FAMILY AND FRIENDS by Anita Brookner


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Brookner has stepped somewhat away from her earlier procedures--cautionary tales narrated by or concerning an unattached woman adrift in a world of sexual viciousness--and to good effect. In her skillfully Jamesian manner, she's here taken on a whole family tapestry--the family being that of a Jewish ‚migr‚ woman of means, living in London before and after WW II. Sofka and her grown children--Fredrick and younger brother Alfred; Mimi and younger sister Betty--live in comfort off proceeds of the dead father's manufacturing business. Fredrick and Betty are higher of spirit than their siblings. Fredrick begins adult life as a kind of Don Juan, Betty as a Paris-based coquette--yet both eventually are brought to drabber heel (Fredrick marries and becomes a smooth but deranged hotelier on the Italian Riviera; Betty marries a movie producer and grows fat and bored around her Hollywood pool). They are contrasted with Mimi's nunlike demeanor (a loser in love--to Betty originally) and Alfred's hyper-responsibleness. Ironically, it's these last two who'll try hardest (if unsuccessfully) to have a late, fulfilling life. Brookner dramatizes little and describes much. There's hardly any direct dialogue. Though they're Jews, and the time is a perilous one, the family barely seems to register the outer world: they live in an upholstered idyll of material comfort that's only disturbed by the rage to compare happiness that they all feel. But despite Brookner's heavy dependence on surface (clothes are always described most minutely) and her God's-eye narration and a general severity of judgment on everyone (Brookner can be a very tut-tutting, auntish writer), the family does cohere as a constellation: in the way that all of them (excepting perhaps Sofka) continually under- or overshoot their marks, marks which they have defined for each other, for the most part. Broader Brookner--which is welcome--and very virtuoso, if without much forgiveness.

Pub Date: Oct. 16th, 1985
ISBN: 0679781641
Publisher: Pantheon