The Rules of Engagement (2003) is another of Anita Brookner's many novels. She is one of my favorite authors, and her death this past March at the age of 87 was a great loss.
from the dust jacket:
In this masterly new novel, the Booker prize-winning author of Hotel du Lac and Making Things Better gives us an exquisite story about the changes in relationships over time, and how our life choices can both reflect the past and direct the future. Hailed as "one of the finest novelists of her generation" (The New York Times), Anita Brookner here weaves an impeccably crafted tale of two women, friends from youth, and the decisions and men that define their destinies.
Elizabeth and Betsy knew each other as schoolchildren. When they meet again later in life, one is safely married, the other most unsafely partnered. Together, they discover that despite their very disparate, they still have in common the capacity for making dangerous choices. Ultimately, their inclination to implement these decisions reveals the fate that was spelled out in their characters from the start.
... too old for the Fifties, too young for the Sixties...
I have come to believe that there can be no adequate preparation for the sadness that comes at the end, the sheer regret that one's life is finished, that one's failures remain indelible and one's successes illusory.
The Guardian opens with this:
There are few certainties left in life. But one thing you can absolutely depend upon is that every July a new Anita Brookner novel will come out and put a dampener on the summer. Brookner's volumes are brief, dour and reassuringly English, like rainclouds over Wimbledon; which is not to gainsay her stature as one of the most observant moralists writing today.The Yale Review of Books points out the sameness of Brookner's works:
The relentless homogeneity of Brookner’s subject matter has by now become as noteworthy to the book world as have the finely crafted books themselves. Over the course of her stunningly prolific career, the repetitiveness of the commentary has rivaled that of the fiction, as each year’s novel makes the group’s uniformity even harder to ignore.The Independent says, "I admire this novel's unique fusion of nihilism with romance, tragedy with social satire, existentialism with conventional femininity. ... Nobody else will ever write like Anita Brookner." Kirkus Reviews says Brookner "chronicles with surgical precision lives distorted by temperament and circumstance." Publishers Weekly says, "To read Brookner is to be reminded of fiction's potential to stun, with full, complex characters in a richly imagined world, as she draws on her insights into human nature to explore the strained yet enduring friendship of two women of "the last virginal generation.""