Saturday 24 June 2017

Hotel du Lac, Chapter 12

So I come to the end of my trek through Brookner's most famous novel. I accorded it this treatment in acknowledgement of its undoubted preeminence, and not because I have any particular fannish zeal for it. But it is special to me insofar as it was the first Brookner I read. Rereading it now, nearly thirty years later, I tried to be objective. But I found recent memories of the BBC film of the novel intrusive. And I found the novel's tone a little too ironic, too almost whimsical at times.

Surely among the unlikeliest things ever to have
appeared on a TV screen

It's certainly a comic novel overall, perhaps a reaction against the darkness of its immediate predecessor, Look at Me. The resolution of the Mr Neville plot does have similarities with events in the previous novel, but the effect on Edith is infinitely less devastating than what is suffered by Frances Hinton. The two books also draw similar conclusions on the subject of writing, the first markedly more serious and defeatist:
It was then that I saw the business of writing for what it truly was and is for me. It is your penance for not being lucky. (Look at Me, ch. 6)
Why does the recipe no longer work? Is it because the whole process now seems too much like the hair shirt of the penitent, angling to get back into God's good graces? (Hotel du Lac, ch. 12)
But Hotel du Lac finishes in a sombre key - perhaps a more characteristically Brooknerian key. Even before the truth about Mr Neville is revealed, Edith is contemplating the change:
Looking back, she saw that [on her first evening here] she had been braver, younger, more determined ... It had seemed, at the time, almost a joke ... Since then she felt as if she had acquired an adult's seriousness...
I find the transformation in the novel's tone one of its saving graces, even one of its triumphs. It makes us feel we've come a long way. It is something of a surprise to discover in this final chapter that Edith has been at the hotel for only two weeks.


The Brooknerian will now be taking a short break. I look forward to returning with thoughts on other hotel-set works of literature and preparations for my own visit to Vevey. Thanks for reading!

Friday 23 June 2017

Hotel du Lac, Chapter 11

One of the several things this chapter-by-chapter survey has shown me is the extent to which Brookner elegantly varies her narrative methods. The interleaving of group scenes, two-handers, passages of individual introspection, letters and flashbacks gives an agreeable sense of structure and substance to an otherwise fairly slight novel.

Chapter 11, in which Mr Neville and Edith take a trip on a pleasure steamer, reads like a novelisation of a well-made play by Noel Coward, or even Oscar Wilde. The tone and the treatment are oddly superficial and at odds with the content. Brookner never quite gets to grips with Mr Neville. He's a 'curiously mythological personage'. The terms of his debate are satisfyingly and reassuringly antique, but his patriarchal condescension perhaps demands greater scrutiny than the novel is prepared to offer. Edith unpicks his argument to an extent, but her critique is weakened by her weakened mood. Brookner herself is all but silent, almost ambivalent.

'Please don't cry,' says Mr Neville at one point. 'I cannot bear to see a woman cry; it makes me want to hit her.' But there is no challenge, and the narrative glides opaquely on.

'And I have a rather well-known
collection of famille rose dishes.
I am sure you love beautiful things.'

Thursday 22 June 2017

Hotel du Lac, Chapter 10

The novel's new tone - darker, less ironic - continues here. The season has changed; we're heading towards winter. Then there's a scene with the Puseys: Alain, the young waiter, has been (wrongly) accused of impropriety. 'Of course, he'll have to go,' says Mrs Pusey.

The Puseys are no longer comic characters. The scene isn't played as farce, as might have been the case earlier. Instead we see the Puseys' carelessness, their misrule, their disregard of others, and also Mrs Pusey's fear of change. That Jennifer Pusey may have one or two secrets is hinted at. The mystery of the opening and closing door is again invoked. 'I wonder,' thinks Edith. 'I wonder.'

'My patience with this little comedy is wearing a bit thin,' she says to herself, confirming the change that has been in the air of the novel for some time.

Breakfastless - for the hotel is at sixes and sevens - she heads into town, turning into Haffenegger's,* where she meets Monica. The themes are feminism, exile and homesickness. The tone is glum. The changed circumstances are acknowledged:
It seemed to both of them in their separate ways that only the possession of this day held worse days at bay, that, for each of them, the seriousness of their relative predicaments had so far been material for satire or ridicule or even for amusement. But that the characters who had furnished that satire or that amusement were now taking on a disturbing life of their own...
Time in chapter 10 passes alarmingly quickly. Soon it is afternoon and the day is wasted. We finish in the hotel again, preparing for dinner. Like chapter 5 the chapter has taken place, classically, over the course of a day.

It's worth pointing out here that one isn't quite sure how long Edith Hope has been at the Hotel du Lac. Everybody seems fully institutionalised. One recalls the inmates of the Swiss sanatorium in The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann, and the terrifying vagueness with which days, months, years go by.

*Last encountered in chapter 6 (see my post), where the spelling was slightly different.

Tuesday 20 June 2017

Hotel du Lac, Chapter 9

What do we think of flashbacks? Generally I'm not a fan. I was disconcerted when I read Fitzgerald's Tender is the Night in the original version, Bowen's The House in Paris, and Larkin's A Girl in Winter, all of which contain lengthy flashback sections centrally placed. In Hotel du Lac the key flashback comes later, two thirds of the way through, and elements of it have already been hinted at. As such it works, but only just.

Edith's misgivings about marriage are about love and its absence: she isn't content with the 'kind looks and spectacles' model of mature romance favoured by the likes of Barbara Pym. But more than that she worries about her writing. Married, she would not be writing. Writing may be 'illicit', rather shamefully 'orgiastic', but it is authentic. We are reminded (again) of Larkin in the poem 'Vers de Société', labouring under a lamp, looking out to see the moon 'thinned / To an air-sharpened blade':
A life, and yet how sternly it's instilled
All solitude is selfish.
This is to be no 'noble jilt' of the Trollopian kind. Geoffrey Long, Edith's ill-fated fiance is dismissed out of hand, condemned for the 'totality of his mouse-like seemliness'. He is, in a word, unBrooknerian, and to Edith's rejection of him the true Brooknerian can only raise a cheer.

For Edith, who seems at times in the novel rather mousy herself, is perhaps in fact a genuine malcontent - nowhere near as extreme a case as, say, Frances in Look at Me or any number of figures in the later novels. But as the full story of her wedding day is revealed the novel finds its feet, Kodak-sharp not only in details of food, clothes, the surrounding streets, Larkinian in their charming ordinariness, but also in its setting out of Edith's emotional rebellion and refusal to be bowed - its setting out also of Edith's rejection of the sort of modern inauthentic life her friends had earmarked for her, and which they themselves seem only too happy to live. There's a small but telling detail buried in the middle of the chapter. Amid the modish vol-au-vents and asparagus rolls of the proposed wedding breakfast is a Nesselrode pudding, an archaic and unfashionable confection, but loaded with significance for Edith, loaded with notions of a better past.
'Pudding, Edith? You must be mad,' said Penelope. 'My mother loved it,' countered Edith, and thought, privately, that her mother would have considered this a puny alliance. 

Monday 19 June 2017

Hotel du Lac, Chapter 8

Chapter 8, the first part of which comprises a long extract from one of Edith's letters to David, focuses on the timeworn themes of appearance and reality. Mrs Pusey, so spry, is revealed to be seventy-nine, and possibly deaf, and her daughter, who looks about fourteen, is in fact Edith's age, thirty-nine. Edith's disappointed Viennese mother is pictured reading innocent romances ('Perhaps that is why I write them') while dressed in an ancient peignoir. 'My mother's fantasies, which remained unchanged all her life, taught me about reality. And although I keep reality in the forefront of my mind, and refer to it with grim constancy, I sometimes wonder if it serves me any better than it served my mother.' Such reflections are occasioned by the elaborate fantasy of Mrs Pusey's birthday party, the artificiality and theatricality of which Edith compares and contrasts with her own memories and also with the less than enviable lives of the other guests - Mme de Bonneuil, for example, dutifully attending the entertainment but 'a stranger to such elaborate games of make-believe'.

'Suddenly', writes Edith, 'I had the uncanny feeling that this was all for show, that everything was a pretence, that this had been a dinner of masks, that no one was ever, ever going to tell the truth again.' The lightly comic ironic tone of much of the novel so far begins here to be undermined. 'Unsound elements seemed to have crept into [Edith's] narrative,' comments Brookner. David, we are told, likes to be amused by Edith's 'news from Cranford', a reference to one of the most charming and delightful works in the whole of English literature.

The chapter finishes on a note of true sobriety. Edith is at last ready to review in her mind the events that led to her exile at the Hotel du Lac. The novel's revels, it seems, are at an end.
The careful pretence of her days here, the almost successful tenor of this artificial and meaningless life which had been decreed for her own good by others who had no real understanding of what her own good was, suddenly appeared to her in all their futility.

Sunday 18 June 2017

Hotel du Lac, Chapter 7

Interviewer: Despite their subtlety and variations, all your books so far have been basically about love. Do you think you will go on writing about love?
Brookner: What else is there? All the rest is mere literature!
Interviewer: Where do you see yourself in the tradition of English literature?
Brookner: I don't know anything like that. I'm a middle-class, middle-brow novelist. And that's it. It amuses me. 

'You write about love,' says Mr Neville. 'And you will never write anything different, I suspect, until you begin to take a harder look at yourself.' Anita Brookner, in interview, purported to be on Edith's side, even to the extent of pretending she herself was Edith's kind of novelist. Yet in none of Edith Hope's novels would we find the sort of exchange that takes up much of chapter 7 of Hotel du Lac. The conversation is a deconstruction of the terms that underpin Edith's writing, and more widely of the romantic life her writing advocates. It is by far the best scene in the novel so far, not least for its challenging metafictional qualities.

Mr Neville, depicted as the Duke of Wellington in the previous chapter, is here commended for his 'eighteenth-century face'. There's something rigorously antique about the whole encounter. We might recall Brookner's comment in her interview with Olga Kenyon in Women Writers Talk (1989):
Probably this is the first time since the Regency that men and women can converse on equal terms.
So what does Brookner believe? Is she on Mr Neville's side, or on Edith's? I don't think we'll ever decide, and this is a central tension - though she also told Olga Kenyon she shared 'practically all' of Edith's characteristics, that Hotel du Lac was a very personal story, and that she 'meant it. Every word'.

Saturday 17 June 2017

Hotel du Lac, Chapter 6

Followers of this blog will know I recently read, with great pleasure, Lotte in Weimar by Thomas Mann. Another largely hotel-focused story, the novel takes place in the early nineteenth century but reveals its modernist credentials towards the end, when Mann gives us Goethe's thoughts and feelings in a long stream-of-consciousness chapter. Edith Hope, in Hotel du Lac, though she may look a little like Virginia Woolf, is no modernist, and nor is her creator. Chapter 6, though reflective, introspective, and set deep in Edith's consciousness, nevertheless could have been written by Jane Austen or Anthony Trollope.

Not least because Brookner gives us Edith's letters to her lover. This is a successful and fitting technique, and there will, I recall, be a smart pay-off at the end of the novel, when Edith reveals she hasn't sent any of the letters. But it is old-fashioned. But again, perhaps fittingly so.


Some additional points:

1. Balkanization
[Mrs Pusey and Monica] are not on good terms and use me as a buffer state [Edith writes]. I am subject to a certain amount of balkanization.
Brookner uses metaphor sparingly, and speaks of politics even less frequently. Talk of buffer zones and the Balkans is arresting, dragging the narrative slightly awkwardly into the here and now.

2. Haffennegger's

This seems to be a cafe in Vevey, although I can find no mention of it on Google. It will be something to investigate during my visit. I shall also be interested to see whether the Grand Hôtel du Lac has a room 307, Edith's room.

3. The Duke of Wellington

Mr Neville 'looks rather like that portrait of the Duke of Wellington that was stolen from the National Gallery some time ago'.

Goya's portrait was in fact stolen in the early 1960s, when Edith would have been a very young woman. In early Brookner, Brookner's protagonists are often much younger than their creator.

4. Kindle highlighters

There's a line about emotional incontinence that has been chosen by no fewer than 43 'highlighters'. Who are these people? Why can't they be more continent? Is there any way of switching off this irritating function?

5. Time Revealing Truth

David is seen in his auction room, selling a work called Time Revealing Truth, attributed to Francesco Furini. Hotel du Lac is plainly a populist effort, but it is interesting to see Brookner's wider intellectual concerns and interests intruding on the text. This seems to be the theme of an academic article from 2010, 'Anita Brookner's Visual World'.

Thursday 15 June 2017

Hotel du Lac, Chapter 5

Anita Brookner could never be accused of an over-slavish adherence to the notion of the classical unities. She plays fast and loose with her time-schemes, she sends her characters on vacation at a moment's notice, and not a few of her novels contain several disparate plots. None of which need be considered criticisms.

Chapter 5 of Hotel du Lac is an exception, as well as being a rather satisfying and exceptional chapter in its own right (at least in an 'early Brookner' sort of way - and I'm really trying to get over my mild prejudice against her early work).

The chapter takes place in the hotel over the course of a day, and it centres solely on Edith's viewpoint. Edith wakes from a series of dreams, a typical Brooknerian device (see an earlier post on the topic of dreams), though here the dreams are 'disjointed' and 'half dream, half memory'. As such they have a narrative function, introducing us further to the hotel guests, especially the 'man in grey' who will soon be known as Mr Neville.

A migraine follows, which confines Edith to the hotel for the day. Migraines and other such eclipses have their place in the Brookner repertoire. The speed of the novel, never exactly breakneck, slows, allowing for some passages of fine writing. We see the view in its late-summer glory and the scene on the hotel terrace in its Sunday somnolence.

We also get to watch the hotel guests in greater detail. The woman with the dog is named - Monica - and Mme de Bonneuil's history is sketched in. There's a degree of class-based comedy at the expense of the Puseys ('Ma Pusey', as Monica calls her). Mr Neville and Edith have one of their combative conversations. And the sound of a door shutting in the night - a plot point, as I recall - begins and ends the chapter.

But Brookner isn't a naturally dramatic writer. Here she observes the dramatic unities, but she is perhaps writing against the grain. She much prefers narrative that is interiorised, psychological, and, if the world must be shown, painterly. Not for nothing does Edith describe herself as a 'lay figure ... useful to a painter'.

Wednesday 14 June 2017

Hotel du Lac, Chapter 4

'Are you a writer?' he enquired, in a voice very slightly tinged with amusement.
Brookner is to be applauded for writing so rarely about writers. I can think of only a handful of writer-protagonists: Edith, here; Frances in Look at Me; and Jane in A Family Romance. None is quite a Brooknerian artist. Edith is a romance novelist; Frances writes Barbara Pym-style comic short stories for the New Yorker; and Jane is a children's writer.

Brookner was ambivalent as to the attractions of a writing life. It was a penance for being unlucky, she said in Look at Me (chapter 6). Later, in interview, she said writing had reprieved her from the despair of living. In Hotel du Lac Edith's work is 'obscure and unnoticeable', though her 'labours' are said to 'anaesthetise' her.

The Puseys are again a focus in chapter 4, and a note of seriousness is gestured towards. Their presumed ages are getting steadily higher; and 'in a way she could not define [the Puseys] were both out of date'. But it's men who take centre stage now, the man in grey (Mr Neville) in the present of the hotel, and David in another of Edith's reminiscences.

David is presented initially as an exotic figure. He talks of 'the Rooms' in which he works, and rather than auction rooms Edith imagines opium dens, Turkish baths, a tiled hammam, the Moorish paintings of Delacroix.

But his exoticism is really of another order, as John Haffenden in his early interview with Brookner pointed out:
The men in your novels ... have the common denominator of being staunch Christians...
- and therefore distinct from the implied Jewishness, certainly foreignness, of the classic Brookner heroine. To which Brookner replied:
They are conservative, establishment creations, aren't they? And as such impervious to these dark imaginings, these brooding midnight fantasies.
Novelists in Interview, Methuen, 1985

Delacroix, Femmes d'Alger dans leur appartement

Monday 12 June 2017

Hotel du Lac, Chapter 3

'Incidentally, although I have been thinking of Mrs Pusey as a lady, I have adjusted this downwards: Mrs Pusey is definitely a woman ... And the woman with the dog has to be adjusted upwards to lady, or rather Lady.'
Brookner's is a conservative imagination. Characters, however individual, are fitted into established roles and types. The boy Alain, who brings Edith's breakfast, has 'the set expression and also the expertise of a much older servant, a gentleman's gentleman'. Later, in town, there's a reassuring scene in a cafe, with 'sturdy-looking women' drinking coffee and eating cakes, and 'flushed waitresses' hurrying between tables. Brookner, or Edith, looks for the eternal, the unchanging in the human scene.

The chapter proceeds once more through reflection and flashback. Edith wakes; then her mind returns to yesterday evening, and we see how her meeting with the Puseys developed. This is occasion for some high comedy, subtly of a class nature. Of a different, more typically Brooknerian sort, are Edith's memories of her disappointed mother. We find ourselves in heavy Viennese interiors, and later in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, looking at a painting that could be Bruegel's Land of Cockaigne (but that's in Munich) or else The Harvesters (which is in the Met, New York).

One further point: the 'veal-coloured' decor of the hotel. Veal is an unEnglish meat; I never ate it until I went abroad. In the Eighties and Nineties, UK involvement in the European veal industry was roundly condemned in the British tabloids, and I think there was legislation as a result. 'Veal-coloured' is therefore a peculiarly Continental choice of words.

Saturday 10 June 2017

Hotel du Lac, Chapter 2

A steady pace and a sparkling tone are maintained in Hotel du Lac's second chapter. We get to know more about Edith's lover David, and we get further viewings of the hotel's guests. The fairly monstrous Mrs Pusey (but 'dainty with it,' as Brookner said in interview) and Jennifer come to the fore.

The mystery of Edith's presence in Vevey (which is never named) remains potent. We're also treated to a key passage, the famous, clever, and perhaps now rather hackneyed lines about the hare and the tortoise (which crop up here and there on Twitter with aggravating regularity).

The passage comes during one of the book's many flashbacks. Edith is about to undergo the ordeal of dinner at the hotel. She leans back for a moment and closes her eyes, remembering the last meal she had before leaving England, with her agent. We're clearly deep within Edith's consciousness here, but during the remembered meal something disconcerting happens. We suddenly have access to the private thoughts and observations of the agent. These are useful in that they let us see Edith from the outside, but they're at the expense of the usual novelistic protocols.

A similar clumsiness is seen at the sentence level. In the following sentence, the gerund is misapplied:
Talking busily to each other, knives and forks flashed as they ate their way enthusiastically through four courses...
I grant that these are all rare and minor slips, but perhaps they remind us that Hotel du Lac is a relatively early Brookner.

Hotel du Lac, Chapter 1

I'll admit at the start that I find myself resistant to Hotel du Lac. This may be a result of having watched the BBC film fairly recently. I keep hearing Anna Massey's arch tones.

The tone of chapter 1 is of interest. At times it's whimsical, clever-clever. 'A cold coming I had of it,' writes Edith to her lover. And later in the letter, 'Not drowning, but waving' and 'all these sad cypresses'. Brookner describes the hotel's austere amenities with similar jaunty irony:
It was implied that prolonged drinking, whether for purposes of business or as a personal indulgence, was not comme il faut, and if thought absolutely necessary should be conducted either in the privacy of one's suite or in the more popular establishments where such leanings were not unknown.
The Augustan expansiveness of that sentence seems typical of the novel. One recalls Philip Larkin's comments on Anthony Powell's style:
A formal, slightly absurd view of life requires a matching style: Mr Powell's is Comic Mandarin, a descendant of Polysyllabic Facetiousness. ('Mr Powell's Mural', Required Writing)
Contrast chapter 1 of Hotel du Lac with the opening of Brookner's A Private View, written ten years later. In that novel we're presented with a comparable set-up: a character abroad. But George Bland's circumstances are considered with much greater sombreness, and, what's more, we're inside his head from the start - whereas Edith Hope comes gradually into view, and disappears at the end of the chapter. This focusing and defocusing perhaps gives the chapter a neat arc. At the start it's achieved by use of the passive voice - 'all that could be seen', 'It was to be supposed': we're aware through the long opening paragraph of an observing consciousness, but we don't see her, and we don't quite see with her eyes. Brookner's omniscience is confirmed at the end of the chapter when we view Edith through the eyes of old Monsieur Huber. I'm not sure about the success of these shifts of perspectives.

Chapter 1 of Hotel du Lac presents us with an interesting situation, a few puzzles, and some engaging characters. There is little sense of jeopardy. But should there be? There's jeopardy aplenty in, for example, A Private View, but A Private View isn't a comedy. That's what Hotel du Lac, at this early stage, seems to promise to be.

Friday 9 June 2017

Hotel du Lac

I come, as I always knew I would, to Hotel du Lac. It's a faintly daunting prospect. You'll forgive me if I take it slowly, looking for the moment at some cover images. This is a fruitful enterprise, as Hotel du Lac is undoubtedly Brookner's most popular and reissued book. (I talked about its dominance in an earlier post.)

To begin: the first UK edition, and the most famous. Are we in the South of France? The light seems too bright. Is that a palm tree?

Now for some later UK editions, and the balcony motif has become established, even ritualised - to the extent almost that it has left the original behind. Look at the second, monochrome image below, from Penguin. It's a distant simulacrum. Is this a nineteenth-century novel?

The posthumous republication of most of the Brookner corpus in 2016 yielded a set of largely successful black-and-white images. But Hotel du Lac's dominance was signalled with a (faded, colour) cover, showing a (vintage) car travelling beside a lake:

I don't dislike the image, though I would have liked to see the balcony tradition continued. If anything, the most recent cover makes me think of one of the paperback covers of Ishiguro's The Unconsoled, a novel that  Brookner championed. But that's just me.

Thursday 8 June 2017

Tired Soiled Colours

...exhibited in the Salon of 1800 was the last Jeune fille qui pleure la mort de son oiseau (Louvre) which is not so much a study in double meaning as a fascinating piece of mannerism. The heavy hair has acquired a serpentine life of its own and twines in and out of the knotted drapery. The hands are boneless and affected, the head very large in proportion to the body. The effect is increased by the tired soiled colours...
Brookner, Greuze, ch. 7

This is not to say that Brookner's own style ever became affected, coagulated - but that she knew the dangers awaiting an artist over the long term. Greuze painted what his audience and presumably he liked to see, and thereby lost objectivity, thereby grew unable to see his own shortcomings. Brookner certainly had her detractors, though her supporters outnumbered them. And no one was probably as sceptical as Brookner herself - never quite enamoured of the idea of being a writer of fiction, and, while maintaining the integrity of a peculiar and very individual vision, ever alert to the need to keep her colours fresh.

Wednesday 7 June 2017


She believes that therapy is the answer to the sort of stalemate at which we have arrived, and I dare not tell her that this stalemate suits me well enough, for I intend to proceed no further.
Altered States, ch. 17

This is the last in my series of posts on Altered States. I found it, on rereading, both chilly and chilling. It has the atmosphere of a ghost story, as more than one critic has pointed out. A number of the Nineties Brookners seem to have this low temperature, this sense of dead calm after great storms. Altered States is an autumnal, a wintry book.

Tuesday 6 June 2017

Rendering of Accounts

'You're mad, Alan. You're a fantasist.'
Altered States, ch. 15

Here Sarah and Alan meet for the last time. The meeting has many of the hallmarks of a final showdown, such as novels are supposed to conclude with. But Brookner, like James (and the ending of The Sacred Fount - 'My poor dear, you are crazy, and I bid you good-night!' - is of relevance), makes of these conventions something of her own. The meeting in fact becomes a tussle over the future of Jenny, whose strange story has shadowed Sarah's. In the end Sarah fades into her habitual silence and inaccessibility, declining every overture, every over-thought Brooknerian sally:
'It was always too late. You were too slow, too innocent.' 
'And it's the fate of innocents to be massacred, or so we're told.' 
'Just leave me alone, will you?'

Monday 5 June 2017

Not Too Unhappy

'Not too unhappy?' he said, getting to his feet. 
'Of course I'm unhappy. But it's quite bearable. Even interesting. I'd like to work it out on my own, for however long that takes...'
Altered States, ch. 15

One is reminded of Brookner's words in her 1994 Independent interview:
Depression can be quite fruitful if it leads to thoughtfulness, inwardness. Certainly my parents' deaths, certainly disappointments in love have led to periods, yes, quite long periods of depression - but they haven't been entirely defeating, you see, they've been quite nourishing. Because you're very receptive when you're in that state: in fact, it's invaluable.

Sunday 4 June 2017


I decided not to go straight back to the office but to go home, make some coffee, and sit in absolute silence for an hour. I wanted solitude, though this is frowned on in a healthy adult. The propaganda goes the other way; one is urged to get out of oneself, as if preferring one's own company were a dangerous indulgence. I wanted, above all else, to be free of attachments, of those personal agendas which are wished on one in any conversation of any depth, and which are as disruptive to the process of contemplation as a telephone ringing in the middle of the night. I was not sick, I was not melancholy: I simply demanded that I might enjoy the peace of the situation I had inherited.
Altered States, ch. 14


The phrasing of the 'propaganda' line seems to be idiolectic. Compare this from chapter 2 of Hotel du Lac:
The propaganda goes all the other way, but only because it is the tortoise who is in need of consolation.

Saturday 3 June 2017

Palely Loitering

Alan Sherwood in Altered States is, we learn, 'in thrall' to Sarah Miller. He gives her lilies. He blushes. Sarah, for her part, is ever distracted. She's enchanting. Their coming together is 'almost magical'. The novel begins and ends with an autumn-set frame narrative.

Brookner's invocations of English poets are rare, and indeed Keats's 'La Belle Dame sans Merci' isn't directly referenced here. But of all Brookner's novels Altered States is the one that, uncharacteristically for its Europhile author, aspires towards a more English version of Romanticism.


'A Pre-Raphaelite air of brooding intensity...' (Altered States, ch. 6)

Friday 2 June 2017

Wider Dimensions

I sensed that since [Jenny's] most lavish sympathies had brought her nothing in return, she had decided to withdraw them, even cancel them altogether. This had made me even more uncomfortable, as it exactly paralleled my own condition.
Altered States, ch. 13

Jenny, also known as Jadwiga and Edwige, returns to the footlights in the later part of the novel. She serves as a foil for both Sarah and the stolid Englishness represented by the narrator and, to an extent, by Sarah too. Jenny reminds us that there are other, European ways of doing things. She reminds us, in a novel that might otherwise seem somewhat parochial, of the wider dimensions of Brookner's work.

The passage above recalls an exchange in the John Haffenden interview. I've covered it before ('A Creative Power'), but it bears repeating:
[Interviewer:] What all your characters are left with is a resignation which is not even stoicism of the classical order; it's merely learning to put up with the way life is inevitably going to turn out.
[Brookner:] Yes, and the horror of that situation is profound.
Haffenden, Novelists in Interview (1985)

Thursday 1 June 2017

Ten Random Books

The literary blog Stuck in a Book urges you to select from your bookshelves 'ten random books to tell us about yourself'. I've found myself tempted by this 'meme', even though I haven't a full idea what a meme is. So - in the picture below, from the top:

1. Barbara Pym, A Very Private Eye
I do love these Grafton Books editions of Pym's works. This is a collection of her diaries and letters. Her eventual apotheosis, after years of neglect, gives hopes to us all. 'Beautiful ... contains the living essence of Barbara Pym,' says Brookner on the cover.

2. Anthony Trollope, Is He Popenjoy?
An old blue OUP Trollope, with wafer-thin pages. One can imagine some former owner reading it during the Blitz, Trollope's heyday. One has a sense, with such books, of rescuing them from oblivion. I read it in Switzerland, in cable cars and beside glaciers.

3. Baedeker's Southern Germany and Austria
From 1883. Because one would hate to be anywhere with no Baedeker.

4. Denise Gigante (ed.), The Great Age of the English Essay
Because I'm forever surprising a hunger in myself to be more serious.

5. Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Aurora Leigh
Ditto. I didn't actually finish this; I kept wondering why she didn't just give in and write a novel. But the Brownings have always fascinated me.

6. Benjamin Constant, Adolphe
If you're here, you'll possibly know why this is on my shelves.

7. Henry James, A London Life
Sometimes we remember books because of where we were when we read them; others because of where we bought them. I got this in Shakespeare and Co, very possibly from a wizened old man who may have been the legendary George Whitman.

8. E. M. Forster, Abinger Harvest
Are any of these essays any good? Or are they too insubstantial, too evanescent, too unwilling to commit themselves? I always think I want to read and reread Forster but I never quite get round to it. But I like to think of this book being on my shelves.

9. Kazuo Ishiguro, The Remains of the Day
I think I saw the film before I read the book, so reading could never be pure. But I like the cover. But how many books have I seen with dandelions on the cover?

10. Matthew Arnold, Selected Poems and Prose
I got through uni by reading poetry ('cos it's shorter), and this dates from those years. Don't think I've ever read any of the prose. But ah, 'The Scholar Gypsy'! '... this strange disease of modern life, / With its sick hurry, its divided aims...'