Thursday, 23 March 2017

Brookner Takes a Break

From time to time Brookner steps outside her seemingly rarefied world, delighting in a moment of luridness or vulgarity. We see her taking such a holiday in an essay from 1982, reproduced in Soundings (Ch. 20, 'Scarsdale Romance'). It concerns a celebrated American murder case of a couple of years before. Brookner tells the story of Mrs Harris and her paramour Dr Tarnower, relishing the details with appreciative distaste. Brookner's tone is, of course, more than a little condescending:
Nor did it do her any good to remind him of the hours she had spent working on his diet book, the high intellectual calibre of which can be judged by the report, inserted somewhere between the recipes for Eggs Gitano and Pineapple Surprise Aloha, that a wife and husband 'dieting team' had taken up knitting and macramé 'to keep our hands busy and out of the snack bowl while watching TV with the kids'.
But ultimately one acknowledges the seriousness with which Brookner analyses Harris and Tarnower's sordid tale, or at least the seriousness with which she considers its moral aspects. In this way she anticipates the forensic nature of much of her fiction. In many of her novels Brookner's characters are as it were on trial, and Brookner is their judge - incisive, all-seeing, sometimes indulgent, but never less than fully committed to the full moral inquiry:
...any examination of the implications of human wishes and their effect on human behaviour is welcome, and ... is, in the present state of our customs and beliefs, rather rare.

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