Saturday 17 February 2018

The Next Big Thing: In Poppelsdorf

Flowers in the botanical gardens, Bonn

The Next Big Thing (2002), like many Brookners, seems to be set in the present day of the book's publication. (The recent Penguin photographic covers, however, generally suggest vaguely antique - 1950s, 1960s - settings.) There's a mention of email (or 'e-mail', as Brookner puts it) and mobile phones.

But Fanny's letter from Bonn (admittedly received after a delay, but only a short one) in chapter 13 complains of property prices having rocketed since so many government agencies set up shop in the city. Yet by 2002 German reunification was well established, and such bodies would surely have departed. Nowadays Bonn has a sleepy, sedate, slightly posthumous air.

But dating problems of this kind are not unusual in the novels of Anita Brookner. One learns to glide over them. What is important is the atmosphere of the novel, the texture - here the whole mittel-European world Fanny's letter so richly creates.

Or do I romanticise? Would an equivalent English city be so evocative? What would an equivalent city be? Leeds?

You may remember I visited Bonn in the summer, seeking out the suburb of Poppelsdorf where Fanny lives for a time. I remember the morning as strange, magical - and I think there's something of that feeling in the photographs I took.

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