Wednesday, 1 April 2020

Top Ten Brookner

The much-loved Backlisted podcast (here) returns with a 'lockdown' episode that includes a lot of Anita Brookner talk. Prompted by discussion about Hotel du Lac, never the most representative Brookner, the chat meanders pleasantly on to the potential for compiling an Anita Brookner 'Top Ten'. At a loose end myself, though this week at the chalkface entertaining the children of keyworkers, I considered the question myself. I'm sure there are similar such lists elsewhere on this blog - I forget, and I don't particularly want to consult them anyhow.

Of course, Brookner - like Henry James, like Trollope, indeed like many prolific authors - passed through phases. Brookner's novels, I contend, fall into three, neatly divided by the decades she wrote in: the raw, vital 80s; the settled magisterial 90s; the bleak, experimental 2000s. A Brookner novel from the 80s seems very different from any of her final works - just as 'James I', 'James II' and 'the Old Pretender' can sound like quite distinct authors.

Another thing: I read Brookner's novels over time, more or less as she wrote them. My affection for certain works is determined by memories of my own life; my preferences at a particular time; associations the novels conjure.

But anyway...

10. A Start in Life (1981). Not actually a favourite, but surely indispensable, if for the astonishing opening chapter alone.

9. Visitors (1997). An elegant character study, and with such a sense of the English summer.

8. A Friend from England (1987). One of Brookner's most disaffected protagonists. Despite all appearances, this is extreme writing.

7. Strangers (2009). Brookner's last, and as bleak as lockdown.

6. Family and Friends (1985). A superior saga, told in the most exquisite and stylish prose.

5. Incidents in the Rue Laugier (1995). A deeply affecting study of regret and missed opportunities.

4. The Next Big Thing (2002). Often so well-heeled, Brookner's protagonists seem immune from real harm. But for Julius Herz the abyss is opening at his very feet.

3. A Family Romance (1993). 'Magisterial' is indeed the word.

2. Look at Me (1983). If only for the heroine's seemingly endless night trek through London: almost apocalyptic.

1. A Private View (1994). Poor George Bland, and his unsuitable passion. Yet Brookner's sympathy is boundless.

17 comments:

  1. I have just discovered this through Twiter and as a devoted Brookner reader,it was a very happy find!

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  2. My Top 3:
    3. A Family Romance
    2. A Friend from England
    1. Visitors

    I read all her novels except your numbers 6, 4 and 1 - I have problems to "get into" these three novels although I enjoyed very much all the other 21.
    Kind regards from Cologne,
    Björn
    bjoern.lund@freenet.de

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    1. Many thanks for your comment. I like your three very much too - such close character studies. Ah, I miss being able to visit Germany!

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    2. And I hope to travel to London at the beginning of July this summer... we will see.

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  3. No Latecomers?! (I've only read Latecomers and A Start in Life but come on!)

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  4. Oh, Latecomers! I could choose them all! That moment in the restaurant when Fibich says he should have stayed with his mother on the platform...

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    1. Must read Latecomers again... I cant remember this scene.

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    2. Chapter 14 - p. 215 in my edn. A knocked-over glass of water is practically the only indication of disorder.

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  5. Hello and good evening.

    I hope you are well and staying safe. Thank you so much for sharing your favourite novels by AB. I am glad to see the novel “Look at me” as your second choice. The narrator’s voice stays with me when she said how she could have written a treatise on melancholy and this following sentence: “Next to melancholy in our filing system is madness, and this section too is heavily patronised.”

    Here AB is possibly referring to The Warburg Institute in London. Famous for its library, the Mnemosyne Atlas, and the art historians who came to London from Germany for refuge during the Second World War and they became lecturers at the Courtauld Institute. Aby Warburg himself suffered from a mental illness. Warburg had many famous scholars including Frances Yates who wrote a book on “The Art of Memory” and above all, Erwin Panofsky and Fritz Saxl who collaborated a treatise/thesis on “Saturn and Melancholy”, re-published last year by McGill-Queen's University Press after it was out of print for many years.

    I am quite sure that AB would have read and studied this book when she was using the library for her own art historical research at the Warburg Institute.

    I cannot decide which novel would be my most favourite AB’s novel. I do love "Brief Lives" and "Undue Influence". Sadly, there is nothing to write home about as far as the male characters are concerned in both of these two novels.

    Thank you so much once again for keeping our spirits up with your delightful posts in such abnormal times for our minds need to take flight even if our bodies are constrained.

    Yours sincerely,
    ASD

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    1. Very good to hear from you, and thank you for the valuable background detail on Look at Me. I sometimes wonder whether one or two of the library regulars may have been inspired by Phoebe Pool, the woman Anthony Blunt encouraged Brookner to visit. It was only much later, when Spycatcher was published, that Brookner discovered the true nature of the information she had been asked to glean from Miss Pool. Brookner wrote in The Spectator a searing account of the experience, and her horror at finding she had been so used.

      I am well, though my horizons are limited. I find myself flying through The Golden Bowl, which I'd avoiding rereading, fearing a slog. But it is wonderful. There are wonders on every page. And I favour the New York Edition.

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  6. Thank you, this is helpful in deciding what books to order next, as they're unavailable where I am. What a joy it is to discover Anita Brookner! Currently reading Latecomers, my sixth Brookner. I think I will leave the 90s for last, although I have already read Undue Influence.

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    1. Many thanks for your comment. Undue Influence is atypical of 90s Brookner and in some ways a return to the style of the early 80s. You have many 90s riches to discover.

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  7. I love your page. I am a huge fan of Brookner's Latecomers

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    1. Me too. Obliqueness is the only way, perhaps, of tackling the biggest themes.

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  8. I wanted to tell you how I happy I was to come across your blog, which is full of interesting insights, reflections and information. I started reading Brookner shortly after she died, possibly prompted by her obituary in the Guardian. Since then I've read all her books at least once and would go as far as to say that she's become my favourite author. I've sometimes felt frustrated by the relative lack of material about her online, which is why I was so happy to discover your blog. So far this year, I've re-read Providence and A Private View and have started on The Next Big Thing.

    I was very interested to read about your trip to Vevey. I live just outside Geneva, on the French side of the Franco-Swiss border, and I once spent an afternoon wandering around Vevey and trying to find the places mentioned in Hotel du Lac. It's a pity that the Grand Hotel du Lac no longer resembles the hotel described in the novel. I would have been very tempted to stay there for a night or two otherwise. Nyon, which Herz dreams of visiting (or re-visiting) in The Next Big Thing, is another nearby Brooknerian location. As I'm sure you know, it has a hotel called the Beau Rivage that is not difficult to find. I loitered outside it one afternoon, hoping to catch a glimpse of Herz's glamorous, self-absorbed cousin, but my hopes, like Herz's, were left unrealised. I consoled myself with the thought that disappointment is very Brooknerian emotion.

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    1. Many thanks for your amusing comments. I have thought of visiting Nyon and the Beau Rivage. But I don't think I'll be leaving Britain this summer. My stock of European memories must suffice - which is Brooknerian too, no doubt.

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