‘John Updike goes post-modern’ is the publishing strapline Brookner icily suggested for his Memories of the Ford Administration as she reviewed it for the Spectator in 1993. The novel, she complained (Brookner was an Updike fan, so her disappointment was deeply felt), collapses into different parts, representing different epochs and states of consciousness, a challenge to accepted structures. The ‘post-modern novel’, says Brookner, is a genre in which the writer-reader contract has been ‘arbitrarily renegotiated’.
The result … is too often incoherent, and the hero of such a novel, usually a scholar or historian researching his own past, would provide a service if he were to write a short introduction or prologue informing the rest of us of his intentions.
Two years later comes Brookner's Incidents in the Rue Laugier, in which a writer interrogates her past, reconstructing or rather imagining the stories of her forebears in full postmodern knowledge of their unreliability. A frame narrative - a short introduction or prologue, as it were - is duly provided.
Below we see the first UK hardback and paperback editions. The hardback seems to show a generic scene. The other is View with Reflection (1987) by Avigdor Arikha, a Paris-based Israeli artist. In an essay in David Britt's Modern Art, Marco Livingstone writes,
In his paintings of empty interiors Arikha was intent on conveying, through the quivering presence of each brush-stroke, a palpably physical sensation of stillness and comforting warmth of light.
And here is the rue Laugier itself as I found it a few years later, probably around 1999. It gave little away, was merely one of those blank monumental Right-Bank streets, silently residential for the most part, though it also had, I recall, a dry cleaners', possibly derelict.
An idle moment found me a few days ago digitally travelling around Google Maps. The rue Laugier is, I find, very long. This, I think, is the same scene today: