|(I'm not over-fond of these 1980s
British paperbacks, though their rather
curious cover paintings strike
me as worthy of study.)
- The rest of the novel is taken up with preparations for Kitty's make-or-break lecture, which, we are told, she once envisaged as a 'sort of open exchange' but now becomes 'yet another solo performance of high strain' (ch. 13). Everything seems to depend on the outcome of this event: she fantasises about weddings, and about married life as an accepted Englishwoman in Gloucestershire. But by this stage the novel is tense with foreboding. None of this can end well. '[L]ater that night she burned in fires.'
- There's a misstep at the start of chapter 13. Several pages are spent with two minor characters, while Kitty is elsewhere. This gives Brookner the chance to show us at length what other people think of her protagonist, but for me the scene's artistic infelicity cancels out any gain.
- Chapter 14 opens meanderingly - we see the dreamy days before Kitty's lecture. Brookner goes into some detail. Why? I think she's showing us the reality of Kitty's life, and Kitty's failure to grasp it. Kitty nourishes high hopes of Maurice, but he is completely absent. The painful focus on these empty days before the approaching cataclysm are equivalent to the terrible time that comes after the similar discovery in Look at Me.
- The lecture goes well, but there is Maurice's dinner party to come. Again we see Kitty alarmingly alone. Brookner's gaze is steady.
- The hot weather is brilliantly conveyed, giving the novel's last chapters a special, momentous quality. Old Church Street bears 'a passing resemblance to a deserted Mediterranean port' (ch. 15). Kitty breathes the stale evening air 'as if she were on the shore of a distant sea'.
- The novel moves like clockwork towards the revelation in its final pages. The reader, like Kitty, is left horrified and without markers. A similar trick is pulled in a later Brookner, Undue Influence. One is aware in these novels of Brookner masterminding almost diabolically the humiliation of her heroines.
- And we're left wondering: What exactly is wrong with them? What is wrong with Kitty? Why didn't Maurice choose her? Why didn't she win the game? As ever, Brookner hasn't quite got the answers - and that's why we know she'll be back at her writing desk before too long.