'It's my family,' she said. 'Of course they're rendered into fiction because I didn't know them till I was about seventeen - when I began to see them as separate people.'
It was indeed a family photo that sparked the novel: a cousin showed her a wedding picture with her grandmother dominating the group. 'I gave the photograph back, but the following day I began to write Family and Friends. I had always avoided writing about my family. They had given me a good deal of trouble in real life.'
Although, largely from lack of knowledge, she fictionalised the early lives of the uncles and aunts in the novel, 'somewhere in the course of this invention, I discovered I was writing what amounted to a true chronicle. Whether this was an obscure form of unconscious memory, whether it was intuition, or whether it was the exhilaration of disposing of these characters whom I had always seen as immensely powerful, I have no idea.'
She felt 'freed' by the writing - she wrote 'without qualms'.
As I neared the end I was too frightened that I might lose the conclusion - which I did not know yet - and so I merely sat in the garden and wrote in a notebook. I felt an enormous tension; but my ending, when it came, surprised me into laughter. I felt like a spectator at my own game.The novel 'laid many ghosts for me. I hope I've given those ghosts something new to talk about'. It was 'the only one of my books I truly like'.
Being in control was a motive in writing the novel. 'Maybe as in psychoanalysis you abreact the whole thing and it comes out right.'
The main characters in Family and Friends had their analogues in life. Mimi was Brookner's mother; there was an Alfred, and there were two who broke free, as in the novel.
And free will is a heavy burden to lay on anyone, particularly if they are not too bright.Brookner's characters, Kenyon suggested, 'don't always seem in touch with the twentieth century'.
Yes. They are nineteenth-century families, without the nineteenth century to give support.