Strangers by Anita Brookner

Anita Brookner is a novelist who tends to go over similar themes. Since Hotel du Lac won the Booker Prize in 1984, she has written often about disappointment, isolation, and solitude. Her neat stories are frequently tributes to light, colour and warmth, but the sun never seems to shine for long. Her characters rarely lack money, but they tend to have deficits in other areas.

Strangers is a quiet meditation like the others, delicately constructed around a few suffering characters. However, the dilemma in this novel is essentially one of getting old. Here the cruel process strips away dignity, illusion, and minor happinesses.

The writing is of quite a high quality, but there seems something missing. Perhaps it is the dialogue which tends towards the lifeless. The reliance on Freud is also a strange choice. His sexism in the 1930s might not have seemed so aberrant, but fortunately the world has changed since his day. A different psychology or philosophy might have allowed more comfort to seep into the story. This is an accomplished piece of work by a skilled novelist who is witty enough to leave a Jane Austen around, but it is hard to agree:

“But Fate is rarely kind, and nature never.”

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