Thursday 22 March 2018

Family and Friends: The Westminster Bridge Road

Brookner, as I've said before, doesn't always like too much detail, or not in a narrative as finely spun as Family and Friends. I'm on chapter 4, and still we don't know what the Dorns' factory manufactures. But we do now know its location: the Westminster Bridge Road. Nearly a decade later, in 1994, in interview (here), Brookner would reveal perhaps this detail's autobiographical origin.
She was, she says, 'born into the purple of trade' in Herne Hill, a suburb near Dulwich, on 16 July 1928. Her maternal grandfather had come to England as a young man from Warsaw, and had set up as a tobacco importer, with a factory on Westminster Bridge Road. 'I didn't know him: he'd already died when I was born. My mother said that in his last illness he raised a Corona cigar to his lips, and drew on it. He supplied Edward VII with his cigarettes. There was an engraved cigarette case from the King, which vanished with one of the maids.'

These things are always intriguing. In some novels, maybe even here, Brookner can be very specific in her references. Chapter 4 moves towards events in Paris - and the 'ineffable blue Parisian evening' is memorably conjured. Her characters find themselves at the Hôtel Bedford et West End. It's some time since I read Family and Friends, but I register great personal nostalgia as I encounter these scenes again, remembering as I do my own youthful Parisian afternoons and evenings, walking up and down the rue de Rivoli in search of that hotel, and not finding it.

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