Friday, 6 May 2016

a misalliance

On Thursday 7th April I finished A Misalliance by Anita Brookner. I was somewhat disappointed.

I had picked it up in the same haul from Kirkdale Bookshop as Quartet In Autumn by Barbara Pym, who I thought from my memory and general knowledge would be quite similar to Anita Brookner. In fact, I much preferred Quartet In Autumn to A Misalliance.

I'd read one Anita Brookner before, but remembered so little about it that I thought it might have been this one. It wasn't. Looking at her bibliography and plot summaries, I think it was probably Look At Me. All I remember about it - or think I remember about it, apart from a general sense that it was a good book, good enough to feel that I should read some more but I guess not good enough to make me actually read any more - is mention of the underpasses at Marble Arch/Park Lane, which could be a false memory, but suggests that perhaps I read it in my first year or two in London (and I think of Rosalind when I think of it, so perhaps she recommended or liked her) when it was still a novelty to see references in fiction to London places or details I was familiar with.

I found A Misalliance quite dry - but not dry humour, in fact really very little humour. As I was reading it, the description that eventually came to mind was that I felt less like I was reading a book and more like I was reading an essay which someone had written about a book, analysing the characters in it. I'm not sure that description communicates anything to anyone else. It didn't have especially complicated sentences or language in writing about the characters (in particular the central character) and what they were thinking and why they were acting in a particular way, but I found I kept having to reread sentences to get them. I don't know if it was deliberate (and if it was, I'm not sure why), but when the main character eventually started having meaningful conversations with others, the way she spoke felt so different from the way she thought, or the way her thoughts were written about, that it felt quite jarring. I didn't believe in some of the relationships, and I found quite a number of the important things that the central character did quite implausible. Others might not, but it really pushed me away from the book and the necessary suspension of disbelief.

I don't think I shall read another by her; one does get the impression that she is one of those who writes similar books about similar people, which is absolutely fine if you like them.

Between my starting and finishing the book, Anita Brookner died. On the Backlisted podcast, in an episode I listened to some time after finishing reading it (I only recently discovered this very good podcast), Andy Miller - I think it was - said that at the time of her death only two of her books were in print, which I was amazed at, for an author so critically acclaimed and relatively recent. In fact if the Wikipedia entry is to be believed, her last published work was a novella only published as an ebook, in 2011.

First line: Blanche Vernon occupied her time most usefully in keeping feelings at bay.
Last line: 'What have you done to your hair?'

The cover is typical of what I associate with Anita Brookner novels - a 20th-century (I guess) portrait of a woman. She was an art academic by profession, which makes me wonder whether she had a hand in choosing the artworks which appeared on the covers of her books. I find it hard to believe, however, that she was completely at ease with the way the text is laid over the image (the 'author of Hotel du Lac' line in particular is partly illegible for being over the pearls), or the presence of that red slash with 'Booker prize-winning author' (which I've seen on others of hers - and shouldn't it be Booker-prize-winning author'?), which seems ugly and unnecessary (well, the publishers obviously thought it necessary for sales, along with the Literary Review quote). Like Quartet in Autumn, it also makes use of rules, here underlines for author and title.

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