Posts Tagged ‘Brookner in July’

undueinfluence(pictured my favourite Brookner book cover of this month)

I had decided to host an Anita Brookner reading month purely because I happened to have six Brookner novels TBR and I wanted a chance to re-engage with an author whose work I generally really like, but who splits opinion and is maybe hard work at times. I have really enjoyed reading Anita Bookner this month. I began the month by reading the short story At the hairdressers which was published exclusively as an ebook in 2011. I then read, ‘Undue Influence’, Providence and Leaving Home’.

I was delighted that so many other readers and bloggers joined in with Brookner in July too.

Liz combined her month of re-reading with Brookner in July by re-reading A Start in Life – Brookner’s first novel, and one I remember enjoying a couple of years ago.
Brona read and enjoyed Strangers – Anita Brookner’s most recently published full length novel.

hoteldulacThere were a lot of people who chose to read Brookner’s Booker winning novel Hotel Du Lac for Brookner in July – an excellent choice I thought, although there was a fascinating mix of reactions to it.
Helen shares her excellent and extensive thoughts on this novel which she thoroughly enjoyed – though beware there are spoilers. I also know Karen of Bookertalk was re-reading Hotel Du Lac.
Over on librarything there were also readers who chose to read Hotel Du Lac-

Dee said

“I liked Edith. I saw her as an introvert and one of life’s observers rather than lacking in substance. There were moments though, when I felt she had a sense of being superior to those she was observing and wondered how she could justify that! I found her easier to like than some of Brookner’s later protagonists, possibly because her personality hadn’t completely calcified and there still seemed a glimmer of hope for her!”

Claire said:

I really enjoyed the book. Brookner wonderfully evoked the sense of being in a liminal, transitional space where people perhaps behave more – or less – like their “real” selves. If we don’t get a sense of who Edith is as a person, it is because she doesn’t know herself, I believe. Perhaps by the end of the novel she is beginning to know herself, as evidenced by her sudden decisiveness. I liked that her vagueness as a character seems reflected in the misty landscape around her. The portraits of the other guests were fascinating, as their stories and characters are slowly revealed to us from behind Edith’s initial (usually incorrect) assumptions. I especially liked Monica and would like to have followed her into the future. I did find it strange that Edith was such an appalling reader of people – one does expect writers to be more perceptive – but this could have been a joke on Brookner’s part. I read Alex’s review that Karen linked to in post 45, but disagree that Edith’s behaviour was unrealistic, even though it was inconsistent. I could certainly recognise myself in Alex’s summary of Edith’s differing thoughts and actions, varying according to time of day, mood and company (or solitude). In addition to the atmosphere and characters, I also enjoyed Brookner’s prose; it put me in mind of a more readable Henry James in its careful construction and word choices.”

However Alex in Leeds and Kaggysbookishramblings liked it less but have written excellent posts about their reading of the novel.

Not everyone read Hotel Du Lac – Vicki read a Brookner novel that I haven’t read myself yet and which I think sounds wonderful.
Vicki has written a brilliant review of Incidents in the Rue Laugier
If you have read any Brookner this month tell us what book you read and what you thought of it – and if I have missed anyone’s Brookner reviews please add a link to it in the comments box below.


As for the rest of the month – I read quite a mix of things –including three re-reads for the month of re-reading in July, which Liz and I Started last year – but which I couldn’t fully commit to this year. My re-reads were Barchester Towers, The Sweet Dove Died, and The Great Gatsby. I was committed to reading three review copies – two of which disappointed slightly but one The Illusion of Separateness was a quiet little gem. Considering the month as a whole – the other standout reads for me – were the three Brookner novels -especially Leaving Home, and The Great Gatsby which I so loved.
Here is the full list of what I read during July.

69 Undue Influence (1999) Anita Brookner (F)
70 Barchester Towers (1857) Anthony Trollope (F)
71 The alley of Love and yellow Jasmines (2013) Shohreh Aghdashloo (NF)
72 Providence (1983) Anita Brookner (F)
73 A Group of Noble Dames (1891) Thomas Hardy (F)
74 The Sweet Dove Died (1978) Barbara Pym (F)
75 Big Brother (2013) Lionel Shriver (F)
76 The Illusion of Separateness (2013) Simon Van Booy (F)
77 The Great Gatsby (1926) F. Scott Fitzgerald (F)
78 Leaving Home (2005) Anita Brookner (F)
79 The Testament of Mary (2013) Colm Toibin (F)
80 A Lighthearted Quest (1956) Ann Bridge (F)  great gatsby

August will be all about All Virago/All August and reading just what-ever takes my fancy – no list, no piles already prepared, but there will be a lot of Virago or Virago authors read during August. I am looking forward to plenty of reading time as I am on holiday from work all of August.


A quick word about a lovely little reading tribute that is going on during August. Many of you will be readers of Savidgereads blog – and may be aware Simon lost his beloved Gran recently.  Dorothy Savidge was a fan of author Graham Green and Simon S and Simon T of Stuckinabook have come up with this lovely tribute to her. I am planning on reading Stamboul Train some time during the month.

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leaving home

My third read for this month’s Brookner in July – and possibly my favourite of the three.  I was captivated by Brookner’s beautiful prose from the first sentence.

Emma Roberts is twenty six and living a fairly claustrophobic existence with her widowed mother in a London flat. Emma realises that it is time she break free from this world which includes frequent visits from her mother’s disapproving and domineering brother. Emma is a reserved young woman, who longs to be like other young women, attending parties and having lovers, and yet she seems incapable of living such a life. Offered a scholarship to study seventeenth century garden design in Paris Emma grabs her chance. Once in Paris, Emma takes a room in a small Hotel. At the library where she goes to work, Emma meets Francoise Desnoyers, a confident worldly young woman with whom Emma soon strikes up a friendship despite their obvious differences.

“Obedient to Francoise’s instructions I moved into a small hotel, and at last began to think of myself as a citizen, though any observer could have told from my excessive compliance, my anxiety not to infringe the rules, that I was nothing of the kind. “

Francoise herself is struggling to free herself from her own mother, a traditional woman who Francoise is obliged to visit regularly at the beautiful chateau in the countryside. Francoise enlists Emma’s help in her desire to stay in Paris as long as possible, not ready quite to bury herself in the country and live the conventional life she is supposed to. Mme Desnoyers insists that Francoise should marry the wealthy son of a family friend, whose mother will then secure their future. On a weekend visit to the Desnoyers’ country home Emma sees Francoise life with her overbearing mother in a new light, giving her a more positive view of her own. Enjoying her new found freedom in Paris Emma meets Michael with whom she begins a fairly chaste relationship, although she sometimes yearns for the comforting familiarity of her home with her mother. In Francoise’s world and especially that of her mother, women are ultimately judged by the men in their lives, their father’s or their husbands. Francoise is a modern French woman, she has a love life and an easy confidence that Emma lacks, but she is her mother’s daughter and takes a pragmatic view of her future, leaving emotion out of the question. Emma is perhaps a little surprised by the similarity in their lives
So when a family tragedy requires Emma to rush back to London, it turns her life upside down. Flitting between Paris and London, and failing to find herself really at home in either place, her relationships with others all seem quite one sided. Emma wants a man in her life, likes the idea of being married, but her relationships turn more towards friendship and companionship, while Francoise ultimately rejects love, by opting for financial security. Emma struggles to find her way – not certain where home is now.

“I knew two things simultaneously: that I was unwilling to disturb my present routine, and that I was almost used to my quiet days and to the evenings when I could look forward to Philip’s company, if he were free. I knew almost superstitiously, that one should never go back, never retrace one’s steps in the hope that all would be as before, for it never is.”

Emma is not an entirely unsympathetic Brookner characters, but she is typical in her whiney introspectiveness, Emma is slightly cold, and her reserve puts her at a distance from the reader. However Brookner’s elegiac final line in this novel gives raise to some hope for her.

This really is a really lovely Brookner novel. Anita Brookner’s wonderful sense of place is again in evidence, I fairly gulped it down.


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The first of my Brookner in July reads – I hope to do one or two more this month of Brookner reading.

Claire Pitt is an attractive young woman, living alone in the mansion flat where her mother died. Although not really in need of money, Claire has taken a job in a book shop owned by octogenarian sisters Muriel and Hester. Claire works in the dusty basement on the sisters father’s papers. She enjoys the work, becomes fascinated by the man whose articles she is painstakingly transcribing from piles of rotting newspapers. It is while working in the basement that Claire meets Martin Gibson, and is immediately curious about him, soon finding herself attracted to him.
Martin is married to a manipulative invalid Cynthia – and Claire and her friend Wiggy are drawn into Martin’s world after they pay a courtesy visit to Cynthia.

“She was wearing some kind of peignoir, coral pink, with a certain amount of lace, and she smelt of the kind of scent which should be reserved for decisive women executives looking forward to a career in the boardroom. I imagined, though I could hardly turn round and look, a whole armoury of such scents, indulgences brought to the sickroom by the devoted husband who would naturally be at a loss in such a situation and who would seek the advice of the sales assistants behind the beauty counters. My mother had never used more than a simple cologne. But this was no time to think of my mother.”

When Cynthia dies suddenly, Claire begins to imagine a possible future for herself with Martin. Yet as Claire comes to see she doesn’t fully understand Martin, he is not all that she would want him to be.

It is the detail of Brookner’s character’s lives that is so very good. The small suffocating lives of Murial and Hester having lived with their father, they have continued to live for him, carrying on what he had started until they are too old to go on with it. Wiggy’s upstairs neighbour Eileen whose unexpected death so shatters Wiggy, as it serves to highlight the loneliness of a woman who had presented to the world a rather different face. I find the portrayals of these lives to be so beautifully rendered that they somehow take away from the bleakness – oh there is bleakness I admit that. Claire probably spends far too much time, ruminating on her life, remembering her mother and how she had lived her life. Claire is a young woman, she sounds far older than she is, she needs to just get on with living her life.

I know many people find Anita Brookner “depressing” – a word I often see applied to Anita Brookner in online reviews. It is true, that Brookner’s characters are not always very likeable – they live small disappointed lives, falling for unsuitable or disinterested men. On the surface it might seem that Anita Brookner writes about lives far removed from our own – upper middle class women, with inherited money, living in mansion flats in North London. However there is a truth about Brookner’s world – that is maybe a little unpalatable. Strip away the privilege and the London setting and Brookner’s characters could be anyone – anywhere. There are many small disappointed lives being led out there – people isolated and alone – they may not indulge in the kind of introspection that Brookner’s characters do, but the result is the same. Anita Brookner may be a bit like marmite, now I don’t like marmite – I do like Brookner – but I understand why other readers are less keen.

Incidently – I do love the cover of this book – I think it perfectly encapsulates Brookner’s world.


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Brookner in July the Anita Brookner reading month is here. I only came up with the idea couple of months ago – and I’m not sure how many people are joining in. I have six Brookner novels sitting here TBR – and while I won’t get around to all of them, I hope to read two or three of them. I have started reading Undue Influence, and have: Providence, A friend from England, Leaving Home, Friends and Family and The Next Big thing to choose from later.

hairdressersAt the Hairdressers (2011) – a penguin short – available exclusively as an ebook –is a short story of approximately 35 pages. It is the most recently published work of Anita Brookner who is 85 later this month. I read it on Saturday afternoon in preparation for Brookner in July. The writing is typically Brookner – the themes of ageing, trust and betrayal seem familiar too. Elizabeth is 80 years old, living in a dark basement flat in Victoria. Elizabeth rarely leaves her flat, and when she does it is just to go shopping or have her hair done. A chance encounter at the hairdressers one day leads to unexpected change for Elizabeth.
At the hairdressers is moving but not in any way depressing (as some consider Anita Brookner to be) – the writing is beautiful and proves that even in her eighties Anita Brookner is still an astonishingly brilliant writer. Her observations are as acute as ever, the prose itself divine. This lovely little story really whetted my appetite for Brookner in July.

I do hope some of you will be joining me and will be particularly interested to hear of anyone reading her for the first time. Please feel free to leave links to your own Brookner reviews in the comments below.


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