Saturday 12 November 2016

Anita in Metroland

Not long ago I reread Lewis Percy. What had been stodgy twenty years ago seemed lightsome and timeless now. It is an unBrooknerian novel, not least on account of its suburban setting. This isn't a world of mansion flats and Chelsea. But in its allegiances the novel is characteristic. Lewis's loyalty, we read, isn't to the stale diminished life he leads in the suburbs but to the content of the books he cherishes - surely Stendhal. There is no more Brooknerian statement of intent.

Lewis Percy, as Brookner herself acknowledged in an article in the Independent in November 1990, was roundly condemned by critics. But she remained true to what she thought of as her suburban novel, which a walk down Wandsworth Bridge Road on the way to the hairdresser's had inspired. Seduced into side-roads she found 'a distracting melancholy, an intensification of longing, and a landscape to mirror both'.

Innocence was,she opined, her theme. But surely Brookner is the least innocent of writers? Nevertheless, she found the 'radical dissociation' of certain critics surprising - 'as if in their world timorousness and doubt had been eliminated'.

Ah, whose side is Brookner on? Is she an insider or an outsider? It is a perennial and also a fruitful question.

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