Wednesday 14 November 2018

In love

She lived a life, then wrote about it: that was the myth. The writing part of her life, that second life, second career, was somehow posthumous. But it possibly wasn’t like that. And how could it have been? A. N. Wilson, after her death (and this could have been said only then), wrote of having met her at a party in the late 1980s or 90s. The party was given by a London publisher with whom Anita was (wrote Wilson) hopelessly in love. She was in her sixties, he in his forties. She seemed to disappear from the party. Later he found her, in the man’s bedroom, sitting on his bed, on which were piled all the guests’ coats. She was staring sadly ahead and had been sitting there for more than an hour. It was, said Wilson (unnecessarily), the closest she would get to this man’s bed.

One prefers the myth. The great writer, high and dry, with her messy life behind her. But search in the archives, deep in the protean early years of her novel-writing, and you come upon white-hot glimpses. From 1983, for example: we learn Brookner allowed her life to be determined by someone else’s needs: a man, who became ill and died. There was also, the interviewer tells us, another love affair in Brookner’s past, on which, like Frances in Look at Me, she was not to be drawn. Simply, said Brookner, she was not good at reading signs. She thought that as an art historian she had learnt the skill, but in life you either develop it young or not at all.

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