I have just finished this little book and am full of admiration for Anita Brookner’s perceptive and heartfelt writing. As skilled as it was though, I found the story quite melancholy and without much hope. Not a book to choose if you are in need of cheering up.
Paul Sturgis is a retired bank manager. At 72 he lives alone, has no friends or family other than a distant cousin who he duty visits each Sunday afternoon. Both he and the cousin go to great measures to keep these meetings on a superficial level and in fact they know very little about each other. He has lived his life to date in this way, creating orderly, satisfactory, safe routines without passion or any possibility of risk. His relationships with women have all ended mainly because he is “too nice” and not interesting or challenging enough to hold their interest. His carefully constructed days now consist of brief interactions with strangers, shop assistants, his hairdresser, the odd smile at a passerby in the street. He has resigned himself to dying among strangers and although objectively can anticipate how lonely this all is, he does little to change it.
He then comes into contact with two women and begins unsatisfactory relationships of a sort with each of them. Both women are needy and ambivalent towards him as he is to them. He continues to reflect on how he has lived his life and how the future is likely to pan out. I found Paul Sturgis to be a frustrating character, he allowed situations and people to dictate to him even though he could see it was happening and found it frustrating himself.
Intense and beautifully portrayed but a sad book. A great motivator to live a bit more, be a bit braver and take a few more risks.