Friday 26 July 2013

Strangers by Anita Brookner

I've been reading Strangers as part of HeavenAli's Brookner in July reading month.

I read a few Brookner's in my late twenties. I enjoyed them, but after 2 or 3 stories about aging, literary women living on their own I felt like I'd done the scenario to death!

Looking back, I think some of the storylines cut a little too close to home. I was a literary woman, living on my own and the prospects of meeting someone who I would actually want to give up my freedom for, seemed more and more unlikely.

Happily, circumstances changed for me, but I remember the double-edged sword of singledom very clearly. Like everything we do in life, being single (and being married) has good points...and the not so good points.

Brookner describes the not so good points to a tee. Painfully, accurately and deliberately.

But in Strangers she also remembers to play with the good points as well.
The conversations that Paul has over and over and over in his head are true to life, although somewhat repetitive and tedious by the end (much life true life!)

Paul's two choices of possible partner are pretty ghastly. Single life seems perfectly blissful in comparison to spending the rest of your life with a hypochondriac or someone flirting with a borderline personality disorder! But his loneliness actually makes him seriously consider both options.

Strangers is more focused on the end-of-your-life loneliness than other books of Brookner's that I've read. The kind of loneliness that comes from retirement and the relentless, inevitable decline & death of friends and family.

Strangers was only published four years ago which means that Brookner was 80 when she wrote it. No doubt the loneliness & decline of old age is something that she has knows intimately.

I enjoyed my time back in Brookner country.
Her writing feels very personal and effortless. The characters are real life people. Brookner's skill is to let you into their innermost thoughts and motivations.
I felt that I knew her three main characters so well, that if I ran into down the street, I would be able to start a deep and meaningful conversation with them. In fact, I did have several conversations with the two women in my head, telling them exactly what I thought of them!

Strangers reminded me of the unique power of Brookner's writing and why I will be returning to her work at various times in my life.


  1. Anonymous26/7/13

    Thanks for your review : ) I liked Strangers too. Anita Brookner is surprisingly good at the Male POV i find. Lewis Percy an earlier Brookner novel is another great example of a male central character.

  2. I haven't read this one, but I'd be interested to read is as another male POV Brookner - like Heavenali, I thought Lewis Percy a very good example of this. The one I have just finished (Incidents in the Rue Laugier), has a split male/female narrative -- these later books seem more experimentative that way.


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