Latecomers is for sure a confident book, and it has an 'important' Booker-pleasing theme. But I find it, along with Lewis Percy, published a year later, a little over-confident: Olympian, indulgent. There is less sense in these books of Brookner's affinity or kinship with the lives she so omnisciently appraises.
There is some dilution too, some sense of a diffuse focus. There are too many characters, too much multi-plottedness. But Fibich's realisation towards the end of Latecomers, that he wishes he had stayed with his mother rather than getting on the Kindertransport, is finely handled and powerfully affecting:
'I should have gone back,' whispered Fibich. 'I should not have left. I should have got off the train.' (Ch. 14)But it is Fibich's return visit to Berlin in Chapter 13 that interests me currently. I've been to Berlin many times, but I've never viewed it through the prism of Latecomers, which I reread only recently. I recognise Fibich's depiction of the atmosphere of the landlocked city, far from marine breezes, the fatigue du nord one experiences there, and I know many of the places, the Zoo station, the ruined church. But I must visit Dahlem and see Gainsborough's Joshua Grigby, and I must try to eat a few slices of strawberry shortcake at the Kranzler.
Latecomers, for all its problems, offers a guide to Berlin somewhat more practical than Nabokov's.
|'alert and confident in his
subtle pink coat'