Saturday 8 July 2017

The Brooknerthon

New to Anita Brookner? Let me suggest a route into and through what a critic (unfavourably but memorably) once called the long dark corridor of her fiction.
  1. Start with a late-period novel. Brookner's fiction divides roughly but usefully into three phases: the 1980s, the 1990s and the 2000s. The early work is inconsistent but often brilliant; the middle period is more settled, more even. In Brookner's last works we see a return to the unpredictability she started with, now allied to a greater assuredness of form and style. Start with The Next Big Thing (Making Things Better) (2002). Also try The Bay of Angels (2001) and The Rules of Engagement (2003). Scarier than the scariest horror story.
  2. Next try the essential early Brookner: Look at Me (1983). A remarkable and quite extreme laying out of the Brookner manifesto. The final chapters contain some of the bleakest and most unsettling passages in the whole of English literature. Temper this with the novel of the following year, Hotel du Lac - not quite a comic reworking of Look at Me, but certainly much lighter.
  3. Stay with the early phase for the moment and experience the full flowering of a quality often missed in Brookner's novels: compassion. Try Family and Friends (1985) or Latecomers (1988). 'Searchingly gentle,' said Ruth Rendell of the latter.
  4. You'll probably need a break by now. Why not take a sidestep into the world of Brookner's criticism? She wrote for the TLS, the LRB, the Burlington, and prolifically for the Spectator. The Spectator's archive website is far from perfect, but it's free, and with a little effort you'll find Brookner gems aplenty.
  5. The real solid substantial part of the Brookner oeuvre came in the 1990s. Magisterial is the word. Try A Family Romance (Dolly) (1993), A Private View (1994) or Visitors (1997). Unshowy, unfashionable, and made for the future.
  6. Brookner's art criticism is of enormous value and always instructive. Easiest to get hold of are Soundings (1997) and Romanticism and Its Discontents (2000).
  7. Finish your journey (with still much to enjoy) with either Brookner's bleak last novel Strangers (2009) or her funny sprightly first, A Start in Life (The Debut) (1981). You choose. You'll know what you like by then.
The long dark corridor of her fiction

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