I decided that it was time to read something that is not connected to nursing – just take a break and let myself be drawn into something fictional for a while. Since reading another enthusiastic review about Brookner´s work by blogger Divers&Sundry, I looked at what was available and found this short story, published by Penguin in their Short/Specials series. Thirty-six pages, that seemed doable in one sitting, and I started it on Sunday morning, still in bed and feeling at leisure.
I was not disappointed. Brookner´s protagonist is 80-year-old Elisabeth Warner, retired librarian, single for most of her life and living in a basement flat in London. Her days are ruled by loneliness and fear, vague regrets and disappointments. Clearly, she is rather introverted, but still long for companionship, treasuring the scraps of human contact afforded her by the twice-weekly appointments at the hairdresser´s.
One day a sudden rain as she is going home after having had her hair done, throws her in the direction of a young taxidriver. They quickly form a bond, and this meeting changes her, in a rather unexpected way.
Brookner´s prose is absolutely delightful, it flows easily and does not get in the way of the story. There are lots of wonderfully formed passages I underlined, like this one:
“All my life I had been searching for a breakthrough, into intimacy, into acceptance. My brief marriage taught me one invaluable but unwelcome lesson: that we are all alone, that no reciprocity is to be sought between people formed by different outlooks, and not only outlooks but different environments, both mental and physical. My disappointment persists to this day, the only difference being that I no longer search for the impossible. I accept the fact that we are all atomized and there is little we can do about it. Yet the regret remains. That, however, must be kept to oneself. When I graduated from female friendships – childlike, expectant – I felt that I had at last grown up. Inevitably there was a loss of transparency but at the same time I received my first lesson in circumspection. When a man of whom I was extremely fond alluded to the differences in our make-up, which was vague enought to include everything in our relationship which he saw as inconvenient, I resolved never again to divulge any personal information that might be construed as divisive.”
Sad, isn´t it, but also true. I like that about Brookner: she has an acrid unsentimentality that I find very sympathetic. At the end of this short story is advertised a novel called “Strangers” which seems to be on the same topic: old age and relationships (the Guardian pokes a bit of fun at it here). I think that is one I will go for pretty soon. I think I may also look for her books on art (if I can find anything electronically published), which has been her profession; she is an art historian and only at the ripe age of 53 (she is 87 now), she published her first novel.
To sum it up, this was a first taste of an authorship that I will probably enjoy much of in future. I can heartily recommend Brookner to any reader with a taste for the kind of story where not much happens, but which gives much food for reflection. This confession and admission by Mark Lawson may help you make up your mind if it is for you or not.