Saturday, 31 December 2016

'Like calling yourself Batehoven!'

'May' (Visitors) and indeed 'Brookner' ('Like calling yourself Batehoven!'*) were efforts at anglicisation, and not always successful. Brookner's Jews are identifiable, possibly, by their names; in other ways the information is no more than hinted at. It's seldom more explicit than:
[Herz] was grateful that [his parents] had died naturally, in their own home, a fate denied to so many of their kind.
The Next Big Thing, Ch. 9

In several of the early novels there is a contrast, a conflict, between the uncertain identity of the Jewish protagonist and the solidly Protestant object of her interest. The Haffenden interview explores this point. But in many of Anita Brookner's novels there's little or no mention of Judaism, and the lead characters have very English names: Elizabeth Warner, Alan Sherwood.

Brookner described herself as 'a lapsed Jew - if such a thing were conceivable' (Haffenden). The Bruckners / Brookners had come to England in Edwardian times, long before the start of the calamity that was to overwhelm their people, but Brookner remembered from her childhood in the 30s the arrival of refugees in London; they worked for the family as domestics, rather like those maids from Germany in Ishiguro's Remains of the Day.

*A reference from the original Paris Review interview introduction, which seems to be missing from the Internet version.

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