DOLLY by Anita Brookner


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 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.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1994
ISBN: 0-679-42318-4
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Random House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 1993


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