BRIEF LIVES returns to familiar ground for Anita Brookner: the lives of women. The narrator, Fay Langdon, spurred by an obituary of Julia Wilberforce, an old acquaintance, recalls their friendship and her own romantic history. Beginning with the story of her congenial girlhood and her idealized notions of love from the movies, Fay recounts her disappointing life, including her marriage to Owen Langdon, a law partner of Julia’s husband, Charlie Morton. When Owen dies unexpectedly, Fay feels freed from her wifely social duties and constraints, but she is quickly caught up in an affair with Charlie. The result is moral conflict and more attending to the wishes of a man. Julia never outwardly acknowledges the affair. A tormenting, narcissistic woman, she gets her vengeance on Fay years after Charlie’s death. Once more, Fay has hopes of a companion in Dr. Alan Carter, a divorced professional man, but Julia ruins her chances by drawing on Fay’s unexpiated guilt over her adulterous affair and by demanding Fay’s attendance and aid on the very evening she is to cook a meal for Dr. Carter. Despite their differences, Fay and Julia’s relationship persists, offering a depth of insight into the lives of aging widows.
Brookner demonstrates in BRIEF LIVES stylistic similarities to Henry James and Edith Wharton, two writers whose work she admires. Like them, Brookner explores the daily social affairs and thoughts of her characters, focusing on refinement of feeling. An accomplished stylist,...
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