Critical Context

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Anita Brookner once said in an interview that love is her subject and that real love happens without strategy, a rare circumstance because almost everyone is a strategist in one way or another. She pointed out the slightness of the chance that two nonstrategists would ever meet, and that, even if that should happen, they might be deflected by the strategists. Although she was speaking generally about the topics and ideas that interest her, her comments can easily be applied to Look at Me, in which two nonstrategists—Frances Hinton and James Anstey—are brutally deflected by a strategist and her cohorts—Alix Fraser, her husband, Nick, and her friend Maria.

Critics in general admire Brookner for her “spare, felicitous prose” and for the balance she maintains between irony and compassion. One critic called Look at Me “a horror story about monsters and their victims told in exceptionally elegant prose.” Brookner sees herself as “a marginal person” whose function as a writer is “to reabsorb and redirect all the attention that has been wasted by too much listening and watching.” Commenting on Look at Me, Brookner claims to have “despised” Frances Hinton “for her susceptibility, her lack of divination, her stupidity,” but this confession may strike the reader as being rather disingenuous, for, in spite of the claimed antipathy toward her main character, Brookner did create a memorable “unclaimed woman” unlike those of her other novels, appealing and admirable in many ways, unremarkable only to the “monsters” who were too self-centered and insensitive to look at her except for their own selfish purposes. A few critics have expressed impatience and annoyance with Brookner’s “curiously frozen protagonists,” but all acknowledge the deftness and wit with which she tells their stories.