Saturday 24 March 2018

Family and Friends: Ambassadors

Brookner is the poet of Paris de nos jours, and chapter 5 of Family and Friends is a true tour de force. Alfred and Mimi are in the French capital to rescue their sister Betty from a life of sin. The situation is of course profoundly literary: we can't but think of Lambert Strether. Staid Alfred is horrified by the place, but Mimi is more susceptible, and for a moment it seems she will, like her Jamesian counterpart, be seduced. By which I mean culturally and emotionally seduced - though Mimi has for the moment a more basic seduction in mind. But the chapter ends in failure and horror, a horror akin to those moments in several other early Brookners, the closing chapters of Look at Me in particular.

But the charm of the great city remains, and though Mimi will never return, Brookner herself will go back to it time and again in her fiction over the years. The pearl-grey Parisian morning. Brushing the whitish dust from one's shoes after a walk in the Tuileries. The iron chairs.

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