Saturday 7 July 2018

A Misalliance: What is the Matter with You?

'What is the matter with you, Blanche?' he said impatiently.
Anita Brookner, A Misalliance, ch. 2

It is a perennial quandary in a Brookner novel. We kind of know what's wrong with her protagonists, but it's never anything that can be easily expressed, never anything that can be explained in a lot less than seventy thousand words.

Blanche is possibly a more straightforward case. She longs for her ex-husband. She would have liked children. She drinks too much. This last detail distances her slightly. The Brookner world is usually very sober, but here we have Vouvray, Sancerre, Madeira. How persuasive is this? Julian Barnes had something to say on the topic:
In one of Anita's later [sic?] novels, the female protagonist, when having supper alone in her flat, regularly has a glass of white wine. Being interested in wine, I couldn’t help noticing that each time supper occurred, the wine was different: first a chardonnay, then a pinot grigio, then a sauvignon, and so on; but the last wine to be drunk in the book was, unexpectedly, sweet – a sauternes. I wondered if such changingness might be significant, intended perhaps as an emblem of the protagonist's volatility. At lunch I mentioned this theory, and referred to that puzzling late switch from dry to sweet. 'Oh no,' replied Anita unconcernedly, 'I just went into a shop and copied down the names.'

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