Sunday 22 January 2017

Happy as a Clam

In Strangers it is the tentative, introspective Sturgis who is confronted with the impulsive, carefree and monstrously self-obsessed Vicky Gardner, whose only interest in him is in what he can provide for her.  The person who thinks seriously about life, Brookner's books suggest, who proceeds cautiously and conscientiously, will be punished for their virtue, end up alone and dissatisfied, while the person who takes a wholly unreflecting and rather selfish view of life pays no price for it. 
'But haven't you noticed that?' 
She gives an amused smile. 'Think of Tony Blair. Unrealistic. Selfish. Happy as a clam!'  Didn't Plato say the unexamined life is not worth living?  She gives the faintest smile. 'Plato could be wrong too. I think the unexamined life is much better. Much more comfortable.' So you wish you had been…  'Blithe…' It rolls off her tongue, wrapped in longing. A lovely word, I say.  'It's an old-fashioned word. You don't hear it much.'  So you envy the blithe?  'Oh yes.'

I come back to the question of Brookner's allegiances. She evidently disdains Tony Blair*, but envies him too. Never were lives less unexamined than those of Brookner's characters; yet their creator praises the attractions of a 'blithe', unreflecting life. Brookner's interviews, more than her novels, are of course sharp pieces, powered by sly irony. But we can't but reckon she means and believes and stands by at least some of what she says. The interviewer thinks so too: that word 'blithe', rolling off her tongue, wrapped in longing.

* This probably isn't a particularly political comment. Tony Blair was, by 2009, a past Prime Minister with a difficult legacy for both left and right. For more on Brookner's possible politics, see an earlier post.

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