Making Things Better opens with Julius Herz, age seventy-three, dreaming of his narcissistic cousin Fanny Bauer, whom he has romantically desired but been denied since childhood. Much of this narrative peers inside Julius’s thoughts, revealing his backstory while chronicling his present. A German exile, a frequent figure in Brookner’s fiction, Julius has lived in London since his Jewish family departed Berlin when he was fourteen during the 1930’s. A benefactor, Mr. Ostrovski, provided Julius’s parents, Willy and Trude Herz, a flat and income from his music store.
This novel’s American title is embedded in the text as Julius attempts to makes conditions tolerable by dutifully serving his controlling parents and maintaining contact with his older brother, Freddy, a gifted violinist who resides in a hospice after a mental breakdown. That exile enabled Freddy to escape his parents’ expectations. Trapped in a dreamlike existence, Julius neglects his desires, including his wife, Josie, who divorces him. Instead of seeking autonomous employment, Julius works in the music store with his father, settling into a tranquilizing routine that helps him grieve as the sole survivor after his parents’ and brother’s deaths.
Ostrovski sells the property where Julius works and lives, forcing Julius to make decisions. Julius adjusts to newfound idleness by leasing a flat and strolling to shops, galleries, and parks. As times passes, aging Julius...
(The entire section is 599 words.)