Look At Me Paperback – 2 Jun 2016
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How can anything be so funny and so sad both at once? Every sentence is an object lesson in compression and wit. (Tessa Hadley on 'A Start in Life' Guardian Summer Reads, 2015)
Bewitching. (The Times)
Clever and engrossing. (David Lodge, Sunday Times)
Flawless. (Observer, Books of the Year)
Witty, intelligent and tirelessly perceptive. (Evening Standard)
About the Author
Anita Brookner was born in south London in 1928, the daughter of a Polish immigrant family. She trained as an art historian, and worked at the Courtauld Institute of Art until her retirement in 1988. She published her first novel, A Start in Life, in 1981 and her twenty-fourth, Strangers, in 2009. Hotel du Lac won the 1984 Booker Prize. As well as fiction, Anita Brookner has published a number of volumes of art criticism.
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Top customer reviews
As usual the narrator is pitting her wits against a much more attractive and successful woman and as usual the narrator is found wanting. Wholly unequal to the task
The epiphany, when it comes, is arresting
From page 164 " When I raised my eyes....it was to meet my own reflection, small, slight, undeniably chic. Not a hair out of place. Still poised, still tearful, still murderous. " and a little later on "...my eyes were brilliant with tears and spite "
The narrator realises there is something wrong with her. She can never fit in. She is always going to be an Outsider, a Stranger.
Her " otherness" leaves her distraught, even traumatised. She dangerously walks dark, deserted streets in the dead of night.
Her mental state and the atmosphere evokes T.S Eliot's Rhapsody On A Windy Night
Every word works. Every sentence is perfectly balanced and subtly nuanced to reflect her shifting mental state with that quiet desperation Brookner does so well
Poetry as Prose
First published in 1983, Anita Brookner's 'Look at Me' is an exquisitely written and very civilized story of a woman whose life doesn't turn out quite the way she had hoped it would. I have mentioned before in reviews of mine for Anita Brookner's novels that her stories often tread a similar path - the financially secure, solitary and seemingly unassuming heroine; the quiet and undemanding job; the attractive, but duplicitous male; the oppressive feeling of loneliness; the quiet tragedy of a life not lived to the full - and, in consequence, her novels are often rather sobering reading experiences, especially as she always writes about the human condition with such unsparing and incisive honesty. And it is not only the main characters' lives which come under close scrutiny from Ms Brookner's sharp eye - the lonely and unfulfilled lives of library visitors Mrs Halloran and Dr Simek are succinctly but acutely portrayed also. That said, the sheer beauty of the author's prose and her perceptive analyses of her characters' inner lives, always draw me into her stories and this book, like the others I have read from Ms Brookner, kept me entertained and totally involved from start to finish.
So what is the subject of `Look At Me'? It is interesting that the initial part of the book that bored me with the descriptions of depression and melancholy are in a way what this book is about. In fact I think the best way to describe, our narrator, Frances Hinton's life is a solitary one, and one that Brookner can do so well. Frances admits that her life is one lived very much alone, where she lives is `for old people', and really for the main the most interaction she has is with her colleagues and that's how she befriends Nick and his beautiful wife Alix and then becomes adopted as their `pet project'.
That's all I am going to give you in terms of plot because really with a slim volume of 192 pages, if I said too much I would give everything away and you wouldn't then be put through the emotional (both high and low) wringer that Brookner has in store for you and that would very much be to the detriment of `Look At Me'. It's a book you need to read in order to actually experience it.
I don't know if that's enough to satisfy you and ponder giving it a read but I do advise that you do. Brookner is on fine form (well after the initial hurdle) in this book and everything after the awkward start makes up for it without question. Frances is one of Brookner's wonderful heroines who starts out a little acidic and brittle and yet slowly wins you over. It's also interesting to watch a character like that unfold, and possibly even unravel. I don't know why but I think the fact that she is writer made me like Frances all the more. I did wonder if there was an autobiographical note to this book, maybe that's just clutching at straws though. I also loved Nancy, Francis' maid, who it seems loved Francis' mother, who hired her, and far more than Francis did and won't let her forget it. The background characters are always vivid and fully formed another thing I love about Brookner.
I know it's not the longest review, but its not the longest of books - which makes it even more of an ideal read for giving Brookner a try if you haven't already, or to take a tentative step. I am trying to think of the last time I started a book thinking `oh I don't want to read this' and ending up thinking `oh I don't want this to end'. That is exactly the effect that `Look At Me' had on this reader. It is such a shame it is out of print.
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