Wednesday 19 April 2017

About the Author #2

'About the Author' jacket pieces have always fascinated me, probably because I grew up in a time of information scarcity, i.e. before the Internet. I've listed Brookner's 'About the Author' texts in a previous post: what I noted was the way the information grew sparser as the decades went by. In early versions we were given her academic credentials; mid-period pieces were both detailed and ludic ('She trained as an art historian and taught at the Courtauld Institute of Art until 1988, when she abandoned her title of Reader in the History of Art at the University of London for the anonymity of a small flat in Chelsea and the cultivation of certain fictional characters who may one day appear in future novels.'), whereas the biographies accompanying her last novels were terse, reluctant, almost brusque.

Which brings me to 'At the Hairdresser's' (2011). A new form - an e-book, a novella - and so, perhaps, a new start. This 'About the Author' is unusually long; it details her achievements as a novelist and art historian. But we begin with: 'Anita Brookner was born in south London in 1928, the daughter of a Polish immigrant family.'

Did Brookner write this, or did an editor? Brookner often said she never felt quite English - but would she have self-identified as a member of a possibly oppressed minority, moreover an oppressed minority living in (perhaps) a less fashionable part of London, and also (perhaps) as a 'mere girl'? All these things are telegraphed or implied: 'Polish immigrant family', 'south London', 'daughter'. In fact the Brookners or the Bruckners were considerably well-heeled. Her maternal grandfather supplied cigars to King Edward VII. Brookner received an expensive education.

But 'At the Hairdresser's' was published in 2011, and the world had moved on. The world was no longer impressed by tales of Establishment grandeur. So here, for a new age, we get a new Brookner - one who clawed her way up from humble, even deprived, beginnings, one whose fiction might have relevance to a fresh readership and to those sympathetic to the plight of minorities today.

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