Sunday 3 December 2017

Providence: Rien ne vaut la France

It doesn't yet feel like mature Brookner, but in Providence you do get the sense of an author finding her feet. The middle stretches are of interest: Brookner seems to proceed through indirection, sending Kitty Maule to a clairvoyant; to a colleague's cottage in Gloucestershire; on an outing with her grandparents; and to Paris. But the focus on the heroine and on the main plot is tighter than in A Start in Life, and this is an advance. The tone, accordingly, is more consistent. There is still humour - the schoolgirls and their teacher in Paris, for example - but it's better integrated and less distracting. The pace is, however, slack. It works in Trollope, this lessening of the tempo in the middle, but readers often need a breather in the course of a long Victorian tome. In a novel as short and slight as Providence the reader may feel uncertain as to where the story is going, may even suspect the writer of not really having a story to tell.

But the Paris scenes ('Rien ne vaut la France') are fresh and full of incident and authenticity. I well remember travelling there as a youngster myself: the ferry crossing, that cafeteria in the rue de Rivoli. Later Maurice arrives, secure and complacent in his faith. He proves a disruptive, alienating presence. He somehow, for all his Englishness, manages to appropriate France, a country Kitty might have thought of as her own.

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