'I went to cities. At first I went to all the glamorous ones: Venice, Rome. But I did in fact feel rather lonely there. Then I realized that I didn't have to go to those places, that I was happier in small towns of no particular interest. So I picked the ones in which I could please myself, without witnesses. France, mostly. I was more or less contented when I could just amble round a church, and then sit down and drink coffee and read the local paper, half hear other people's conversations.'
Anita Brookner, The Next Big Thing, ch. 4
'Sounds hilarious,' says Herz's ex, Josie, in response, confirming her function in the novel: the obverse not just of Herz's long-lost love Fanny Bauer, but also of many things Brooknerian. We know what Brookner's about here. The Next Big Thing is one of the most self-referential of her novels, referencing not only her many previous books but also what she told us about her own life. Think of that 1981 essay in Soundings, on Rosa Bonheur, which begins with a vignette of Brookner herself 'indolent and homesick' in a French provincial city, turning as ever to the museum, and 'from long experience' following the arrow which says Ecole française XIXe. siècle. The paintings found there match 'one's nostalgia for simple rules, simple illustrations, simple nourishment. But of course such things were never simple; they were at all times complex and sad'.