Thursday, May 29, 2014

Brief Lives

Brief Lives is a 1990 novel by Anita Brookner, who is one of my favorite writers. I buy her books whenever I come across them, and I am never disappointed. I somehow feel a connection with her characters. It's not that they are anything like me -though they may be like me in some ways- but I understand them as if I really know them as people. They are real to me and can bring me to tears.

from the back of the book:
With this novel, Booker Prize-winning author Anita Brookner confirms her reputation as an unparalleled observer of social nuance and deeply felt longings. Brief Lives chronicles an unlikely friendship: that between the flanboyant, monstrously egocentric Julia and the modest self-effacing Fay, who is at once fascinated and appalled by Julia's excesses. Thrust together by their husbands' business partnership -and by a guilty secret- Julia and Fay develop an intense bond that is nonetheless something less than intimacy, a relationship in which we see our own uneasy compromises, not only with other people, but with life itself.
Brookner doesn't hint at upcoming events. Tragedy strikes or not, but there's never a warning.

selected quotes:
The late afternoon is my bad time, when the light goes. I get nervous then, and long for someone to come. At those times I feel fatally like my mother, waiting in the dusk for me to wave to her as I approached the house. But after a while I get up and make a cup of coffee and switch on for the news. There is absolutely no point in giving way to melancholy. There is always another day, or so I like to think.
On the whole my life has been very easy, very pleasant. I was a pretty girl, I married well... It all seems a long time ago. But what most women want I once had. I try to remember that.
Through all the restrictions and the worry that my mother's condition imposed on me my love for her grew, as, I think, did hers for me. This love was not a pleasure to either of us; it was, if anything, a burden. My mother felt it harnessed her to this world, which she tried so hard to ignore and which she was ready to leave, while to me it was the magnet that drew me unwillingly home, back to that narrow house and my mother's almost noiseless footfall, and the cup of tea that she silently put before me, as if appeasing a stranger in some primitive ritual. She had grown thin and frail; when I took her in my arms I could feel her heart beating under her cardigan. I took to staying with her until she had got into bed, and then sitting with her while she drank the hot milk and honey that I brought her. She would relax and smile at me then, briefly reverting to the mother I had always known, and I would lay my check on her hand in relief and gratitude. "You go, dear," she would say, with something of a return to her old manner.
I had reached that dangerous state in which I could see every fault that I had committed, and I desired an enormous confrontation so that I could cancel it all and begin again. This, of course, is impossible.
I've marked so many passages in this book, ones I find particularly striking, that to put them all here would give away too much of the plot. The ones above are representative, though, and are all fairly early in the book.

I do dearly love Brookner's writing!

There are several songs mentioned, as the main character is a professional singer, and one of them is, "I'll Be Loving You, Always":

Another song mentioned later in the book is "Just Awearyin' for You":

Kirkus Reviews says, "Fay Langdon is looking back on a life of emotional desolation, in Brookner's most powerful novel yet" and closes by saying the book "chills to the bone: it is as harrowing, and as unsparing, as the work of the great Jean Rhys." Publishers Weekly calls Brookner "A latter-day Jane Austen".


  1. Sounds like a great novel; wonderful quotes. You have inspired me to put Hotel du Lac by Brookner on my Wish List, but I haven´t got to it yet. Must move it up a notch.

    1. i think hotel du lac was my 1st brookner. maybe. hard to remember. it won the booker, back when i liked all the booker winners. these days booker wins are no guarantee i'll like the books, but the earlier awards were.

  2. Oh goodie, a Brookner I haven't read. I am going to get this one and also make a list of the ones I've read to be sure I didn't miss any. I to am a fan of her writing.


    1. isn't she wonderful? i'm glad she has so many books out there.