Thursday 27 April 2017


Rachel, an 'extremely emancipated young woman', as Brookner told the Paris Review - and a young woman 'whom they will not be able to think is me!' - seems at first glance an experiment with a new, unfamiliar and possibly unsympathetic character. She's emotionally cold, sexually liberated, ruthless in her 'sensible arrangements', and is spoken of as a feminist. At the time many critics saw Rachel as unBrooknerian, at any rate 'an extreme case in the Brookner hospital', according to Hermione Lee.

But knowing the complete oeuvre, we may think differently now. Rachel is atypical only if you don't know your Brookner, if you credit too far Brookner's often disingenuous, stagy pronouncements in the various interviews, and if you think Brookner's some kind of super-sophisticated Barbara Pym. In fact there's nothing unusual about the narrator of A Friend from England. She's Zoe, she's Emma, she's George Bland. In chapter 5, for example, we see Rachel roaming the city, like many another Brooknerian flâneur or flâneuse, and her wanderings are 'feral'; while she may not be wildly and unsuitably in love like Bland or Herz, she's certainly as dangerously distrait and (a key word in A Friend from England, given its obsession with the fear of water) 'adrift' as those lycanthropic later Brooknerians.

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