Thursday, 25 May 2017

Beyond the Bridge

Beyond the bridge lay the Paris I had known and loved, and perhaps should never see again with that lift of the heart that had once attended me every morning of my life.
Altered States, ch. 10

Chapter 10 of Altered States is one of the most accomplished in the whole of Brookner. Significantly it is about Paris and significantly it's about a character travelling on his own. Alan goes to Paris, planning a clandestine meeting with Sarah at the George Cinq, but things go farcically awry. There's a bizarre travel-phobic man on the plane; it's raining heavily; the hotel is overbooked. From that point, Alan's attempts to meet Sarah develop from farce into Kafka-style nightmare. He reflects again on her unavailability; he's practically never had a proper conversation with her. She's rather like the love object in Mann's Magic Mountain, the woman with the Kirghiz eyes, whom Hans Castorp never so much as speaks two words to. The chapter ends in full-blown horror: it's Brookner pulling out all the stops. But the setting gives it added weight. Paris: scene of Brooknerian dreams, but also of Brooknerian disillusion. One remembers Mimi waiting hopelessly for Frank in a Paris hotel in Family and Friends, or one looks ahead to Julius Herz and his terrible visit to the city in The Next Big Thing.

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