Friday 25 May 2018

The Rules of Engagement: Obliquity

For the sense of exile I had experienced in Paris had a maturity about it which I had begun to recognise at the time: perhaps adulthood is a sense of exile, or rather that in exile we are obliged to act as adults.
The Rules of Engagement, ch. 3

Brookner's novels, especially the contiguous ones, are often in dialogue with one another. Exile, true exile, was the major theme of her previous, The Next Big Thing. Here, in The Rules of Engagement, she discusses a more figurative sort of exile. Elizabeth, the narrator, is profoundly alienated, but as often with Brooknerian disaffection it isn't easy to say exactly what's wrong with her or where her malaise has its origins. Indeed such questions might take up a whole book, and at the end we're scarcely any the wiser.

A fine example of late-Brookner obliquity comes a little later in the chapter:
I had achieved the kind of stasis that my situation demanded, and if I ever again wandered haplessly through uninhabited afternoons I should do so by my own decree, and with the assurance that I could at any time call upon the sort of companionship that would assure me dignity if nothing else.
Why won't she make herself clear? But such chariness is essential. Any other way, there wouldn't be a novel.

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