(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

One way to read The Misalliance is as a psychological and realistic story of the suffering of a moderately rich, childless divorced woman who is not young but is not really old either. Although her name means “white,” not a color to suggest raging passion, Blanche still thinks of love. Brookner’s use of conventional third-person limited omniscience keeps the reader close to Blanche as she goes carefully through her day. Brookner’s point of view shows the surface of Blanche’s life—the bus stops, picking up a sole to grill for supper, making an apple tart. She shows how Blanche pitifully develops her daily rituals: bathing and changing clothes several times, making the rounds of London’s galleries and museums, encountering the butcher, drinking glasses of good wine. She suggests how Blanche must fight a tendency to do less and less, how she feels, in the absence of her one great love, the necessity to find other things to love—to create what Blanche calls “misalliances.” (The original British title of the novel is A Misalliance.)

What Blanche finds is a quiet, speechless little girl (Elinor) with an improbable stepmother (Sally). Brookner shows the reader Blanche’s imperceptible slide from identifying with the child, to wanting to protect and love her, to intimacy with the Beamish family, to an increasing and inappropriate involvement in their somewhat sordid affairs. It is painfully clear to the reader and to Blanche herself that she pays hard cash for what intimacy she is allowed. Once she is in, it is hard for her to get out. Again, the steps by which she eventually breaks free are made clear in convincing detail.

Brookner’s point of view also enables her to go deeply beneath the surface to reveal memories and thoughts. Blanche remembers a radiant moment when she was first married, bringing tea to Bertie in his mother’s garden. She remembers the lonely but not unhappy moments in her marriage when she sat in parks in foreign cities or bought ripe fruit from foreign stands. She remembers the horrible dinner party when she met Mousie, the young secretary who will take Bertie away. Brookner also renders Blanche’s speculations about her lowly and humiliating status as a divorcée (she wants no pity; she gets no sympathy) and about how the people...

(The entire section is 943 words.)