Sunday 25 December 2016

A Problematic Time of Year

She handed me a brochure which showed a Jacobean-style mansion in a sunlit snowy landscape. Inside was another photograph of a log fire in a marble fireplace wreathed with holly. The first thing to register was the price charged for this three-day Christmas break, which struck me as excessive, although this apparently was what people were prepared to pay for the privilege of being taken in at a problematic time of year ... Feeling slightly sick I noted that Christmas Day would be marked by full English breakfast, morning coffee, with a visit from more carol singers, traditional Christmas lunch, followed by tea with Christmas cake. Dinner would consist of a Scandinavian smorgasbord.
A Family Romance, Ch. 7

Brookner loves to be disgusted. The description of Dolly's vulgar Christmas in a Bournemouth hotel runs to a page or more. We are presented with the full horrifying details of the proposed extravaganza. A good deal of cultural knowledge is naturally required to make sense of such a smorgasbord of signifiers. (And a smorgasbord is, I think, vulgar, suggestive of the aspirations of Seventies suburban hostesses. A little later, Brookner contemplates the guests 'stuffed to the gills' with Christmas cake and smorgasbord.) Even the location - Bournemouth, far from London, far from acceptable Brooknerland - has its meaning. All of which is of course very exclusive, very elitist. But this will depend on our point of view. We're either on Brookner's side or we're not.

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