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Having reviewed over 1200 books on this blog, I have now written two myself. Motherdarling is a story about a search for a missing Will which reveals long-hidden family secrets. The Kids of God is a thriller set in a dystopia ruled by fascist paramilitaries. Both are available as paperbacks and on Kindle through Amazon. I live in Canterbury, England. I lived for more than thirty years in Bedford. Having retired from teaching; I became a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Liminality. I achieved my PhD in 2019. I am now properly retired. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Saturday, 30 March 2019

"Family and Friends" by Anita Brookner

This book, which reads more like a memoir than a novel, starts and ends by considering the characters in the first and last photographs of a family album. It follows the fortunes of Sofka's four children: brothers Frederick and Alfred and sisters Betty and Mimi; each of these pairs presents a contrast in that the former will leave home and the latter will stay; the  former have what appear to be on the surface exciting lives and the latter lead lives of what seem to be dull conformity.

The book is told from an omniscient point of view. The novelist not only lets us be privy to the thoughts and feelings of the characters but is also sufficiently detached to pass judgement on these. So the effect throughout is like that of a wise old aunt commenting on each of the characters as she sees their photo in the album and saying, well that Alfred, he was a deep one. This gives a sense of deep control which is reinforced by the writer's tight command of her prose, both in its language and its structure. It also gave the feeling that these were puppets upon a stage and that all that they were performing had been scripted. I found it difficult to get excited about what was going to happen and even harder to feel as if I cared. These were lives that failed to live up to their promise; indeed, whose life does? They were brilliant portraits. But they failed, for me, to command urgency.

One of the reviewers compares her with Henry James and I can see the resemblance in the elegance of the prose and the slightly stiff maneuvering of the characters.

Brookner also wrote the brilliant Hotel du Lac and the beautifully written if devastatingly sad Brief Lives.

There are, however, many moments of profound insight into the human condition.

  • "Alfred ... knows from his reading that virtue is its own reward. This seems to him rather hard, for by the same token vice is also its own reward." (C4)
  • "Although his French is excellent it is the French of Victor Hugo and it has not been of much use to him so far." (C 4)
  • "He is like a man on a diet who has visions of outrageous excess, yet who is plagued by some inner and inalienable knowledge of checks and balances. If I do this, then I can do that. Why, one might object, why not do it anyway?" (C 8)
  • "To suppose that those who are sexually inactive are also sexually inarticulate is a grave mistake, but one which is made with disheartening frequency." (C9)
  • "So much good behaviour has been visited upon him that he has felt himself becoming dull, neuter, destroyed as an independent being." (C9)
  • "Sofka does not sleep, but addresses the Almighty, rather as she would address her bank manager, with the assurance of one who has always been solvent." (C9)
  • "Betty is the only member of the family to whom reading does not present itself as a silent activity." (C 12); Indeed, for Betty, it is a social activity.
  • "Max's films are interesting because they concentrate on emptiness, on the time before things happen, the time when the outlaw might just get away with it." (C 12)
  • "It is the prodigal who does not return who makes the idea of goodness a mockery." (C 13)
  • "Alfred is aware of the need to do something. As far as he is concerned his life has been spent in the wings while other members of his family have arranged their futures to suit themselves." (C 13)

March 2019; 187 pages

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