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Anita Brookner was born in London in 1928 and, apart from several years in Paris, has lived there ever since. She trained as an art historian and taught at the Courtauld Institute of Art until 1988. Strangers is her twenty-fourth novel.
Paul Sturgis is another solitary Brookner protagonist who bears his loneliness with a patient stoicism while also puzzling over how his life has come to such a desultory pass. A retired banker, Paul fills his quiet days rereading Henry James, walking through his London neighborhood, and paying semi-regular visits to his only relative, the widow of a cousin. His past associations with women, who considered him "too nice," were short-lived and unsuccessful. So it comes as a welcome surprise when two women enter his uneventful life. First, Vicki Gardner sits beside him on a Christmas trip to Venice, where both are planning to escape the lonely holiday; thus they launch a quasi-friendship. Upon his return home, Paul runs into Sarah, a former girlfriend, who is lately widowed and suffering from poor health. VERDICT What tension this novel possesses revolves around whether Paul will take up with either Vicki or Sarah, both unsuitable for him. Strictly for those readers who still appreciate the simple gentility of Brookner's novels. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 2/1/09.]-Barbara Love, Kingston Frontenac P.L., Kingston, Ont. Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.
Nothing less than brilliant, often highly amusing and, ultimately life affirming * Sunday Telegraph * Each book is a prayer bead on a string, and each prayer is a secular, circumspect prayer, a prayer and a protest and a charm against encroaching night -- Hilary Mantel * Guardian * The beauty and precision of Brookner's writing is rightly praised each time she publishes a novel, but what is less often remarked on is her daring...like Graham Greene, she draws the reader into a world that has a character and signature all of its own...Brookner's wry, dry lightness of touch creates a bloom on the darkness of her characters' sufferings...Strangers is a novel of sober brilliance, and the unerring, unflinching Brookner is still a much underestimated novelist -- Helen Dunmore * The Times * No one writes with more skill and honesty about the human condition and this book is possibly her finest -- Julie Myerson * Observer Books of the Year * A novel of great stylistic beauty and psychological truth...the pitiless depiction of the final stages of life - and the refusal to allow her characters any consolation - makes Strangers as great a reflection on fear and regret as Philip Larkin's poem Aubade or Beckett's Endgame -- Mark Lawson * Guardian * 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...consistently absorbing * Daily Telegraph * Strangers is, in its own way, definitive. A more frightening, demoralising account of how hard life can be, without work, and above all without family, would be difficult to conceive...Brookner has given classic expression to what she sees to be a central truth of the human condition, absolute loneliness at the last...nothing less than a great horror story -- David Sexton * Evening Standard * Anita Brookner is a distinguished and defiant writer whose books occupy a unique place in English literature. Her subject is the best one: the definition of human nature. Although her novels often convey the loneliness inherent in the human condition, they do so in such an acute and bold way that loneliness itself is shown to be a state as tempestuous and startling as any other sort of crisis. In Brookner's hands, in her descriptions so vivid and exact, it can be exhilarating...her books are unfailingly well written, they give voice and a sense of fierce entitlement to a sort of existence that might otherwise go unrecorded...Brookner's is a literature that may be harsh but it is absolutely necessary -- Susie Boyt * Independent * Paul Sturgis is a brilliant and affecting creation by a writer whose empathy runs deep, and whose pitch is perfect...a brisk and moving story * Spectator *
Brookner's 24th book is an often monotonous meditation on an elderly man's solitary existence. Much of the first several chapters are dedicated to 72-year-old Paul Sturgis's stuffy reflections on his attitudes toward life and loneliness. The narrative shows some promise when Sturgis meets recently divorced Vicky Gardner on a trip to Venice, but their ensuing relationship-in Venice and later, when they both return to London-is mired in a painfully polite restraint. As if in a parody of English manners, Vicky and Sturgis labor over countless afternoon teas without forming anything resembling human contact. Vicky often approaches moments of vulnerable honesty, only to act appalled if he shows any interest in these rare glimpses of humanity. Sturgis's interactions with his ex-lover Sarah, meanwhile, are slightly more candid, but these merely highlight Sturgis's painfully apparent dull formality. (They also give him more material to pontificate over.) While the novel happens in the current day, the occasional mobile phone feels as out of place as it would in, say, one of the Henry James novels that could be the inspiration for this tedious exercise in drawing-room politesse. (June) Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.