Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

"Leaving Home" by Anita Brookner-Woman UnBound Reading Challenge

Leaving Home by Anita Brookner (2005) is the second of her novels that I have read.   In August I read and posted on A Start in Life.   I loved the opening sentence of that book.

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.

Mel u


Suko said...

Mel, you've already read and posted for this challenge! You put me to shame!

If ignorance is indeed bliss then, yes, lives may be ruined by reading literature.

I'll look for a book by Anita Brookner. It sounds as if she has a "strong voice" and much to say about the roles of women.

Suko said...

(P.S. Enjoyed the "Real Men Read." button.)

The Literary Stew said...

The only Anita Brookner that I've read is Look At Me and I loved it. I really should check out her other books. It's difficult to know where to start as she has so many. I might try this.

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

I have not read this Brookner novel, but I did read her latest Strangers--which I enjoyed. Tis one does sound good!

Mel u said...

Suko-the consensus "best" Brookner book seems to be Hotel du luc-thanks for noticing the button-

Literary Stew-I have read two of her works and liked them both a great deal-

Diane-I think my next Brookner book will be Hotel du Luc-I also want to read Strangers-

Thomas Hogglestock said...

I am one of those people who think that her books seem very similar, BUT, I am also one of those people who has loved every single novel she has written. Okay, except for the two I haven't read yet. Probably an acquired taste, but she is very very good.

I must disagree with the consensus about Hotel du Lac. I know it won the Booker prize, but I actually liked HDL the least of all I have read. Although I think I am going to read it again to see if I was right to feel that way.

Mel u said...

Thomas-would love to hear your ideas on A Start in Life and any suggestions you might have for my 3rd and 4th Brookner-

Aarti said...

I've never read Anita Brookner, but I always fall for a book with beautiful writing. Thanks for the review!

Heather G. said...

Sometimes I'm really into the depressing books and others maybe I'll the first one out. Great review, thanks!