An in-depth look at the work of a prolific Booker Prize–winning author
Understanding Anita Brookner examines the undeniably bleak view of the world in Brookner's fiction and the solitary protagonists whose "faith in a better world" is both their tragedy and their beauty. Cheryl Alexander Malcolm acquaints the reader with Brookner's distinguished career (first as an eminent art critic and historian, then as a writer), critical acclaim and awards, London birth and lifelong residence, and Polish Jewish family background. She examines the limited range of literary forms with which Brookner, abjuring the postmodern devices of jumbled chronologies and multiple narrators, contents herself. She illustrates Brookner's recurrent point of view, characterized by traditional British cultural values—understatement, deference to authority, and acceptance of a class system.
Malcolm also points out the significance of the names, physical appearance, clothing, eating, and other habits of Brookner's characters, demonstrating how the novelist uses "a close-up rather than a wide-angle lens … to focus on a single protagonist or relationship, often within a brief time span." In crafting these characters Brookner relies more heavily on the use of reflection than action, with minimal dialogue and muted tone. In interviews she describes her characters as if they were independent of her pen, "as if their fates were their own, not her, doing."
Despite her aloofness from literary fashion, Brookner has from the first commanded critical respect. In her nineteen short novels to date, she develops themes that recall Henry James and an earlier time—the elusiveness of human contentment, the natural disposition of some to renunciation, the inescapability of feelings of loneliness and displacement. Analyzing these themes, Malcolm shows that the beauty of Brookner's novels is not in the message of isolation but in the telling of the story.
Cheryl Alexander Malcolm, assistant professor in the Department of American Studies and Literature at the University of Gdansk in Poland, holds the Ph.D. from the Unviersity of Gdansk, the M.A. from the University of Warwick, and the B.A. from Emmanuel College. Coauthor of Jean Rhys: A Study of the Short Fiction, Malcolm has published articles on Cynthia Ozick, Abraham Cahan, and Bruce Jay Friedman, and on the subject of Jewish faith and American identity. Writing under the pseudonym Georgia Scott, she is the author of a collection of poetry, The Good Wife, forthcoming from the University of Salzburg Press. Malcolm lives in Sopot, Poland.