... he thought he might have done better, even prospered, in another era, or even another place, where the natives, the citizens, were more helpful, more curious, and indeed more candid. He longed to have lived in one of those confessional novels he had read as a young man - The Sorrows of Young Werther, Adolphe - in which whole lives were vouchsafed to the reader, with all their shame, yet as if there were no shame in the telling. Here, now, one was consciously checked by a sort of willed opacity, a social niceness that stalled one's attempts to make real contact.
Strangers, Ch. 7
Once more, in Strangers, Brookner takes stock of her strange second career. Werther takes us back to Family and Friends, Adolphe to Providence. Brookner herself, though very private, was not known for the kind of vapid small-talk she deplored in the English. A recent diary piece by Julian Barnes amusingly makes this point:
Towards the end of the first year of Anita Brookner’s deathtime, I was remembering my meetings and conversations with her. What we talked about: art, books, the literary world, France, friends in common. What we didn’t talk about: her early years, her personal life, politics (I never knew whether or how she voted), or anything practical. No exchange of recipes. No mention of sport. ‘Anita, what do you think of Ireland’s chances in the Six Nations?’ was not a question that ever came to my lips. I remember her telling me that she had just finished a novel and so, for the moment, was ‘doing exactly what I like’. I said, teasingly: ‘Well, in your case that probably means rereading Proust.’ Her eyes widened in alarm: ‘How did you guess?’