Friday 23 December 2016


Brookner's, like Trollope's, is a conservative imagination. 'George must decide how much - or how little - he can do to transform the status quo,' reads the blurb to my edition of A Private View. Many a Brooknerian strives to break free, only to see the old dispensation restored. Not that Brookner doesn't provide final moments of epiphany, largely unearned. We might cite the closing lines of Fraud or what happens in the last sentence of Lewis Percy. Such endings give her work a novelistic shape, though Brookner knows their limitations:
There are moments when you feel free, moments when you have energy, moments when you have hope, but you can't rely on any of these things to see you through. (Haffenden interview, 1985)
The restoration of the status quo is achieved most memorably in the moments of shock and revelation that end, say, Providence or Undue Influence. The conclusion to Hotel du Lac is of another order.
[Haffenden:] [Edith] wins her freedom ... by accident, but the end - when she changes the wording of her telegram from 'Coming home' to 'Returning'- is ambiguous.
[Brookner:] 'Coming home' would be coming back to domestic propriety: 'home' implies husband, children, order, regular meals, but 'Returning' is her more honest view of the situation. (Ibid)
Brooknerians long for change but also fear it and reject it. They know the key discovery of the Romantics, that it is better to travel than to arrive. They know what arrival looks like; they see it in those around them. Let us finish with Miriam in Falling Slowly as she imagines the scorn and contempt of her contemporaries:
You are not one of us, said their eyes; you do not slop around untidily, push your hair back behind your ears, dress in the first thing that comes to hand. You do not shop for cornflakes, fish fingers, baked beans. You will not get fat. You do not take family holidays, the car loaded with junk. You only carry a briefcase, look astonishingly young, yet you must be what? getting on, anyway. Too late for you, then. You will have to make do with the rest of your life, with only yourself for company. (Ch. 9)

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