Undue Influence by Anita Brookner
A new Anita Brookner book is unlikely to surprise, unlikely to shock or disturb. Yet her work continues to be utterly compelling. This, her 19th novel, follows the usual pattern: a single, bookish woman, whose literary life is dominated by loneliness and the seeming impossibility of marriage, has her forlorn equilibrium disturbed by an unsuitable attraction. Claire Pitt, at 29 one of Brookner's younger alter egos, is (like so many of her protagonists) financially independent, clever, emancipated but empty. When Martin Gibson comes down to the basement in the second-hand bookshop where she works, Claire is beguiled. Her desire to be part of the story she tells herself about Martin's probable life leads her to provoke the quiet crisis so indicative of a Brookner denoument.
Brookner, who is seen by some critics as the embodiment of Jamesian exactitude, as almost prissy, is really quite the opposite. An almost pathological writer, Brookner returns again and again to her notion of the inability of modern women to think of marriage as something that will rescue them - and yet who are pulled towards the ideal (an ideal they easily deconstruct) of a romantic saviour. The ubiquity of a particular, melancholic despondence saturates her work; disappointment dominates. Despite the humour, the erudition, the classical elegance of her prose, Brookner is a modern, bitter writer. Few writers have the ability to create such complete characters and then dissect their motives so clearly. Few writers have the skill to delineate the emotional complexity of the domesticated manners that mark our inability to communicate with one other. Undue Influence is another triumph of profound, psychological investigation from one of England's finest writers.