Tuesday 25 April 2017

Dorrie affairée

Who does not enjoy a set piece, by which I guess I mean an extended scene depicting a social occasion? Brookner goes in for them infrequently, but usually memorably. Disastrous meals are a feature: one thinks of Look at Me's climactic meal, or the dinner party in Fraud.

Such scenes, with their food, their clothes, their vulgar demotic dialogue, can unbalance a novel as finely woven as an Anita Brookner. In A Friend from England, for example in the engagement party and wedding scenes in chapter 3, Brookner seeks a middle way: dense paragraphs, indirect speech, a painterly attention to detail and manner and impression. This is in keeping with the estranged, disillusioned mood of the narrator. Rachel has things in common with Anthony Powell's almost disembodied narrator in his Music of Time sequence. Powell also has a fondness for a set piece, but his are on an epic scale. I remember a scene in one of the early novels, A Buyer's Market or The Acceptance World, that goes on for about a hundred pages.

Brookner's Rachel is more troubling in her passivity. There is something rotten, almost vampiric in her dependence on her adopted family. In spite of its surface sheen of amused irony, her story anticipates the disaffection of several later heroines, Zoe in The Bay of Angels or Emma in Leaving Home.

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