Thursday, 4 May 2017

On Drink

In one of Anita’s later novels, the female protagonist, when having supper alone in her flat, regularly has a glass of white wine. Being interested in wine, I couldn’t help noticing that each time supper occurred, the wine was different: first a chardonnay, then a pinot grigio, then a sauvignon, and so on; but the last wine to be drunk in the book was, unexpectedly, sweet – a sauternes. I wondered if such changingness might be significant, intended perhaps as an emblem of the protagonist’s volatility. At lunch I mentioned this theory, and referred to that puzzling late switch from dry to sweet. ‘Oh no,’ replied Anita unconcernedly, ‘I just went into a shop and copied down the names.’

No one ever gets drunk in an Anita Brookner novel. The character identified by Julian Barnes is probably Blanche in A Misalliance - a very mild toper, all things considered. Very mild in comparison with, for example, the folk to be found in an average Kingsley Amis. Followers of this blog will know I've a penchant for Amis. I always love his drinking scenes, those long extended set-pieces that occupy such central positions in his novels. Amis himself was a legendary drinker, but said he never wrote while drunk. In his Memoirs he criticised writers such as Paul Scott, claimed he could always spot the moment in a Scott novel when the stuff went pouring in.

Mentions of drink in Brookner novels - champagne in A Friend from England, a glass of beer in Fraud - are few and far between, and represent not so much points of interest as moments of authorial awkwardness, moments when she steps a little gingerly outside her range. What, one wonders, would Brookner's world be like if it were less sober?

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