Sunday 20 November 2016

Look at Me

There's a line in Look at Me about getting by on style alone: Frances Hinton refers to her physical appearance on the eve of her last visit to the Frasers', but the line might apply to writing as much as to anything else.

You always have to reread, especially with Brookner. I often think, rereading, that I've never quite got to the bottom of precisely how and where Anita Brookner stands in relation to her personages – whether she scorns or loves them, disdains or endorses their little ways. It is possible to underestimate the really very radical strength of her disenchantment, her disaffection. Her novels, when you reread them, can be truly shocking. As I've said before, one's heart is in one's mouth.

I reread Look at Me in the aftermath of Brookner's death. Frances never does condemn her tormentors. She can only condemn herself. She longs for a voice, but none is available. She will be a writer one day, but only as a penance for her lack of luck. And she will not resile from that position. She is, like many of the oppressed, the imprisoned and the abused, supportive of her abusers: just as I, the reader, beguiled by the charm of Brookner's ideal prose, can come to accept any number of assumptions, while the sly author smiles a closed-off smile, and feints and dodges and glides away, ever out of reach.

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