Books by Anita Brookner

Novelist and art historian, Dr Anita Brookner was born in London on 16 July 1928. She studied at King's College, London and at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London. She spent three years studying in Paris as a postgraduate, and went on to lecture in a

STRANGERS by Anita Brookner
Released: June 23, 2009

"Free to do nothing, a retiree bores himself and others, including the reader."
Brookner (Leaving Home, 2006, etc.) tells the story of bookish retiree Paul Sturgis. Read full book review >
LEAVING HOME by Anita Brookner
Released: Jan. 10, 2006

"At one point, Emma has a dream in which she knows 'simply and conclusively, that I was loved.' Nothing in waking life affords her, or us, a comparable satisfaction."
A lusterless grad student of landscape-gardening trembles on the brink of taking an interest in life. Read full book review >
Released: Jan. 5, 2006

"Written for those who already share the author's point of view, not for the larger number of Americans somewhere between his extremism and that of and the Christian right."
A less-than-convincing warning that the Christian right is trying to set up a theocracy in the United States. Read full book review >
Released: Jan. 6, 2004

"Cool but, as always, deadly accurate."
Brookner (Making Things Better, Jan. 2003, etc.) again chronicles with surgical precision lives distorted by temperament and circumstance. Read full book review >
Released: Jan. 14, 2003

"Sparely written and psychologically astute, as always, from an author who apparently agrees with Herz that 'maturity rarely brought cheering insights.'"
Another intelligent, emotionally wounded protagonist muses on a life consumed by others' expectations in Brookner's 21st novel (after The Bay of Angels, 2001, etc.). Read full book review >
THE BAY OF ANGELS by Anita Brookner
Released: May 1, 2001

"While her language is as beautifully precise and insightful as ever, Brookner's reticence is too much like Zoë's. She holds her characters, including Zoë, at such a distance that they never become interesting in a novel so understated that it ends up undercooked as well."
The prolific Brookner (Undue Influence, 2000, etc.) marries subject and style in this slight novel about a woman of stoic rectitude who measures her success in life by her ability to adapt and make do. Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 1, 2000

"Overall, though, an informative and well-crafted exploration of the interplay between public and private in the lives and works of the French Romantics."
An illustrated exploration of the national psyche of post-Waterloo France through the eyes of its artists and their critics. Read full book review >
UNDUE INFLUENCE by Anita Brookner
Released: Jan. 1, 2000

This 19th novel by Brookner (Falling Slowly,1999, etc.) suggests that the prolific author may have mined as much as possible from her most persistent theme. Always the great anatomist of anomie, Brookner has charted how fear, self-absorption, and family-inflicted wounds keep people isolated from one another. She's created some memorable—even tragic—characters and traced with great exactness the ways they try, and almost always fail, to break out of the isolation that so bedevils them. Claire Pitt, the young-woman narrator here, is another version of this archetypal Brooknerian figure. The only child of a loveless union, Claire has, like many Brookner protagonists, a lively intelligence, largely used to meditate on various kinds of human folly and speculate on others— secret flaws. She describes herself as "a hunger artist whose hunger is rarely satisfied." At her job in a used bookstore, Claire encounters the handsome, reticent Martin Gibson, who has wandered in. She manufactures a reason to visit his home, where she meets his domineering, older, ailing wife and learns about Martin's past as an academic. When his wife dies, Claire steadily pursues the maddeningly elusive Martin. Although they become lovers, he remains shadowy, only grudgingly divulging any of his plans or hopes. Claire, despite believing she is —not destined for the happiness of a settled life,— begins to entertain ideas of marrying Martin. It's to Brookner's credit that the depth of Martin's duplicity, when it's disclosed, is quite startling. Claire, however, is too chilly and vague a figure (the reader learns much about what she thinks but virtually nothing about the specifics of her past, or even her appearance) to elicit the sympathy Brookner appears to think she deserves. She seems more a symptom than a person. Brookner's supple, precise prose, and her special sense of the ways in which people reveal and disguise themselves, are still in evidence. Yet, ultimately, they seem in the service here of a theme that she, on the basis of this dry, unmoving book, may finally have exhausted. Read full book review >
FALLING SLOWLY by Anita Brookner
Released: Jan. 1, 1999

Brookner's 18th novel (Visitors, 1998. etc.) offers moving variations on the animating theme of all her fiction: the origins, nature, and consequences of human isolation. This time, the theme is played out in the lives of two bright but troubled sisters, Miriam and Beatrice. Brookner's narrative deftly shuttles back and forth over several decades, tracing the sisters" conflicted yearnings for love and independence. Beatrice, a talented but uninspired pianist, eventually gives up performing—a decision driven equally by stiffening fingers and her disappointment that practicing her art hasn—t brought her anyone to love. Miriam, otherwise so lucid, has an affair with a charming, heartless married man, deluding herself into believing that her trysts will meet with a happy outcome. Few contemporary writers are as fascinated as Brookner by the complex relations of siblings, and none can match her vigor or originality in excavating family histories. The faded gentility of Miriam and Beatrice's family life, and the unquestioned assumption of their parents that a woman can be fulfilled only by marriage (an assumption the sisters both resist and embrace), are artfully conveyed. The ways in which the sisters both need and rebuff each other are also explored with economy and precision. Brookner finds a perfect symbol of the relationship in Miriam's sudden marriage to a bland scientist: the marriage both allows her to distance herself from her increasingly dependent sister, and permits her to maintain her special ties to Beatrice. Those ties are eventually severed by death, and the story's last third rather rigorously traces Miriam's efforts to come to grips with the inescapable loneliness of her existence. Her struggles, waged in the anonymity of London's austere thoroughfares and neighborhoods, are moving, and her eventual embrace of solitude as an essential part of the human condition is both disturbing and convincing. Brookner owns such terrain. Those familiar with her work will find this a particularly spare and sharp variation. Those unfamiliar with it may find the book excessively bleak and somewhat deterministic. Read full book review >
SOUNDINGS by Anita Brookner
Released: Oct. 30, 1998

An opinionated, if somewhat professorial, collection of essays on French art and literature by the Booker Prize—winning novelist and art historian. Before Brookner had ever penned Hotel du Lac or any other work of fiction, she wrote about Watteau, Greuze, GÇricault, and David. The essays collected here were written during the past quarter-century and published originally in the Times Literary Supplement or the London Review of Books. Although no one could call these pieces spellbinding, they—re written with a suave clarity and subtle wit. In counterpoint to heavily theoretical art history, Brookner allows herself a novelist's pleasure in biographical detail. From a traditional perspective, unabashed interpolation of art and life may be fraught with danger, but Brookner never abandons her intellectual rigor or critical distance. She just closes in on her subjects with an ardent curiosity. Thanks, perhaps, to her work as a writer of fiction, her essays on 18th- and 19th-century art and literature benefit from her sensitivity to the interplay of philosophy, politics, culture, social change, and personality. Time and again, she focuses on tensions evident in the work itself, as well as in the creator. Her essay on Delacroix, for example, explores the dual threads of Classicism and Romanticism—restraint and self-revelation—that remain visible in his writing, if not in his art. When she keeps to art history, Brookner's proclamations amuse and inform; unfortunately, she also veers into contemporary subjects. It's anyone's guess why she chose to toss in a piece about Diana Trilling's book on the trial of Jean Harris, for example. The cumulative effect of Brookner's critical boldness is less heavy-handed and overbearing than fiercely, even warmly pedagogical. (3 b&w illustrations) Read full book review >
VISITORS by Anita Brookner
Released: Jan. 1, 1998

In another quietly brilliant gem, the incomparably subtle Brookner (Altered States, 1997, etc.) puts soft, revealing touches on the face of loneliness as only the elderly know it. As in her recent A Private View (1995), the predicament of the aging is highlighted through generational contrast and conflict, although here the protagonist is female, while the youth who rocks her boat is all but sexless. Thea May is a woman of propriety, from her neat hair down to her sensible shoes. Widowed for 15 years after having married late, she's lived much of her life alone in London, and contacts with her late husband's well-to-do family, to whom she was never close for a variety of reasons, have become so ritualized by her aloofness as to barely ruffle the surface of her existence. When sister-in-law Kitty calls to ask for help in an unusual way, though, by putting up—for a week at least—the best man before her granddaughter's unexpected wedding, still waters begin to churn. And when Steve, a polite drifter with no plans for the future, moves in, Thea feels a shift in the wind even as she struggles against it. Steve and his friends might as well be visitors from another planet, so entirely do their views differ from those of Thea and Kitty's generation. But the preparations go on apace, as Thea, in spite of herself, comes to see refracted in Steve's rootlessness something strangely familiar. By the day of the wedding he's out of her life, at her insistence, but the inner turmoil he's created remains. Impulsively, Thea plans to travel herself—only to change her mind as good sense and habit regain control. Signaling profound upheaval with the slightest turn of phrase and imparting wisdom through the most trivial detail, Brookner continues her long, nuanced look at human isolation. Read full book review >
ALTERED STATES by Anita Brookner
Released: Jan. 1, 1997

Another only slightly marred but once again precise study of loneliness and the long aftereffects of intemperate love, by the prolific Brookner. Like many of Brookner's 15 previous novels (including, most recently, Incidents in the Rue Laugier, 1996), this one focuses on particularly bright, despairingly self-aware members of the British upper-middle class and upper class caught unawares in hapless romances. The retrospective narrative is told by Alan Sherwood, a successful, discriminating middle-aged barrister who looks back at the defining moment of his life: the suicide years before of his young wife, Angela. Her death is assumed, by Alan and most of his circle, to have been at least partly triggered by Alan's pursuit of the fey Sarah, a woman as heartless as she is beautiful. Alan, who had met, pursued, and lost Sarah before courting the clinging Angela cannot, despite the dictates of reason, put Sarah aside. And when she shows up after a long absence and seems to suggest a rendezvous in Paris, Alan tells the pregnant Angela that business calls him away. Sarah doesn't show up, and Angela miscarries in Alan's absence, beginning a decline that ends one night when she overdoses on sleeping pills while the exhausted Alan sleeps nearby. Brookner's protagonists are distinguished by the unblinking, analytical manner in which they regard their follies and by their clear inability to avoid them. Alan crosses paths with Sarah once again, when she is on the point of putting an elderly (and rather unlikable) relative out on the street. He intervenes, saves the relative, and breaks with Sarah. All of this is conveyed in a prose of great precision, its emotional power heightened by the cool distance from which calamitous events are described, and an otherwise deeply disturbing and convincing tale is only faintly diminished by the cryptic figure of Sarah: It's hard, from what we're told, to understand why Alan is so totally infatuated with her. Still, Brookner remains our great poet of loneliness and loss. Read full book review >
Released: Jan. 15, 1996

Brookner's newest heroine is undone by passion instead of by the withering passivity that the author usually chronicles in such unfailingly revelatory detail (A Private View, 1995, etc.). After her mother's death, a young woman finds a diary with a few enigmatic but intriguing jottings in French and decides to fabricate the story of her French mother's life. After all, she says, ``perhaps the truth we tell ourselves is worth any number of facts, verifiable or not''; perhaps, too, she'll finally understand Maud Gonthier, the woman who told her so little about herself. The tale begins in the summer of 1971, when 18-year-old Maud and her widowed mother, Nadine, spend a traditional August in the French countryside with Nadine's wealthy sister. Maud's father had died young, and Nadine, who's scrimped and saved to educate Maud properly, hopes that her daughter will now meet an eligible friend of her cousin Xavier's. Xavier, who studied in Cambridge, has indeed invited a former classmate, the charismatic and handsome David Tyler. David has also brought along a friend—a domestic sort by the name of Edward, who yearns to travel but who's been hemmed in by the surprise inheritance of a secondhand bookstore in London. While the situation has all those comedic Shakespearean resonances- -young people, in a splendid setting, meet and fall in love over an endless sunny August—the passions ignited here are misplaced and ultimately destructive. Maud falls hard for David, who seduces and deserts her; she's then rescued by Edward, who, when he learns she's pregnant, offers marriage. Though Maud miscarries, Nadine insists she accept Edward's proposal. The rest is a slow decline into mutual despair, relieved only by the birth of a daughter nine years later. As bleak and implacable as any dour morality tale, though the insights are stunningly acute. Classic Brookner with a twist. Read full book review >
A PRIVATE VIEW by Anita Brookner
Released: Jan. 9, 1995

With her usual bleak but discerning sympathy for the emotionally maimed, Brookner (Dolly, 1994, etc.) explores the struggles of just-retired George Bland, who lacks ``the necessary folly'' to live life to the full at last. On retirement, Bland, who has worked his way up from the working class to be a senior executive in a large British conglomerate, is financially well-off but psychologically adrift. There seems little point to his sensible, orderly life. For years he and Putnam, a fellow employee, had planned on travelling to the Far East once they retired, but Putnam died before they could do this, leaving Bland all his money. The two men, sharing similar backgrounds, had been close friends over the years. Neither had married, but both had affairs with women. Now unable to enjoy a solitary vacation in Nice, Bland flies back to his colorless London apartment. There, in the weeks before Christmas, his life is suddenly disturbed by the arrival of 30ish Katy Gibb, who moves temporarily into a friend's apartment across the hall. Gibb talks vaguely of starting a New Agetype business, unabashedly wears her friend's clothes, and lets people buy her meals. She is moody, a scrounger with an unhappy past, but Bland, who has always been scrupulously respectable, finds her exciting. As Bland takes stock of his life, he realizes that he has never been truly free: His adolescence was constrained by unhappy parents, his adulthood by work, and his love life by a long, inconclusive affair with worthy Louise. Desperate to experience freedom just once, Bland invites Gibb to spend Christmas in Rome with him, but she has other plans. Bland ruefully accepts that ``now I must live my life as I always have lived it.'' Life as it too often is, but Brookner infuses defeat with a sort of exhilarating grandeur. Read full book review >
DOLLY by Anita Brookner
Released: Jan. 1, 1994

Brookner's latest (after Fraud, 1993, etc.) is a portrait of two women, an aunt and her niece, polar opposites; as usual, the mood is autumnal, verging on wintry. Jane, the narrator, is the only child of Paul and Henrietta, ``slender pillars of English virtue'' who have found a haven together after loveless childhoods. Jane will come to see her parents as ``innocents abroad'' because of their belief in a world ``both orderly and benign''; she herself, however, will quickly understand it is neither. Her understanding is initiated by Aunt Dolly, a ``true primitive,'' a shameless predator. The daughter of a poor Parisian dressmaker, Dolly persuaded her mother after the war to move to England, where she met and married Hugo (Henrietta's brother) and pushed him into a career move to Brussels, where she perfected her skills as a social climber. This overlong exposition is followed by a series of untimely deaths (Brookner has a weakness for them). First Hugo dies, forcing Dolly to move back to England and cajole Henrietta (whom she regards as a spiritless frump) into writing her checks. Then Paul and Henrietta die in quick succession, and the abandoned Jane—as frumpish as her mother though far from spiritless—becomes Dolly's ``last victim.'' Yet although Jane, wise beyond her 18 years, realizes that Dolly is exploiting her mercilessly, she gives her money freely, feeling a compassionate love for her aunt; for while Dolly never finds the love she craves as fiercely as money, she maintains a brave front, buoyed up by ``her faith in pleasure.'' Brookner's pessimism, as ingrained as Hardy's, can straitjacket her characters: Dolly is plausible enough, but it's hard to believe that pretty Jane, at 20, would feel ``destined to remain alone'' for life. So: another memorably expressed but cramped vision of isolated women in a hostile world. Read full book review >
FRAUD by Anita Brookner
Released: Jan. 1, 1993

Again, Brookner (A Closed Eye, Brief Lives, etc.) acutely limns the lives of women shaped as much by temperament as by circumstance, but this time she liberates her heroine—both from herself and her situation—in an uncharacteristically upbeat ending. Like a typical Victorian daughter, 50-ish Anna Durrant—kept in her place by ``the habit of affection'' and ``the iron discipline to which she had subjected herself''—has devoted the best years of her life to taking care of her ailing mother. Anna seems incapable of breaking these old habits even when her mother dies. She tries to help Mrs. Marsh, an elderly widow of stoic independence, who is more irritated than gratified by Anna's well- meaning attentions. When Anna suddenly disappears, her family doctor, Lawrence Halliday, a once likely suitor, alerts the police, but Anna cannot be found. The events of the months leading up to her disappearance are then recalled by the earlier Anna and her few acquaintances in scenes that, like an indictment, accumulate to reveal how much of Anna's life has been a fraud. The precipitating moment is a ghastly dinner with Lawrence Halliday, whom Anna realizes she should—and could—have married, and his wife, attractive only because of her obvious sexual greed. Back home, Anna considers the lines of ValÇry that describe ``the strength born secretly out of idleness or inaction.'' Consideration is followed by resolve, and Anna returns to France, where she had once been a student, determined to go out into ``the bright, dark, dangerous and infinitely welcoming street'' of life. As she tells a friend surprised to find her in Paris after all: ``I believed my mother, who told me that the best things in life are worth waiting for. And I waited. That was the fraud....I blame myself....I shouldn't have been so credulous.'' A quietly powerful exploration of the insidious costs of the unrelieved self-sacrifices expected of—and so usually made—by women. Brookner at her best. Read full book review >
A CLOSED EYE by Anita Brookner
Released: March 1, 1992

Another of Brookner's elegiac tales of a wasted life: Harriet Lytton is the latest in a long line of Brookner protagonists too timid to stake their claim. An only child with an unprepossessing birthmark and a docile nature, Harriet is born on the eve of WW II. Parents Hughie and Merle, Bright Young Things in prewar England, have a difficult time adjusting to postwar austerity; Hughie is a basket case after his POW experiences, but hard, practical Merle holds things together with her London dress-shop, and marries Harriet off to wealthy, middle-aged oil-man Freddie Lytton, who's looking for calm waters after a humiliating first marriage and divorce. Harriet, with no experience of men, accepts the arrangement, feeling for Freddie a ``tender but detached amusement''; only when she meets Jack Peckham, the sexy journalist-husband of best friend Tessa, does she feel physically aroused. Fulfillment of a sort comes when she has an astonishingly beautiful daughter (Imogen), but it's not until much later—after Tessa has died of cancer—that she gets to kiss Jack. That kiss is the novel's central event, illuminating for Harriet the bleakness of her life, yet it changes nothing (she knows she could never manage adultery); because of this impasse, the life goes out of the story. Restlessly, Brookner turns to her other characters: tough-cookie Imogen, uninhibitedly staking her claim until killed off in an improbable car-crash; Tessa's daughter Lizzie, destined for as lonely a life as Harriet's; and boring old Freddie, who decomposes slowly in Switzerland while Harriet tries to recapture her life's one sunny period, nurturing little Immy. The singular attention that Brookner pays to her love-starved protagonist is as impressive as ever, but the lack of events, plus Harriet's inability to change, does the novel in: you can't make bricks without straw. Read full book review >
BRIEF LIVES by Anita Brookner
Released: June 1, 1991

``The late afternoon is my bad time, when the light goes. I get nervous then, and long for someone to come.'' Fay Langdon is looking back on a life of emotional desolation, in Brookner's most powerful novel yet. Fay's story is in essence a simple one: an attractive, talented, self-supporting but unworldly young woman, with a trusting heart formed by a loving home, marries the man of her dreams, and is never happy again. The place is London and the time the late 1940's. Fay's fine singing voice gets her work on the radio, but on marrying lawyer Owen Langdon she agrees to abandon her career and become a housewife and hostess at dinner- parties for Owen's rich clients. At one of these she meets Julia, wife of Owen's senior partner Charlie, and a former cabaret star, now dependent for an audience on a small circle of adoring women (this is Julia's story, too). By now Fay has realized she has married a man terrified of intimacy; money and social connection are the touchstones in a coldhearted world of pretense. Nor is Julia's circle, to which Fay has been admitted, any kind of refuge, for the actress is a creature of infinite malice, who delights in tormenting her coterie; only Fay's weak sense of self keeps her in thrall. Owen dies in middle age; Fay becomes Charlie's mistress, though hating the deception involved. ``Life had taught me to seek protection, however nugatory.'' Charlie, however, can no more manage intimacy than Owen; then he too dies. And still Fay cannot break free from the monstrous Julia, who wrecks her last chance of male companionship; as old age set in, Fay tries desperately to preserve a facade of dignity. Brookner's portrait of a woman adrift in a comfortless world, where the hourglass never stops running, chills to the bone: it is as harrowing, and as unsparing, as the work of the great Jean Rhys. Read full book review >
LATECOMERS by Anita Brookner
Released: March 13, 1989

"Latecomers" refers to adults who've had a bad start in life, and Brookner comes up with four of them, neatly grouped into two couples, in this latest of the intricately observed and meticulously mannered novels that have made her one of England's most popular writers. The cheerful couple, the Hartmanns, live in the flat above the gloomy couple, the Fibichs. The two men, friends from boyhood, are both German ÇmigrÇs and now own a successful photocopying business together. Hartmann chooses to smile his way through life, never looking back, while Fibich stews in the bitter juices of the past, brooding and unable to eat. His wife, shy Christine, loves him, nurtures him, and never expects much more from life—in contrast to pretty, self-centered Yvette Hartmann, who blithely and contentedly makes certain her own small dreams come true. Each couple has one child and, with typical Brookner irony, Marianne Hartmann turns out to be placid and plain while Toto Fibich is lively, handsome, and irresponsible. So what happens here? Does tragedy strike down the happy Hartmanns? Do the Fibichs unload some of life's burdens? Do Toto and Marianne find each other and form a perfect balance? No, none of the above. As usual, Brookner propels her cast of richly drawn characters to the very brink of discovery, but never lets them take the plunge. It takes skill to exert this kind of control and to make the merest fillip of convention pass for action. Brookner has mastered this skill, and it's served her well. As elaborately layered as a German torte, but reassuring as an English tea biscuit, devoid of any indigestible surprises—one, no doubt, to be gobbled up by the Brookner faithful. Read full book review >