Friday 11 November 2016

Morning Coffee at the Casino

Brooknerians dream of France - of Paris in particular. Lewis Percy always longs to return. A whole life, for Maud in Incidents in the Rue Laugier, is predicated on a youthful episode in that unremarkable Parisian street (which I visited once - and it was adamantine, very Right Bank, giving little away).

But the novels that concern themselves with more mittel-European themes and places are also to be considered. Julius Herz in The Next Big Thing, for example, remembers the Thirties in Germany. The horror that prompted his childhood translation to England remains all but undefined, even unspoken, so subtle is Brookner's technique. But a whole world is lamented. Herz recalls holidays in Baden-Baden, rides in a fiacre along the Lichtenthaler Allee, coffee at the Kurhaus.

I vacationed there one summer. Ah, Mitteleuropa - so solid, so gracious! Mitteleuropa - which somehow survives a century of torment! One feels, there, very far from England and its brutality, its vulgarity.

Brookner cherished older standards of conduct, the matchless world of the European past. Heroic clear-eyed Enlightenment sages like Voltaire; Romantic dandies like Stendhal; sober leviathans like Thomas Mann; and, nearer to hand, devastated exiles such as W. G. Sebald: all of them, and several more, and stylists all, were saints in Brookner's godless world, and ideal company.

A writer, writing of other writers, really only writes about herself.

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