The object of dissection, literary or otherwise, is to examine the parts of a whole, and to reassess them in the expectation that their sum will yield greater insight than the undefiled original. This undertaking, however, is not quite successful in confronting Anita Brookner's work, the spherical tenacity of which resists fragmentation.
Brookner's novels cannot be examined effectively as individual works, but only as a unified body - an oeuvre, or in even greater distillation, an idea. The leitmotif in all her novels (to date) is the same: "The conflict between the moral sense and the desire to win."  Too interpretative an analysis of any of her novels outside the context of the others is fruitless. Her linguistic precision tends to annul symbolic construal. Brookner is the maestra - or, more properly, the Maîtresse of definitude. Her discourse is too clear - too precise, too deliberate to require reader-translation. She always says specifically what she means. As one of her autobiographical characters avows: " ...a novel is not simply a confession, you know. It is about an author's choice of words.... I am sorry to hammer this point, but you must take notice of how the words are handled, in which context they are used. They will tell you everything."
The difficulty with the assertion that "an author's choice of words" will tell one everything is, of course, that Anita Brookner's extraordinary facility with language is that of the needle-fine analytic scholar, rather than that of the nuanced native speaker of British English; having arisen from anxious, arduous pursuit, rather than infusion begun in the nursery. Like many of her heroines (particularly in the early work we will examine in this essay) Brookner was brought up in an eccentric eastern European household, albeit in England and seems somehow to have missed the easy elasticity and hazy landscape of her native language. Accordingly, like these characters, she relies perhaps too trustingly on the precise dictionary definition of a word. When, for example, one of her characters, Maurice Bishop, calls his friend Kitty "my dear", Kitty catalogues it like a data bank. "'Darling. My dear.' Kitty registered this, their usual exchange of endearments. She registered it every time."
Whereas the native speaker of English communicates largely in (shared) metaphor and tone, Brookner scrupulously sculpts every sentence, and her heroines have inherited her passion. Ruth Weiss, in A Start in Life, approaches writing her essays "as many women approach a meeting with a potential lover." Edith Hope in Hotel du Lac is charmed, not by her suitor's character, persona, sexuality or soul, but by his competent verbal frugality: "He was a man of few words, but those few words were judiciously selected, weighed for quality, and delivered with expertise. Edith, used to the ruminative monologues that most people consider to be adequate for the purposes of rational discourse...leaned back in her chair and smiled." 
Brookner's heroines take sustenance from an exchange of sentences, each crafted to communicate a particular thought, expressed wholly, fully, competently, with no room for ambiguity and no need for doubt. When this process inevitably fails as a means of drawing one human being to another - having left no space for the unexpressed, or the inexpressible, these women always turn to the word: to reading, or to their own writing. In the face of failed relationships, lack of human love, or an unwillingness to dare, the stronger, more durable cords with which Brookner's women are attached to the world are found to be not heartstrings, but umbilical chains of words.
These women view the world as a sphere of dreams, in which the race has already been charted, won, and lost. One simply relives it through varying degrees of sleep. These are women whose singular choice in life appears to be not to choose, and whose ends, at least as far as this writer is concerned, are justified by that (lack of) choice - or to rephrase: If nothing is ventured, it should not be surprising that nothing is gained.
Yet Brookner's heroines are always surprised, always taken unaware. They seem to rely on pumpkins at midnight to convey them to their desperately desired princes, all the while bewailing the state of passivity in which their refusal to take any more practical action has imprisoned them. They confuse internal receptivity with external passivity (and fairly aggressive passivity at that) and have somehow managed to overlook the fact that leaden inertia is not normally a disposition wildly tempting to their men.
"How to achieve love, how to be worthy of love, how to conduct love," Anita Brookner responded in an interview, when asked what her novels were about. "These are really serious matters. It is a messy business. The rules are really crude. The rules are: Who dares, wins..." 
Why these rules, if such they are, should disturb Dr. Brookner or her heroines is puzzling. She is a woman of great literary distinction, a renowned art historian, professor, author, whose novel Hotel du Lac won the coveted Booker Prize for literature. Is there no parallel between those skills, talents, attributes, qualities required for success in one realm of human endeavour and another? Can so acute an observer of alienation as Anita Brookner be so completely oblivious to the cause of it?
Somehow, I am beginning to think so. Because observation just isn't enough. I am, on the observable surface, just the sort of person her heroines think they hate. I dare. I win. (I also lose at times, though no account is taken in these novels of the sorrows of the Other.) Yet I love her work. Passionately. And I read every novel she writes, over and over to find out why.
[ My full essay on Brookner is here: http://gentlyread.wordpress.com/2009/03/01/the-civics-of-civility-aesthe... ]
 Anita Brookner in Amanda Smith's article, "Interview with Anita Brookner", Publisher's Weekly, September 6, 1985  Anita Brookner, Hotel du Lac (London: Jonathon Cape, 1994; Vintage, 1995), 45.  Anita Brookner, Providence (London: Jonathon Cape, 1990; Penguin Books, 1991), 45.  Anita Brookner, A Start in Life (London: Jonathon Cape, 1981; Panther Books, 1982), 29.  Anita Brookner, Hotel du Lac (London: Jonathon Cape, 1994; Vintage, 1995), 91.  Sheila Hale, Saturday Review, March/April, 1985
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