Sunday 12 March 2017

Abstaining from Accountability

Friendship sometimes demands less than full disclosure, and it may be more comfortable to abstain from an accountability which may leave one open to criticism.
Leaving Home, Ch. 18

Olga Kenyon: ...Which qualities do you value most in a friend?
Brookner: I think accountability, that's to say explaining actions with full knowledge of emotions and procedures. You get it in Russian novels: the complete confession. Accountability in friendship is the equivalent of love without strategy, and it is the Grail.
Women Writers Talk (Lennard, 1989)

If such characters persist through my novels that's because I don't know much about them, not because I know them too well. I write to find out what makes them tick.

It's an easy mistake to make, especially with the novels written in the first person. But really Brookner must be given at least a little credit when she says her novels aren't about herself. Of course those first-person narratives don't establish the sort of authorial distance to be found in, for example, The Turn of the Screw or The Remains of the Day. In spite of what Maffy says at the start of Incidents in the Rue Laugier, Brookner's narrators are all more or less reliable.

But several of her speakers stand at some remove. Emma, in Leaving Home, is as emotionally chilly as the narrators of A Friend from England and A Closed Eye. It's in such novels that one senses Brookner standing back and contemplating her creations, and learning what makes them tick.

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