical. Then Betsy becomes terminally ill, and Elizabeth realizes that both ofthem are now middle-aged, childless, and alone. Their mistake was to see themselves as lovers rather than as wives, and both have paid for that error with lonely and empty years. Cool but, as always, deadly accurate.