Sunday 12 March 2017

A Correct Development

All these books dwell on life's more uncomfortable moments, but that is in order, making straightforward fictions seem slightly old-fashioned. It is even seen as a correct development. According to an excellent book by Georges Minois, Histoire du Mal de Vivre: De la Mélancolie à la Dépression (La Martinière), we should all be feeling uncomfortable, even afflicted. As well as dwelling on the reasons for this Minois provides a thorough survey of melancholia from classical times to the present day, with poignant witness statements from various sources. He concludes that historical pessimism, together with the loss of good authority (something from which we suffer at the present day), has accelerated the process. He also cites the consumer society, the infantilising effect of popular culture and consequent absence of catharsis, the lack of intimate satisfaction, and the medicalisation of what is essentially a metaphysical condition. He offers no hope, not even from the pharmaceutical industry, which has done so much to make this state of mind a commonplace. The crisis (for it is one) must be alleviated by other means. What those means might be he prudently does not say.

Having recently reread several examples, I find myself wondering about the oddness of Anita Brookner's late novels. 'It may be that another form is called for, but of that there is no sign,' she says elsewhere in the above essay. In her own fiction of this period, it was perhaps the case that she gestured beyond the old-fashioned, the straightforward, that she was in some way questing blindly towards a new form. She didn't find it, but for sure she was 'leaving home'.

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