Penguin Books, 2010 (2009)
Contemporary Literature, English, 202 pages.
It has been my back-to-back reading on Brookner’s. While A Start in Life happened to be her first novel, my next encounter with Brookner’s was with her most recent one, Strangers, published in 2009. This time the protagonist character is retired, good health and financially secured Paul Sturgis who lives in South Kensington. He walks alone and dines alone, taking pleasure of being invisible in public places, being a stranger with strangers. His only acquaintance is a distant relative whom he visits on Sundays and with whom he finds difficulty in developing chemistry to listen to each other beyond the formality. Lately he is fearing death among strangers, and he wonders if at last he might be ready for a companionship. But a sudden meeting with an old girlfriend and an encounter with a recently divorced woman in Venice make him need to decide how, and with whom, he will spend the rest of his days.
“Then it seemed to him a terrible thing to live without witnesses, as if he had failed to make good the inevitable deficiencies of both past and present, had never created a family of his own, so that he was haunted by a feeling of invisibility, as if he were a mere spectator of his own, his only life, with no one to identify him, let alone with himself, in the barren circumstances of the here and now.” (page 18)
But he also cannot deny the contentment of being stranger, being anonymous in common places, a feeling that at its turn has become so familiar that, regardless the loneliness, he feels as if he is “at home”. Brookner beautifully captured these subtle feelings and thoughts. Stream of thoughts is dominant and is written at length and in depth. What is happening beneath (a tranquil personage) is what really matters.
A story about despair and desolation, and also a glimpse of joy. Yet this book does not depress, because it is unfailingly well written and because it unravels the inner states that might not be recorded otherwise. This again proves Brookner’s distinguished strength.
Paris, 2 August 2010