5 Greatest Anita Brookner Novels

Tessa Hadley (The Guardian) picks her top five
Anita Brookner
I had such a mistaken idea about Anita Brookner’s novels, until I picked up The Latecomers in a secondhand shop about 10 years ago, and read the first wonderfully concrete sentence. “Hartmann, a voluptuary, lowered a spoonful of brown sugar crystals into his coffee cup, then placed a square of bitter chocolate on his tongue, and, while it was dissolving, lit his first cigarette.” Somehow – I think because of the title of her Booker winner Hotel du Lac – I’d expected something ladylike, lavender-scented, prissy and precious; I knew as soon as I opened my eyes to her words that this writing was everything opposite to that.

I love the stories, the plots – variations on a few themes, their scope narrowing as time went on. The sensitive and intelligent and weak are preyed upon by the unintelligent and strong; profoundly private women elect, for their own purposes, to build their lives around the absent men who hardly know them. The themes have an exotic flavour these days, they smell of an irretrievable past. But the stories only come into their being through Brookner’s distinctive sentences, ripely substantial, stamped unapologetically with the writer’s personality, commenting and discriminating, digressing and summarising – and darkly funny. Hartmann “considered his life’s work to lie in the perfecting of simple pleasures, mainly of a physical or domestic nature … The idea of God, for example, he rejected as derogating from his own serene existence.” [Read More]

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