10 Things to Expect from a Brookner Novel and 4 (more) :
2.Yearning for offspring.
3. The rewards of solitude.
4. The unpredictable.
1. Alice-like protagonist. Anita Brookner does not write fairy tales. She could even be said to write anti-fairytales. However her novels are anti-fairytales the way Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland is an anti-fairytale. Like Carroll’s Alice, Brookner’s female protagonists/heroines have heads full of rules and meet situations in which they don’t seem to apply, characters who betray no awareness of the codes that they hold sacred. They are well-brought up little girls trapped in Mad Tea Parties, conscientious people blandly trampled by sociopaths. Like Alice, they scold themselves. Like Alice, they doubt themselves. The dynamic that results when people with principles too vaguely grounded run up against an unprincipled world is one of the main sources of interest in Brookner’s fiction. The obscure frustrations, the repetitive situations endured by her heroines have the dream quality of a mundane Wonderland.
2. Yearning for offspring. Anita Brookner does not write fairytales. However, the archetypal yearning for a child that begins so many fairytales is at the marrow of her fiction. The women she writes about have husband, lovers, friends, mothers, in various combinations. And, yet, those without children (almost all of them) are in a state of constant longing (more or less conscious) for a child. There is a profound recognition of the good that motherhood is for a woman, a good so fundamental to her that no other earthly good can substitute or compensate for its lack.
3. The rewards of solitude. Though Brookner makes no claims, explicit or implicit, that the rewards of solitude are equal to the rewards of motherhood, she does acknowledge them. Each of the Brookner books that I have read contains at least one lyric passage in which the experience of the details of ordinary life, without losing a jot or tittle of its ordinariness, in fact because of that very ordinariness, becomes a source of wonder. A person, a woman, in solitude, has a sudden access of freedom and becomes her true self. Becomes a child. These moments are delicately, all but imperceptibly, entered into and easily passed out of. But they verge on the mystical.
4. The unpredictable. Anita Brookner’s novels are never boring. They’re often characterized as books in which nothing, or very little, happens. But, within the limited “claustrophobic” scope of her fictional situations, nothing that happens can be clearly anticipated. What her characters think, say, do and fail to do continually surprises, while it almost never — and never gratuitiously — shocks. You observe human life as if watching the chaos at work in sunlit dust motes. You are fascinated by chaos held in a deeper, greater, obscurely intuited order.