Clowns do not make one laugh. Undersized, deliberately grotesque, on the verge of tears, they induce discomfort. Their function is to be humiliated, by powerful men and pretty girls, aided and abetted by the audience, and the process by which this is accomplished is a diabolical set-piece of collusion... We are supposed to identify with clowns because they appeal to the undersized innocents we all know ourselves to be. I suspect this process to be abominable.
Brookner, Soundings, 'The Willing Victim' (TLS review)
Witness, there, in 1979, before a single novel was written, perhaps as neat an insight into the Brookner world as one is ever likely to find: think of Frances in Look at Me, trampled underfoot by the careless and effortless Frasers. Yet Frances is clear-eyed, though her knowledge is of little use. In an early interview Brookner said she felt sorry for her characters, poor things, and yet knew as little as they. '[T]he guileless unfortunate from whom nothing is really hidden', is how Brookner earlier describes Pedrolino, later Pierrot, of the commedia dell'arte (Watteau, 1967). Forever potent, forever unresolved, these were the tensions that would keep Brookner at her desk for decades to come. Take the opening of a late novel, The Bay of Angels (2001) in which the narrator writes of her seduction by and awakening from the fairy tales of childhood, fantasies of transformation and miraculous but fated redemption and ennoblement: 'This strikes me now as extremely dangerous,' avers the Brooknerian avatar.