I chose Leaving Home, the 23rd of her 24 novels because my library had a copy and also as it is partially set in Paris, I thought it would fit in well with reading for Paris in July.
This is my third attempt at a book by Anita Brookner. The first was Hotel Du Lac which although slim I started but never finished. It was a couple of years ago now and I remember finding it just ok before something more appealing came along and I never went back to it. Not a good start considering Hotel Du Lac is her most praised novel having won the Booker Prize in 1984.
Next up was Strangers, Brookner’s latest novel published in 2009. I thought it was beautifully written but a bit melancholy for me.
So I was hoping with Leaving Home it would be third time lucky.
Leaving Home is a very intimate slice of life type story told in the first person by Emma Roberts, an introverted young woman who lives at home in London with her widowed mother. Everything about their lives is carefully controlled and predictable. Their roles are unspoken yet firmly fixed, their interactions superficial and routine, nothing out of the ordinary happens. Emma is a sensitive and insightful woman, if overly reflective and introspective, and she is acutely aware that she is living her life this way but thinks she is the sort of person for whom nothing riskier or more exciting will be possible. She is by her own admission the sort of person people take advantage of and whose life choices to date have been made by other people. In short, Emma Roberts does what other people want Emma Roberts to do.
The tiny part of her that craves something more takes her to Paris to study the seventeeth century gardens in the city, of which she plans to write a book. She takes a modest room in a hotel and despite her discomfort with this unfamiliar set up, she branches out a little, making a friend of sorts in Francoise, a flamboyant librarian and being accepted into Franoices’ beautiful family home and by her rather formidable mother Mme Desnoyers.
Emma finds herself blossoming in Paris but her upbringing and the comfort of what she knows exert a strong pull – she makes several trips between Paris and London, dealing with the deteriorating health of both the mothers, trying to decipher the relationships she is building in each city and her and other people’s expectations.
As her story evolves, she becomes stronger, more confident and more accepting of herself and her life.
Leaving Home has a timeless feel to it, it could have been set any time within the past 40 years or so and there is actually only one brief reference to the time period in the book.
With both Strangers and Leaving Home, I felt almost honoured in a way to be privy to the most private thoughts of the main characters, to share their fears and insecurities which touch on the purpose of our lives, such a personal and fundamental thing for us all.
Once again though I finished this book feeling it was all a bit gloomy.
So was it third time lucky? Perhaps it was – I suspect this won’t be the last of Anita Brookner’s books I read but I can’t quite put my finger on why! This reminds me of the way I feel about Penelope Fitzgerald, something hasn’t totally clicked but I keep going back for more….
Now I can’t wait to visit some more seasoned readers of Anita Brookner and see what they have to say about the books they read today.
Happy birthday Anita Brookner.
2005, 168 pages