Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Look at Me by Anita Brookner

I enjoyed this novel, yet found myself constantly turning back to the copyright page, to reassure myself that I had read it correctly and that the novel was published in 1983. I think it takes place in the 1960s, but indeed it reads like a novel of the thirties or forties. Concerning a watchful, self-torturing, quiet female librarian in London, embarking on her first real friendship and love affair, who is just beginning to take writing seriously and plans a career doing it, it is correct and laced-up in diction, in character, in dialogue. On the surface,there is no hint of anything swinging about London except the occasional "sex shop" the narrator passes in walking around the city. There is no mention of technology beyond the occasional shared telephone.

That said, the book is a withering, compact 200-page study of loneliness, social vs. private character, and the power of the bold and attractive and lively, over the cautious and quiet.

The savageness is not in the setting, but in the seething feelings the narrator reads in the faces and words of those around her.

"I saw the business of writing for what it truly was and is to me. It is your penance for not being lucky. It is an attempt to reach others and to make them love you. It is your instinctive protest, when you find you have no voice at the world's tribunals, and that no one will speak for you. I would give my entire output of words, past, present, and to come, in exchange for easier access to the world, for permission to state 'I hurt' or 'I hate' or 'I want.' Or, indeed, 'Look at me.' And I do not go back on this. For once a thing is known it can never be unknown. It can only be forgotten. And writing is the enemy of forgetfulness, of thoughtlessness. For the writer there is no oblivion. Only endless memory."

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