In preparation for International Anita Brookner Day on July 16th I am posting the following book review by Erich Mayer of Brookner’s 15th novesl (1995) Incidents in the Rue Laugier. At 81, Erich is two years younger than Brookner and is an organic walnut farmer in Wallace, Australia, about 90 km out of Melbourne. He is also the father of Brookner scholar Peta Mayer. Based on the quality of this review, it is clear that the walnut doesn’t fall far from the tree.
This is the kind of review I wish I had the talent to write. For those who aren’t sure which Brookner to read for IABD, perhaps this review will lead you to choose Incidents in the Rue Laugier.
The writing is most compelling and insightful and the characters so real, that we squirm at their discomfiture and glory in their occasional bouts of near happiness. It is a sad book in which the main protagonists, like the blind man’s dog, are aching to fulfill their destinies, while building almost impregnable cages around themselves and thus severely restricting their future choices. Largely self-imposed cages of constriction from which there is, for them, no escape. Yet at least one of the main characters builds a cage which becomes more comfortable and spacious with time while another character builds a cage which increasingly constricts and stifles.
Why people should voluntarily limit themselves in the way Brookner describes so vividly is not explained, perhaps because there is no need for explanation as all of us are constrained by circumstance, by our environment, our inheritance and our abilities as are Brookner’s ever-so-real people.
Also brilliantly displayed is the undertone of cultural difference and underlying similarity between provincial French life and a pseudo-suburban English way of living. Yet the miserable imperative of a suitable marriage as the ultimate, the supreme, the unquestioned goal both for young women and young men in both cultures is starkly evident and brilliantly described.
Many, many things make Brookner such a great novelist, not least the seemingly unforced beauty of her language and the subtlety with which she is able to convey mood. We understand the love and hate relationship of the two sisters and their temporary and later final reconciliation.
We are captivated by the irresponsible charming rake while simultaneously sharing our dislike of him. We find it hard to put the book down as we become deeply and personally involved with many of the people whose ordinary lives somehow become utterly fascinating.
Perhaps it is unfair, maybe even stupid, to call this a sad book. So many people in the book are less than happy most of their lives. And yet we see at the end, so briefly and amusingly sketched, the hope that for a later generation the cage may be so big as to be almost unnoticeable, and that for some in old age may be found a tranquility and enjoyment despite life’s disappointments.
Many thanks to Erich Mayer for this review.
For those of you in the market for organic walnut products, make sure you check out the website for Wellwood Wallace.