Wednesday 26 April 2017

Living on the Surface

I had no doubt that in the ballrooms of his youth the Colonel had been noted for his charm and his way with women. It was a style which he had carefully taught his son, who had never, as far as I could remember, uttered a serious word. Badinage was obviously the favoured means of exchange in the Sandberg establishment.
A Friend from England, ch. 5

This is a serious condemnation. Brookner hates the Sandbergs, with their plausibility, their polished manners, their uncertain income, their slippery identity, their sibilant speech: most of all she hates them for their jokiness. One thinks of Paul Sturgis in Strangers, longing for the sort of proper conversation he loved in the books of his youth: Werther, Adolphe (Strangers, ch. 7), but having to make do with 'opacity', 'social niceness'. Rachel in A Friend from England is a different proposition: she long ago decided to live her life on the surface (A Friend from England, ch. 5). But discussion of the 'inner life', its value, its existence in others, comes up time and again in the novel*. Rachel may try to live dispassionately, but it is more because she knows the passion she is capable of and all Brooknerians are capable of than because she has none. She intimately knows the depths; fears, like Phlebas the Phoenician, death by water.

*For example: seemed to me that she was a creature of some depth, shrewd ... but also possessing an admirable reticence, with the wit to know how to protect her inner life from the gaze of the curious. I appreciated this last trait: it is one I possess myself. (Ibid.)

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