Sunday 23 April 2017

Endlessly Capacious

I felt as if I were in the presence of a distinct culture, rather like the one that had prevailed in the Russian novels I so enjoyed, in which endless days are spent sitting on terraces ... I had the same sensation of time being endlessly capacious, and memory and melancholy being equally tyrannical...
A Friend from England, ch. 1

Was there ever a finer description not so much of reading a great Russian novel as of reading an Anita Brookner? That sense of time's elasticity. Brookner's time-schemes, as we have seen, are often difficult to follow, and this may be deliberate. We cast off, and the marker buoys are few and far between, and soon we're in water that's very deep indeed.

The passage above goes on to quote from what Brookner, possibly with her tongue in her cheek, said was her favourite novel, Goncharov's Oblomov:
What meads, what kvasses were drunk, what pies were baked at Oblomovka!
The dedicated Brooknerian will recognise this also from the opening of Visitors:
What meads, what kvasses were brewed, what pies were baked at Oblomovka!
Why the slight difference? Possibly she was referring to a different translation, but I like to think of Brookner, like Sir Walter Scott, quoting from memory from her well-stocked mind.

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