Friday, 2 December 2016

On Brookner's Comedy

Probably on account of the success of the highly atypical Hotel du Lac (1984), Anita Brookner acquired for a time a curious reputation as a comic writer. Hotel du Lac is indeed a novel somewhat in the English tradition of social comedy. There are several other, less assured funny elements in the early novels - amusing domestics and the like. One remembers a Mrs Cutler.

Something of the reputation persisted into later, grimmer times. The Next Big Thing (2002), not remotely a comedy, was described, in its hardback blurb, as 'her ... funniest novel to date'.

It was like this for Trollope.When I was growing up, Barchester Towers was Trollope's most famous novel, and it is obviously comic. But the bulk of Trollope's output is in the serious rather than the comic mode, however high. Yet Trollope continues to be thought of as funny. Perhaps it is because the English prefer comedies and, as Brookner said, are never serious.

Brookner, at the outset, was lazily compared with Barbara Pym, in fact quite a different novelist. (And I could say quite a lot about Pym, but she's possibly the subject for another post, even a separate blog.) Pym was a comic writer first and foremost, and really no Brooknerian. (She died before Brookner had published her first novel, though Brookner wrote about her. My copy of Pym's A Very Private Eye has a Brookner cover puff: 'Beautiful ... contains the living essence of Barbara Pym'.)

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