Sunday 18 February 2018

The Next Big Thing: Closing Remarks

Over the years The Next Big Thing has come to be, for me, not just my favourite Brookner but the novel I consider her masterpiece.
  • It's an analysis of the effects of the Holocaust on different people: Herz, who has lived his whole life 'as if it were under threat', and Fanny Bauer, who has chosen forgetfulness, who has 'dropped out of history'.
  • It's a study, rarely matched in modern fiction, or indeed in any fiction, of age and then the only end of age.
  • It's a misalliance tragedy, a study of disastrous love. One reads the Sophie Clay episode with one's heart in one's mouth. And yet towards the end of the novel Brookner humanises Sophie, makes her vulnerable, turns the tables.
  • It's a novel about the inner life - 'his own interior drama took precedence' - with pages of deep analysis of which Henry James would have approved. But it's also a novel in which art fails: Herz, as if suffering a loss of faith, favours, at the last, nature over art. And yet The Next Big Thing contains some of Brookner's best art criticism.
  • And it's a novel 'for the fans'. It has echoes of, among others, Latecomers, A Private View, Visitors and Falling Slowly - even, in Fanny's residence at the Beau Rivage, of Hotel du Lac.
But I won't be rereading The Next Big Thing again any time soon. I may have said I didn't much like it on publication, and that was true. I wonder how I'll find it if, with luck, I'm able to return to it in another fifteen or twenty years' time.

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