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But aren't we all; at least the lucky ones...
on 10 April 2011
...who are over 25, until we reach terminal velocity, as it were, for life's inevitable denouement? The title is a transparent metaphor for life, and is derived from listening to the radio for the "shipping forecast," which Americans would translate into the weather report. The report normally concludes with the weather at Mallin Head, and it is the barometric pressure that is "falling slowly."
Brookner is not for the "fun read" crowd, nor those who want their heroine to conquer all in the end. And alas, a number of critical reviews seem to be from readers hoping for same. No, Anita Brookner writes with acute and painful realism about the human dilemma, and frequently addresses that slice of humanity that are middle age, middle income Englishwomen who are making accommodations for their fate in life.
The novel is essential the story of two sisters, Beatrice and Miriam. Beatrice is the older; maintained romantic hopes throughout her life; and we learn early in the novel, dies in her `50's. Miriam is the more realistic younger sister who has taken care of her, to some extent, during Beatrice's period of decline. Each has had affairs and relationships with men. Brookner carefully delineates the operative parameters in the affairs, no doubt as women tend to, almost certainly more carefully than men. Meanwhile, the men are the minor characters, well-drawn, for sure, but still a backdrop. In the middle portion of the book Brookner presents alternating chapters in the lives of the two, before bringing them together towards the end.
Concerning the "backdrop," the portraits of Max Gruber, who had once been an ugly "ladies man," and had once been Beatrice's boss, as well as Max's replacement, Simon Haggard, rang painfully authentic. The only character who did not ring authentic was the TOO accommodating journalist, Tom Rivers. I particularly liked the scene in which Miriam is imagining the scene of Simon, with family, in Verbier, on Christmas and what she does about it. Like the "shipping forecast," Henry James is woven into the novel in several places; no doubt for his character portrayals, of which I consider Brookner his equal.
I like Brookner's style of writing a fairly straightforward sentence, and then adding three, four, five modifying clauses, as though it were a jewel held to the light, and with each additional clause, the jewel is turned slightly, for greater appreciation and depth of meaning. Her dominant themes are loneliness, solitude and remembrance for those who have finally achieved terminal velocity. Hardly unique themes in literature; perhaps those that contemplate them are the very ones driven to write about them.
Consider some of Brookner's insights: (Concerning the public image of Miriam helping the ill Beatrice): "Women admired them; men were if anything abruptly dismissive, sensing an oppressively sexless world of sacrifice and obligation." (Concerning men and women preparing themselves in the morning): "With a man there was no transition: the naked face and body were quickly transformed into the clothed adult human being, with nothing to hint at frailty, at disguise, at vigilance." (And summing up many a wife's assessment of her husband): "...she could hardly remember the actual corporeal presence of her husband, who seemed to have shrunk to a small compendium of irritating habits..." (Or on the games men and women play): "...she looked back at the radiant pantomimes of affection she had mustered for men who had meant nothing to her." "She would have urged them to enjoy men, as many men as possible, before they became aware, as he was now, of the neutered state that awaited them." (And on the aging process): "Youth, middle age, and `You're looking well'". "All those trim fifty- and sixty-year olds had annoyed him. They'll find out, he thought vengefully, as he allowed himself to be led from the room."
Rich, dense, insightful, as the above quotes indicate. Ms. Brookner packs more original thinking on the human condition in one of her 10-15 page chapters than are in much longer novels. A wonderful, solid, 5-stars.
(Note: Review first published at Amazon, USA, on October 04, 2010)