But life, as he had discovered, was not like a novel. The books he remembered had nothing to do with the life he now led, yet they promised so much in the way of revelation. Novels, and I hate to say this, might be part of Pauls problem. Well, not the novels I read, not that I dont mind some escapism, but I also enjoy novels that reflect real life. Anita Brookner knows about the foibles of life. Maybe if Paul had read Henry James as more of an instruction manual he might have been more prepared for the disappointments of life. Paul has another problem, besides being too nice. It seems like a small basis to throw a marriage away in Pauls mind, but then he understands the difficulty of obtaining and keeping a relationship. As Paul gets to know Vicky better, he starts to realize how rootless her life is without a proper place to live. To further complicate Pauls suddenly topsy turvy existence, an old flame, one of the women who hurled his nice attributes back in his face at the vitriolic level of Taming of the Shrew, falls back into his life, much more subdued and even remembering their time together with some fondness. Loneliness can start to seem like a virtuous, wonderous existence.
Strangers is the fourth novel by this author Ive read so far. Strangers is a sad book with conclusions like Life gets lonelier; thats the truth of the matter but Brookner seasoned it with a pinch of ironical humour and a handful of warmth and understanding. Brookners style is so fine that the language of the book by a different author Im currently reading seems rough hewn compared to Strangers. :) Strangers is a moving novel about solitude, aging, love, death, our frustrating desire to go back to the past, to name just a few problems.
The main figure is probably the most lonely figure in literature.
There is an acuity to Brookner's best work--including Latecomers, Hotel du Lac, Brief Lives, and Incidents in the Rue L'Augier--a charged mastery of subject matter in which nothing escapes her narrator. Thematically Strangers is in keeping with Brookner's past work. Sarah in her frailty needs Paul somewhat more than she did in her free and independent days, but he still drives her up the wall with his kindness. The other person in Paul's life we might call his opposite. Mrs. Gardner fascinates him because she lives hand to mouth, picks up a job when she needs money, and in no way seems hindered or concerned about the highly provisional nature of her existence. She is free, whereas Paul "...was to all intents and purposes a free man, but a man for whom freedom was not entirely comfortable." But then he grasps the essence of his problem and, on a chance trip to France to check on Sarah's house, breaks free of a life of tedium. He finds himself in Paris where he catches "...a bus, not knowing or caring where it takes him" before long realizing that "that life of making do, of making the best of a comfortable but uncomforting existence, could no longer be sustained." In the final pages he finds his freedom and embraces it.
I guess you can't pick a good book in haste. This man is old and lonely. Two women come into his life, one a kind of wandering fly-by-night type (he meets her on a plane) and the other, an old flame (she left him because he was too nice). Just listen to that song and spare yourself the reading of this book. Stop wandering the streets of London pining and feeling sorry for yourself. It galls me that this guy pines for connection but then when someone asks him for help (Wander Woman asks him to store a piece of her luggage in his flat, while she jets around elsewhere) this is a MAJOR inconvenience for him. It's asking too much, to store somebody's bag in your house--of course your life is an utter failure if even that much of a commitment does you in. And now I have just described to you the two major things that happen in this book. he likes to look at strangers, but he doesn't want to get too cozy with anyone 4.
Having read and enjoyed some of Anita Brookners early work a number of years ago and being aware of her reputation as a writer, I was excited about returning to this author. As is my wont when my own experience of an authors work deviates from that of the critics and the reading public, I turned to the internet for information. Perhaps the most interesting piece that I have read is Anita Brookner, the final interview , an account of one of her rare interviews. I found this glimpse into the physically austere personal world of Brookner, in her own element, to be most informative and perhaps more entertaining than the novel. Suffice it to say that, as a result of my foray into the imprint that Anita Brookner has left on the world-wide web, I have come to the conclusion that (as confessed by Mark Lawson in his 2009 review, to be found here) when I read those Brookner novels so many years ago, I was simply too young to get it.
With the telling of this story, Anita Brookner has provided the student of psychology with an in-depth character study. The latter utilizes these devices in mystery novels, but Brookner features her characteristics mainly as a means to portray how her characters conduct their everyday life. This is not an uplifting tale, but Brookners probing expertise and elegant prose has brought depth to the narrative.
It is the mental meanderings of Paul Sturgis, a 73-old bachelor who considers his present life, recalls his memories of his past, and ponders his future. And so, he contemplates that his life is only one of greeting strangers. I rarely think about the lens of the author as a story is being written, but I realized when I picked this up, that Anita Brookner died earlier this year at the age of 87, so she was at least in her late 70s when she wrote this.
But I came away from Brookner's latest novel with a sense that her characters' sad, pathetic, pretense-filled lives are *not* inevitable; that really, people let pride and social convention get in the way of genuine connection and honesty in their relationships, especially later in life.
Her most notable novel, her fourth, Hotel du Lac won the Man Booker Prize in 1984.