Friday, 19 October 2018

Who Else Should I Read?

  • Read Trollope. For decent feelings, she said. In her own novels she references He Knew He Was Right and Orley Farm. I'm not keen on either. I love the later works, not all of which are the gloomy old things of repute. I think the likes of Ayala's Angel are among my favourite novels of any writer.
  • Read Roth and Updike. And the rest of the great American warhorses. Brookner always made a thing of her devotion to these most unBrooknerian writers. She was putting it on a bit, no doubt; but she made a good case.
  • Read Wharton. Brookner made a case for Wharton too. But I'm not sure she was right. She said she thought of herself as much more like Wharton than James. Again, I don't think she was right.
  • Read Sebald. She valued Sebald's sudden emergence, fully formed, on to the literary scene. She liked especially his evocation of old-style life and feelings.
  • For much the same reason, read Mann. The bourgeois past, European angst - and Switzerland.
  • Read Stendhal. I reckon he wasn't so much her favourite writer as her favourite person. His style, his attitudes, his insouciance.
  • Read Goncharov. Brookner said Oblomov was her favourite novel, and she quoted from it twice in her own novels. She liked it, she said, because it was about a man who failed at everything. This was probably something of the truth, but also a bit of a posture. I found Oblomov a dull read, and that line about the meads and kvasses brewed at Oblomovka was a lucky find of Brookner's, but not really representative.
  • Read Chekhov. For true Brooknerian sadness and nostalgia, that is. Not that Brookner recommended any particular Chekhovs, though she approved of his life. She approved in particular of his death - in Switzerland, wasn't it, and after a glass of champagne? A stylish way to go, at least in imagination. Brookner wasn't herself a drinker, and champagne gives a number of her characters a headache.
  • Read James. Well, of course. She loved The Portrait of a Lady, with its depiction of the passage from innocence to experience. She loved, of the later novels, The Spoils of Poynton, but found The Golden Bowl a little too redolent of the madness of art. For my part, I love that early late period of James's typified by Spoils: short brief astonishing novels, made for the future.
  • And of course, of course, read Dickens. She read one a year, having been introduced as a child. Her father saw the author as the key to Englishness. An only and perhaps lonely child, she was surprised when she went to school to find not everyone had a funny name.

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