Leaving Home by Anita Brookner

June 9, 2010 | No Comments

Anita Brookner’s output is so sufficient that I’ve yet to devour it all. I read a thin novella between thicker books, like sneaking an After Eight between meals. “At the back of my mind I knew I could always return home,” admits Emma, the introverted heroine of Leaving Home (2005), but “I also knew that such a return would symbolize a failure so profound that I might never recover from it.” Emma feels guilty about leaving her mother, who is as lonely and withdrawn as herself, but knows she’ll succumb to the same fate should she fail to escape. She moves to Paris to complete a thesis on formal garden design where she befriends a French woman with similar familial issues, only Francoise has drive, guile and an unattractive but useful vein of pure selfishness. Emma discovers what we all discover about our own mothers that, “away from her it seemed there was no end to leaving home,” but, unlike Emma, most of us bloody well get on with it anyway. I admire Brookner enormously, and I’m usually willing to tolerate her cloned spinsters who are so much older in dress and action than their years, but I felt engorged trying to digest this book. Like the obese gent in Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life, whom the waiter pesters with, “just one thin mint, sir?”, I think this may have been a Brookner too far…

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