SOUNDINGS by Anita Brookner


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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)

Pub Date: Oct. 30th, 1998
ISBN: 1-86046-388-6
Page count: 214pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 1998


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