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... Precipitations fall thickly and heavily in Abel Gance’s Napoleon: snow in the courtyard of the college in Brienne, feathers from savaged pillows, rain and hail on the drums at the siege of Toulon, song-sheets fluttering down at the National Convention, confetti at the extraordinary Bal des Victimes, at which everyone present had to have lost a relative on the scaffold or to have been reprieved himself ...

Daddy’s Girl

Anita Brookner, 22 December 1983

Fathers: Reflections by Daughters 
edited by Ursula Owen.
Virago, 224 pp., £5.50, November 1983, 9780860683940
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... This disturbing, even unpleasing book arose out of a reaction from which only a nerveless and protected minority are saved. As a child, the editor, Ursula Owen, found a photograph of her father which showed him in an attitude, a guise, that seemed to her ‘uncharacteristic’. It was not simply the fact that he was a German Jew and was photographed wearing the uniform of a colonel in the British Army: that somersault was circumstantial and could be explained away in a single sentence ...

Good Girls and Bad Girls

Anita Brookner, 2 June 1983

Porky 
by Deborah Moggach.
Cape, 236 pp., £7.95, May 1983, 0 224 02948 7
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The Banquet 
by Carolyn Slaughter.
Allen Lane, 191 pp., £6.95, May 1983, 0 7139 1574 9
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Binstead’s Safari 
by Rachel Ingalls.
Faber, 221 pp., £7.95, May 1983, 9780571130160
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In Good Faith 
by Edith Reveley.
Hodder, 267 pp., £7.95, May 1983, 0 340 32012 5
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Cousins 
by Monica Furlong.
Weidenfeld, 172 pp., £7.95, April 1983, 0 297 78231 2
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The Moons of Jupiter 
by Alice Munro.
Allen Lane, 233 pp., £7.95, April 1983, 0 7139 1549 8
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On the Stroll 
by Alix Kates Shulman.
Virago, 301 pp., £8.95, May 1983, 0 86068 364 8
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The Color Purple 
by Alice Walker.
Women’s Press, 244 pp., £3.95, March 1983, 0 7043 3905 6
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Mistral’s Daughter 
by Judith Krantz.
Sidgwick, 531 pp., £8.95, May 1983, 0 283 98987 4
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... Those happy readers who sing hymns of praise to lyrical childhoods, their own, and, by extension, those in their favourite works of fiction, would do well to study Deborah Moggach’s extraordinarily skilful account of a childhood blasted by what is now acknowledged to be a more widespread offence than was previously recognised: incest. To write about childhood without sentiment is difficult, for childhood can be a time of boredom and confusion, when events occur in advance of the critical apparatus which might accept or deflect them ...

Fearless Solipsist

Anita Brookner, 31 July 1997

Colette 
by Claude Francis and Fernande Gontier.
Perrin, 439 pp., frs 139, April 1997, 2 262 01224 5
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... It pays to take a romantic view of oneself; distinction is only tardily conceded by others. In the business of self-assessment – which was her business – Colette was never far from self-promotion. This endeavour sustained her through three marriages, numerous love affairs, and, more important in her own estimation, 49 volumes, some of them admittedly slight ...

On high heels up Vesuvius

Anita Brookner, 21 July 1994

Rage and Fire: A Life of Louise Colet – Pioneer Feminist, Literary Star, Flaubert’s Muse 
by Francine du Plessix Gray.
Hamish Hamilton, 432 pp., £20, July 1994, 0 241 13256 8
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... In October 1879, Flaubert, then aged 57, invited Maupassant to dinner, informing him that there was a purpose behind this invitation. He wanted to burn some letters, and he did not want to do so alone. After a particularly good meal, Flaubert brought a heavy suitcase into his study and began to throw packets of letters into the fire, occasionally reading passages from them in his booming voice ...

Mme de Blazac and I

Anita Brookner, 19 June 1997

... When I first went to Paris as a student I was directed, by an association set up to sort out the problems not so much of visiting students as of indigent widows with large apartments, to Mme de Blazac in the rue des Marronniers, in the 16th arrondissement. Initially, the rue des Marronniers struck me as a haven of suburban rectitude: I did not then know that it was expensive ...

Passion

Anita Brookner, 7 October 1982

The President’s Child 
by Fay Weldon.
Hodder, 220 pp., £6.95, September 1982, 0 340 24564 6
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Silence among the Weapons 
by John Arden.
Methuen, 343 pp., £7.95, August 1982, 0 413 49670 8
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The Facilitators, or Mister Hole-in-the-Day 
by Peter Redgrove.
Routledge, 173 pp., £6.95, September 1982, 0 7100 9214 8
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Pleasure City 
by Kamala Markandaya.
Chatto, 341 pp., £7.95, September 1982, 0 7011 2617 5
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Worldly Goods 
by Michael Korda.
Bodley Head, 347 pp., £7.95, September 1982, 0 370 30932 4
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Dutch Shea Jr 
by John Gregory Dunne.
Weidenfeld, 352 pp., £7.50, September 1982, 0 297 78164 2
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... The President’s Child works, effortlessly, on many levels. First, it is a political thriller. Isabel Rust, a television producer and former hack reporter, once had an affair with a man who is supposedly being groomed as Democratic candidate for the Presidency of the United States. Her apparently spotless marriage was hastily contrived by her to provide a home for herself and the child of that previous union ...

Enthusiasts

Anita Brookner, 3 February 1983

Where I Used to Play on the Green 
by Glyn Hughes.
Gollancz, 192 pp., £7.95, January 1982, 0 575 02997 8
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Virginie 
by John Hawkes.
Chatto, 212 pp., £8.50, January 1983, 0 7011 3908 0
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Ancient Enemies 
by Elizabeth North.
Cape, 230 pp., £7.95, November 1982, 0 224 02052 8
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Dancing Girls 
by Margaret Atwood.
Cape, 240 pp., £7.95, October 1982, 0 224 01835 3
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Master of the Game 
by Sidney Sheldon.
Collins, 495 pp., £8.95, January 1983, 0 00 222614 6
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... Glyn Hughes’s novel, Where I Used to Play on the Green, won both the Guardian Fiction Prize and the David Higham Fiction Prize in 1982, yet it received not a tenth of the publicity awarded to winners of the Booker and the Whitbread. This is a pity, for it is a fine achievement, although too dour a story to command affection in the media. It reminds us not only that the past is a foreign country but that England, too, is a foreign country and perhaps never more so than at times and in places which we think we know fairly well ...

Dressing and Undressing

Anita Brookner, 15 April 1982

The Language of Clothes 
by Alison Lurie.
Heinemann, 272 pp., £10, April 1982, 0 434 43906 1
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The Thirties Family Knitting Book 
edited by Jane Waller.
Duckworth, 95 pp., £5.95, September 1981, 0 7156 1601 3
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Chanel and Her World 
by Edmonde Charles-Roux.
Weidenfeld, 354 pp., £25, October 1981, 0 297 78024 7
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Dior in Vogue 
by Brigid Keenan.
Octopus, 192 pp., £9.95, October 1981, 0 7064 1634 1
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Creative Dressing 
by Kaori O’Connor.
Penguin, 192 pp., £4.95, September 1981, 1 4004 6247 9
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Doing it with style 
by Quentin Crisp.
Eyre Methuen, 157 pp., £5.95, October 1981, 0 413 47490 9
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... Fashion,​ according to Baudelaire, is a moral affair. It is, more specifically, the obligation laid upon a woman to transform herself, outwardly and visibly, into a work of art, or, at the very least, into a work of artifice, thus acknowledging the distance that must be measured between her natural and unredeemed state and the peculiar idol she must become if she espouses the work of self-admonition and self-regulation, and therefore of disguise, constraint, impassivity ...

Women against Men

Anita Brookner, 2 September 1982

The Golden Notebook 
by Doris Lessing.
Joseph, 638 pp., £9.95, July 1982, 0 7181 0970 8
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... The Golden Notebook takes one back not only in time but in consciousness. It is just 20 years old, and yet, reread from the standpoint of 1982, it seems to belong to an immensely confusing period, weighed down by the anxieties of a decade that now seems remote, incomprehensible to those for whom the Sixties signify permissiveness, euphoria, liberty, and pleasure ...

Scarsdale Romance

Anita Brookner, 6 May 1982

Mrs Harris 
by Diana Trilling.
Hamish Hamilton, 341 pp., £8.95, May 1982, 0 241 10822 5
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... Mrs Jean Harris, a trim widow of 56, was a woman who had reason to congratulate herself on making a success of her life. She had risen from undistinguished but respectable suburban beginnings to the position of headmistress of the select Madeira School for girls, in McLean, Virginia. She had married young and had two fine sons. She had kept her looks, and, apart from the occasional bout of depression or fatigue, her health ...

Living with a little halibut

John Bayley, 8 October 1992

Fraud 
by Anita Brookner.
Cape, 224 pp., £14.99, August 1992, 0 224 03315 8
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... endings formulate with complete artistry but without solving: the puzzle is itself the solution. Anita Brookner is a good hand at something similar. In her latest novel there is naturally something wrong with the heroine: a wrongness emphasised by the banal Kensingtonian calm in which she lives. When friends suggest this or that – religion, a love ...

Wintry Lessons

Dinah Birch: Anita Brookner, 27 June 2002

The Next Big Thing 
by Anita Brookner.
Viking, 247 pp., £16.99, June 2002, 0 670 91302 2
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... Anita Brookner’s first novel appeared in 1981. Since then she has published it again, slightly altered, almost every year. It is a remarkable feat. Nor is it irrelevant to what she has to say, for quiet persistence is part of what her fiction affirms. The same characters, the same situations, the same histories of seclusion and distress appear over and over again ...

Rachel and Heather

Stephen Wall, 1 October 1987

A Friend from England 
by Anita Brookner.
Cape, 205 pp., £9.95, August 1987, 0 224 02443 4
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The New Confessions 
by William Boyd.
Hamish Hamilton, 462 pp., £11.95, September 1987, 0 241 12383 6
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The Colour of Blood 
by Brian Moore.
Cape, 182 pp., £10.95, September 1987, 0 224 02513 9
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... Anita Brookner’s novels have been preoccupied with women who feel themselves to be profoundly separate. This may be the result of either choice or necessity, or of stoically making a choice of necessity. They are often tempted to alleviate this solitariness by falling in love with a man or attaching themselves to a couple or a family, but this usually ends in recoil and failure ...

Ruined by men

Anthony Thwaite, 1 September 1988

The Truth about Lorin Jones 
by Alison Lurie.
Joseph, 294 pp., £11.95, July 1988, 0 7181 3095 2
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Latecomers 
by Anita Brookner.
Cape, 248 pp., £10.95, August 1988, 0 224 02554 6
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Where the rivers meet 
by John Wain.
Hutchinson, 563 pp., £12.95, June 1988, 9780091736170
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About the Body 
by Christopher Burns.
Secker, 193 pp., £10.95, August 1988, 0 436 09784 2
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Stories 
by Elizabeth Jolley.
Viking, 312 pp., £11.95, July 1988, 0 670 82113 6
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... atomically splitting under their eyes. Much of The Truth about Lorin Jones is made up of dialogue. Anita Brookner, in Latecomers, almost does without it. The few lives (substantially, four) she has created have been so displaced, made so uncertain, in a past that is itself so blankly mysterious, that it is as if ...

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