two-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
42-Sept-Oct-2009
user_rating: 
0

A-StrangersArt historian and award-winning author Anita Brookner has penned 24 novels during her 30-year career. Now 80 years old, she has suggested that Strangers will be her last. Recently reviewed: Leaving Home ( 3 of 5 Stars Mar/Apr 2006), The Rules of Engagement ( 4 of 5 Stars Mar/Apr 2004), and Making Things Better ( 3.5 of 5 Stars May/June 2003).

The Story: At 72, Paul Sturgis has little to look forward to. The elderly bachelor and retired banker lives comfortably in a respectable London flat. He has no friends except for his cousin's widow, to whom he pays tediously obligatory Sunday visits. His well-regulated life of quiet introspection and intellectual pursuits is thrown into a tailspin with the arrival of two women-Vicky, a tempestuous, nomadic divorcée 20 years his junior, and Sarah, a former fiancée who, having accused him of being "too nice," left him heartbroken decades earlier. Suddenly questioning his tidy, drab world, Paul must decide what to do with the precious time he has left.
Random House. 235 pages. $26. ISBN: 9781400068340

Philadelphia Inquirer 4 of 5 Stars
"Brookner's fine writing is engrossing and irresistible. ... The interior landscape of her characters is delicately shaded, each brushstroke adding to a work so skilled and so affecting that it takes your breath away." Scotia W. MacRae

Telegraph (UK) 4 of 5 Stars
"In the hands of a lesser novelist, her stories of human frailty would be depressing, but she manages to make them sparkle with life-and always with hope. ... Yes, Brookner's subject matter may be familiar, the path she treads narrow and the point of view introspective, but those who have enjoyed her earlier novels will understand that this is what makes her work so consistently absorbing." Lorna Bradbury

Wall Street Journal 4 of 5 Stars
"Many familiar Brookner elements are in place: the small canvas; the psychological nuance elegantly worded; the emotional climate of loneliness and disappointment; the cautious, unfulfilled central character who looks ahead to nothing much-in this case, old age and death. ... Ms. Brookner faithfully presents the elderly person's dilemma: trying to figure out what to do with your old age, fight or quit." Frances Taliaferro

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"Strangers provides a good example of how distinctive her fiction can be, without sacrificing any of her usual depth. ... With economical prose that mimics Paul's unfurnished existence, and with an effective use of repetition that echoes the garrulousness of old age, Brookner creates an affecting and unexpectedly dynamic portrait of an ordinary man in extremis, for whom 'only the fantasy of choice remained.'" Donna Rifkind

Entertainment Weekly 3 of 5 Stars
"While Anita Brookner's latest novel shares keen insights on the emotional toll of a painful past, Strangers also-much like our protagonist-takes its sweet time deciding where it wants to go." Aly Semigran

Los Angeles Times 3 of 5 Stars
"In Strangers, though, there are signs that Brookner's art is fraying a bit round the edges. That once lapidary style which made every sentence a conscious pleasure to read has eroded somewhat." Martin Rubin

Critical Summary

In her 24th novel, Anita Brookner "examines what it means to be in the twilight of one's life" (Telegraph). As in most of her books, the action in Strangers takes place just below the surface of everyday life, consisting mainly of Paul's memories, observations, and reflections. Its small scope and damaged, lonely protagonist-an "especially convincing" (Washington Post) male character-make this novel classic Brookner. Despite its grim subject matter-old age and the looming prospect of death-Brookner infuses her writing with humor and hope. Though the Los Angeles Times suggested that Brookner might be losing her literary edge, most readers will delight in this sensitive, introspective journey into the sunset years.