Saturday 18 March 2017

The American Scene

France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, the Low Countries. Britain? London, of course, and its very immediate environs, along with cautious excursions as far afield as Bournemouth and Blakeney (wherever that is). This is Brooknerland.

It's a surprise to find Brookner in America, in the last chapter of A Family Romance. Jane Manning, now a celebrated author, visits women's colleges in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. This is principally an opportunity for Brookner to discuss feminism, and her own misgivings about it, and also to bring in a contrast with the life of Dolly, the aunt who is the novel's focus and with whom the novel ends. But Brookner has fun along the way, studiedly presenting American speech patterns ('Janet's copper beech. I confess to a little envy: I haven't one of my own.') and giving us glimpses of politically correct playgroups and guys in jeans doing their own ironing.

The gracious campuses are well described - lakes, trees, the charming suburban houses. One thinks of campuses in other fiction or in films, but one also senses an authenticity: Brookner is writing from experience. At one point Jane makes an observation that an older woman might make, and Brookner awkwardly acknowledges this.

Trollope, Dickens, Henry James - Brookner's English language heroes - were all better travelled. One would have liked to see George Bland in the Far East, as he had planned, or indeed any Brooknerian in an unBrooknerian locale. But it probably wouldn't work, as the American scene in A Family Romance (or Dolly) doesn't quite work. One prefers the obsessive retreading of the streets of London or Paris; one prefers another trip to Venice. There's always a chance, that way, that the end of all one's exploring will be to arrive where one started and know the place for the first time.

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