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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.

Pub Date: Jan. 15th, 1996
ISBN: 0679765123
Page count: 240pp
Publisher: Random