FRAUD

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.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1993

ISBN: 0-679-41606-4

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1992

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Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

THE HANDMAID'S TALE

The time is the not-so-distant future, when the US's spiraling social freedoms have finally called down a reaction, an Iranian-style repressive "monotheocracy" calling itself the Republic of Gilead—a Bible-thumping, racist, capital-punishing, and misogynistic rule that would do away with pleasure altogether were it not for one thing: that the Gileadan women, pure and true (as opposed to all the nonbelieving women, those who've ever been adulterous or married more than once), are found rarely fertile.

Thus are drafted a whole class of "handmaids," whose function is to bear the children of the elite, to be fecund or else (else being certain death, sent out to be toxic-waste removers on outlying islands). The narrative frame for Atwood's dystopian vision is the hopeless private testimony of one of these surrogate mothers, Offred ("of" plus the name of her male protector). Lying cradled by the body of the barren wife, being meanwhile serviced by the husband, Offred's "ceremony" must be successful—if she does not want to join the ranks of the other disappeared (which include her mother, her husband—dead—and small daughter, all taken away during the years of revolt). One Of her only human conduits is a gradually developing affair with her master's chauffeur—something that's balanced more than offset, though, by the master's hypocritically un-Puritan use of her as a kind of B-girl at private parties held by the ruling men in a spirit of nostalgia and lust. This latter relationship, edging into real need (the master's), is very effectively done; it highlights the handmaid's (read Everywoman's) eternal exploitation, profane or sacred ("We are two-legged wombs, that's all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices"). Atwood, to her credit, creates a chillingly specific, imaginable night-mare. The book is short on characterization—this is Atwood, never a warm writer, at her steeliest—and long on cynicism—it's got none of the human credibility of a work such as Walker Percy's Love In The Ruins. But the scariness is visceral, a world that's like a dangerous and even fatal grid, an electrified fence.

Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

Pub Date: Feb. 17, 1985

ISBN: 038549081X

Page Count: -

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1985

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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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