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Synopses & Reviews
Literary master Anita Brookners elegant style is manifest on every page of her brilliant new novel. Beautifully crafted and emotionally evocative, Strangers portrays the magic and depth of real life, telling the rich story of an ordinary man whose unexpected longings, doubts, and fears are universal.
Paul Sturgis is resigned to his bachelorhood and the quietude of his London flat. He occasionally pays obliging visits to his nearest living relative, Helena, his cousins widow and a doyenne of decorum who, like Paul, bears a tacit loneliness.
To avoid the impolite complications of turning down Helenas Christmas invitation, Paul sets off for a holiday in Venice, where he meets Mrs. Vicky Gardner. Younger than Paul by several decades, the intriguing and lovely woman is in the midst of a divorce and at a crossroads in her life. Upon his return to England, a former girlfriend, Sarah, reenters Pauls life. These two women reroute Pauls introspections and spark a transformation within him.
Pauls steady and preferred isolation now conflicts with the stark realization of his aloneness and his need for companionship in even the smallest degree. This awareness brings with it a torrent of feelings-reassessing his Venetian journey, desiring change, and fearing death. Ultimately, his discoveries about himself will lead Paul to make a shocking decision about his life.
"Brookner's 24th book is an often monotonous meditation on an elderly man's solitary existence. Much of the first several chapters are dedicated to 72-year-old Paul Sturgis's stuffy reflections on his attitudes toward life and loneliness. The narrative shows some promise when Sturgis meets recently divorced Vicky Gardner on a trip to Venice, but their ensuing relationship — in Venice and later, when they both return to London — is mired in a painfully polite restraint. As if in a parody of English manners, Vicky and Sturgis labor over countless afternoon teas without forming anything resembling human contact. Vicky often approaches moments of vulnerable honesty, only to act appalled if he shows any interest in these rare glimpses of humanity. Sturgis's interactions with his ex-lover Sarah, meanwhile, are slightly more candid, but these merely highlight Sturgis's painfully apparent dull formality. (They also give him more material to pontificate over.) While the novel happens in the current day, the occasional mobile phone feels as out of place as it would in, say, one of the Henry James novels that could be the inspiration for this tedious exercise in drawing-room politesse. (June)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Paul Sturgis, the hero of Anita Brookner's new novel, is a quiet fellow — even, by his own admission, pretty dull. In decent health at 72, he lives alone in a well-situated London flat, bolstered by a comfortable pension from the bank where he spent his working life. He has exactly one social acquaintance, his cousin's widow, to whom he pays polite Sunday visits with a sense of mutually resigned obligation.... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) Otherwise, during the course of Paul's stripped-down life, very little happens. Or does it? Any reader who has visited the worlds of Brookner's two dozen novels knows that most of the action takes place beneath the surface of everyday activity. Beginning with "The Debut" in 1981, published when the author was 53, through the Booker Prize-winning "Hotel du Lac" in 1984 and continuing with the novels that have followed, Brookner has offered adventure stories of an idiosyncratic, inside-out kind, where quests and conflicts take place not so much in the physical universe as in the psyche. A familiar complaint about Brookner is that she tells the same story over and over. Not true at all, as I see it, except for her uniform interest in exploring interior states of being. "Strangers" provides a good example of how distinctive her fiction can be, without sacrificing any of her usual depth. Brookner has featured male protagonists before, notably in "Lewis Percy" and "Latecomers," but in Paul Sturgis she has created an especially convincing specimen. The dire predicament in which Paul finds himself is much like that of Shakespeare's Lear or Philip Roth's Everyman: Isolated and marginalized by old age, he is tormented by the likelihood that he will be left to die among strangers. The big difference between Paul and Lear, however, is that Paul never had a kingdom, or even much of a family, to lose. His polite associations with banking colleagues having faded away, he feels loneliness laced with regret. "He was free, with a freedom he did not value," writes Brookner, and this unmooring causes no small amount of panic, often sending him fleeing from his claustrophobic flat into the wintry London streets for relief. Only a stylist with such prudence and steely humor could create forward movement from such grim circumstances. Brookner has both. When Paul finds himself entangled in a mildly irritating alliance with a self-consumed, 50-ish divorcee named Mrs. Gardner, he notes: "The trouble was that those who believed in their own destiny usually proved something of a burden for others." When Mrs. Gardner makes an offhand sexual overture to Paul, Brookner turns the scene into a small tour de force of comic excruciation. With economical prose that mimics Paul's unfurnished existence, and with an effective use of repetition that echoes the garrulousness of old age, Brookner creates an affecting and unexpectedly dynamic portrait of an ordinary man in extremis, for whom "only the fantasy of choice remained." Reviewed by Donna Rifkind, who is a critic in Los Angeles, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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A Man Booker Prize-winning author called "one of the finest novelists of her generation" by "The New York Times" returns with an exquisite novel about a man, three women, and a vibrant decision.
Man Booker Prize-winning author Anita Brookner--called one of the finest novelists of her generation by The New York Times--returns with an exquisite novel about a man, three women, and a vibrant decision
Retiree Paul Sturgis lives a uniformly solitary life--resigned to his bachelorhood and the quietude of his London flat. Only occasionally does he pay obliging visits to his nearest living relative, Helena, his cousin's widow.
To avoid the impolite complications of turning down Helena's Christmas invites, Paul sets off for a holiday in Venice. There he meets Mrs. Vicky Gardner, an intriguing and lovely woman in the midst of a divorce and at a crossroads in her life. Although he is avoiding new acquaintances, who might shake up his rather monotonous existence, Paul is surprised to find himself warming to the woman. Then, upon his return to England, his former girlfriend Sarah reintroduces herself into Paul's life. The two women spark a transformation within him--Paul's steady and preferred isolation now conflicts with the stark realization of his aloneness and his need for companionship. This awareness brings with it a torrent of feelings as he reassesses his life, his fears of death, and his desire for change. Ultimately, Paul's discoveries about himself lead him to make a shocking decision.
About the Author
Anita Brookner was born in London and, apart from several years in Paris, has lived there ever since. She trained as an art historian and taught at the Courtauld Institute of Art until 1988. Strangers is her twenty-fourth novel.
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