Sunday 20 September 2020

Ebay Brookner

The available photographs of Anita Brookner date almost exclusively from her fifties onwards. We have a school photo, but nothing from her later youth or early middle age. Most available photos are staged publicity shots. They follow conventions. Brookner no doubt gave as much thought to the tenor of such images as she evidently did to the character of the information she was willing to disclose in the few interviews she allowed. She doesn't often smile.

A set of 'new' photos is available to view on Ebay at the moment (type 'Anita Brookner photo'). They comprise a collection of images turned out of an old newspaper archive. We see Brookner reading Spycatcher on her familiar striped sofa. We see her in a flowered dress smiling (this is from 1989, at a Lewis Percy signing). We see her clutching Hotel du Lac at the 1984 Booker Prize dinner. And we see a rare impromptu shot of a startled Brookner in what looks like a hotel lobby. I suspect this was taken on one of her few trips to the US.* Worth a look.

* There are one or two toothsome tales of Brookner in New York - in particular of her lunch with a Boston reporter. She felt, she told the journalist, too European for New York, and insisted their interview take place within the safe confines of a formal restaurant.

Sunday 6 September 2020

Quietly Quiet: Washington Square

Little seems to happen for much of Washington Square, Henry James's short novel of 1880. Catherine Sloper, apparently unmarriageable, but also an heiress, receives the attention of the young handsome plausible impoverished Morris Townsend. His motives are obvious if unconfirmed, or never fully confirmed. Catherine's father strongly objects to the match, and the bulk of the novel concerns the conflicts that result.

The ending of the novel is often seen as its best feature, and that was my experience the first time I read it, in my youth. But it is how Catherine arrives at her understanding that should be the focus of both study and marvel. James's 'plain' heroine is really nothing of the sort. The manoeuvres her consciousness achieves are conveyed with astonishing deftness and subtlety: I think I simply missed them first time around. That she might 'accomplish something by ingenious concessions to form' is Catherine's great, quiet discovery. It is also, in this early novel, James's.

Nevertheless the concluding chapters still dazzle and move, and the last line is one of the best in literature.

Tuesday 1 September 2020

Brookner on the Radio

My Dream Dinner Party, in which a celebrity's dream guests' recorded output is spliced together, is a concept that's been knocking about BBC Radio 4 for a few years. It just about works, but has obvious limitations. I was surprised when British actress Alison Steadman 'invited' Brookner to join Charles Aznavour, James Stewart, Beryl Reid and John Lennon. The result is arch and artificial, but also a delight, insofar as it makes available passages from Brookner's media interviews from her 1980s heyday. We hear her discoursing on writing as therapy, her parents, and her style. Several points. Steadman was apparently introduced to Brookner's work after a friend gave her Strangers (2009) in the 80s. Would Brookner really have accepted a glass of wine with such enthusiasm? And mightn't she have left the party early, certainly before Lennon got out his guitar? Brookner once called the guitar a specious instrument.