Tuesday 28 March 2017

Infinitely Various

Every reader who feels sympathy with the genre of the novel, and with its potential subtleties, will realise ... how wholly and satisfyingly different each of [Brookner's] turns out to be. George Eliot is a one-track performer beside her. But there is no point in such a comparison, for as a novelist Anita Brookner is both infinitely various and adorably unique.

Bayley's characteristically gushing pronouncement comes to mind because I've been reading George Eliot recently. Eliot's output seems less prolific than Brookner's, but of course her novels are generally much longer. Eliot's variousness is not in doubt. Consider her different settings - from fifteenth-century Florence in Romola to the contemporary Jewish underworld in Daniel Deronda. But her characters and their concerns, their cruxes and their dilemmas, are perhaps fairly continuous. What then of Brookner? Bayley was writing in 1994, in the middle years of Brookner's novel-writing career. His remarks are, surely, artfully contrary, but there's something in them. Consistent in length, setting, character type and theme, Brookner's fiction nevertheless gives off a sense of danger and uncertainty not found in many writers. You never quite know where she's going, nor where she'll end up, nor who'll get out alive.

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