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[354] Fraud – Anita Brookner

” [Anna] was far too good, of course, ever to think uncharitably of anyone. But she annoyed me, poor woman. She was too kind, made too much of an effort, fussed round me as she used to fuss round her mother. I wouldn’t have it, and I told her so. I didn’t want her for a daughter, poor Anna. I’ve got a perfectly good daughter of my own. And yet she was so well-meaning, so kind, but tactless. ” [11-12]

Fraud begins with an atmosphere apropos of a mystery: a middle-age recluse who is financially secure but lives a narrow, circumscribed life, vanishes from her London flat. It was only after she missed several doctor’s appointments that the spinster’s disappearance alarmed what little remained of her social circle. Brookner’s carefully disciplined and contemplative writing steers the story to one that scarcely has a plot, but a study of character that skillfully evokes the vicissitudes of friendships and family relations.

But what coldness now, without that hellish and absorbing love, which had been [Anna’s] life for all of her life and which she now had to live without! They had lived, the two of them, in those dark rooms, as if the outside would no longer existed, as if life, in some mysterious fashion, had been renounced, although at the time of her widowhood Amy Durrant had been a young woman. [44]

The eerie masochism with which Anna Durrant allows her not-very-sick mother to commander her life, and the exquisite by-ways of her loneliness after her mother’s death are all the more interesting for being compounded of a good deal of laziness. Her iron-whimmed mother, whose doomed late-romance with a gold-digging crook is more to blame for her collapse than senility alone, has deprived Anna’s of the best years to pursue a true womanly vocation. Even after she dies, with the entailing freedom, it’s a lifetime to break her mother’s spell. The unnecessary waste of life costs what very well might turn into a lifetime relationship. Neither Anna’s reserved nature and nor Doctor Halliday’s weakness help drive a mutual tenderness to a flourishing liaison. Maybe it’s Anna’a nobility, almost a nun-like saintliness, that renders her less attractive than a woman whose sexual appeal has eclipsed her greediness and shallowness. Brookner is relentless in the verdict of men. Halliday blames himself for succumbing so easily to the sexual lure, defiantly enjoying the excitement. What dooms him for good is the abandon of simple standards of truth and honesty with which he had grown up, in favor of a satisfaction which he now sees as illusory. He is simply not special enough to see how special Anna is, until it’s too late.

She saw the difficulty he was in, not quite happy with the life he had chosen for himself, lonely in the company of his wife, only at ease with the sick and the weak, offering his own weakness in the form of comfort, a hand held, a reassuring smile…[203]

As contrasting studies in female solitude, Brookner paints the conviviality of other widowed women, an elderly lady and her divorced daughter, who are drastically what Anna is not, to pile up the evidence against the dislikable (whom I find otherwise) heroine. The descriptive picture that has framed Anna constitutes to fraud that is perpetrated on her by expectations of others. As her life is reconstructed through the eyes of her acquaintances, who injudiciously judge her with their own needs and standards, Brookner gives a study of self-annihilating virtue while exposing the social, fiscal, and moral frauds that are underpinnings of our daily life.

262 pp. Paperback. [Read/Skim/Toss] [Buy/Borrow]

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7 Responses

  1. wow – you make it sound amazing

  2. Have not read this one but the few Brookner books I’ve read I’ve really enjoyed because of the character studies. Must read this one!

  3. Great review. I hope you and your readers join in International Anita Brookner Day. Since 2011 marks 30 years since Brookner published the first of her 24 novels, we are celebrating on July 16th, which happens to be her 83rd birthday. All participants have to do is read one book and blog about it on July 16th. For more information you can follow this link: http://myporchblog.blogspot.com/2011/03/time-to-get-ready-for-international.html

  4. I mark the date. I’m planning to read Strangers. Thanks for letting me know Thomas.

  5. […] [354] Fraud – Anita Brookner […]

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