Thursday, 4 May 2017

In Retirement

I often had thoughts of retiring myself, but of course that was impossible at my age.
A Friend from England, ch. 5

Rachel's retirement fantasies are indeed somewhat impossible, given that she's only in her early thirties, but the subject was probably on Brookner's mind in 1986, when presumably she wrote A Friend from England (1987). She would retire from the Courtauld at the age of sixty in 1988.

We might ask ourselves about the post-retirement Brookners and whether there is any distinctiveness. I would guess Brookner's writing schedule made Brief Lives (published 1990, almost certainly written in 1989) the first she wrote in 'the anonymity of a small flat in Chelsea', as her 'About the Author' spiel put it in those years.

Brief Lives, A Closed Eye, Fraud - indeed all the 1990s novels - have a new density, a new focus. There is a greater concentration on domestic, or at any rate on indoors life. There is a greater interest in ageing and on the end of life. The characters grow older. George Bland in A Private View has just retired; Mrs May (Visitors) is even older.

There is, perhaps, a sense of stories and themes growing narrower and more limited. But this process, which leads at last to the strange, difficult, post-Millennium novels, allows Brookner to distill her message more purely and more devastatingly than before.

'the anonymity of a small flat in Chelsea
and the cultivation of certain fictional
characters who may one day appear
in future novels'

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