Dr Weiss, at forty, knew that her life had been ruined by literature.
Some people, even those who enjoy reading Brookner's novels, say they are all sort of the same. The all deal with older (or prematurely aged younger people, mostly women) lonely bookish people who live cautious closed in lives. The women in both of these works have issues with their mothers. Both do research of fairly arcane academic matters, one on women in the novels of Balzac and Emma Roberts of Leaving Home studies and is writing a book about 17th century garden designs. Both spend a lot of time in libraries. Both spend a lot of time reading.
Emma, at 26, decides it is time to leave home. She leaves London to go to Paris to study. She leaves behind her mother (who spends most of her time reading) and her dominating Uncle. The family is financially comfortable but not rich. Emma meets and slowly becomes friends with a lady working in the library she frequents. Unlike Emma her new friend, about her age, more interesting looking that pretty, has men friends and a love life. She persuades Emma to move from her small apartment into a hotel, thinking she might have an opportunity to meet men that way. There are men in the library, we see their bent over gray heads.
Francoise, her new friend, is pleased to see Emma develop a friendship with a young man down the hall. In the world of Francoise women are defined by their relationships with men, be they fathers, husbands, or lovers. Emma subjects here own feelings to microanalyses but does not come to any conclusions that might direct her to a course of action. Life will start for her when she finds a man. Her ability to pursue her studies and her writings comes not from anything she has done but from money her father made in commerce. Without her father's money, we cannot quite fathom what Emma would do and for sure she would not have had the leisure time to develop the interests she did. These interests define and also limit her life. If the male professors who dominate her research field approve her work then her book will be published. Emma moves back and forth from Paris to London, each city has a strong meaning for her. Some times it feels like Emma is a character in a 19th century novel. Emma does seem to care less about what others think than an early 19th century heroine might.
The language in the book is beautiful. Some of the turns of phrase are amazing. There are some interesting plot twists. As you read this book you can feel the loneliness of Emma. In fact I thought if Emma could simply get involved in book blogging or blogs on 17th century history her life might have been much happier. She then would have not been so effected by a feeling she was disconnected from the world by the seeming narrow range of her interests. Emma is involved in a very beige toned search for a suitable mate, not so much that she wants one as she wants to seem ordinary.
Anita Brookner wrote her first book at age 53 and has since then written 22 more of them. As I said, some people say all her books are alike. I would say read an extract of one of her works on line and see if the writing style appeals to you. Her books do tell us a lot about the dynamics of power in relationships and the struggle of women to define themselves. I could see myself reading one every 3 or 4 months. They do have a kind of claustrophobic feel somehow and some Goodreads reviewers have found her work depressing.