Leaving Home – Anita Brookner


Thank you to Thomas and Simon who invited us to join them in reading for International Anita Brookner Day today – to celebrate English author Anita Brookner’s 83rd birthday.

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

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12 responses to “Leaving Home – Anita Brookner

  1. Now you have me all inspired to read another Brookner…maybe, if I can download one on my nook, there will still be time by the end of the day.

    Reading A Moveable Feast was one of the highlights of my summer, and I thank you for that.

    • Bellezza, what a lovely person you are – thank you, for your kind words and also for being my reading buddy for A Moveable Feast – it has been a highlight for me too.

  2. Ah thank you for this I didn’t realise it was a Paris one. I’ve just been there last month and wish actually I’d read this one before we’d left. Never mind, I’ll try it for next time. I find them frankly all a bit gloomy, but I do think there’s a dry wit there that makes me smile. Not comfort reads though!

    • Donna – no definitely not comfort reads! And yes I saw glimpses of that humour too which I always like – I think it’s a skill too to be humourous and melancholy at the same time and carry it off.

      Lucky you having been to Paris recently – hope you had a lovely time.

  3. I’ve only ever read one novel by Brookner – “Incidents in the Rue Laugier” – but I loved it and would definitely recommend it!

  4. Dear Tracey Thank you for your lovely comment on my review of the same book on IABD website….guess what?..I’m an only child too….spooky music plays 🙂

    • Alex – you’re welcome, I really loved your review – as for you being an only child as well, spooky music indeed… I’m glad we weren’t reading some sort of gothic story, that could have been quite scary!

  5. Pingback: ANZ LitLovers LitBlog

  6. First off, Tracey, I’m glad to see you blogging again; I see that it’s actually been a while since you’ve been back, but I thought you had given up when you took a break for several months. Glad I was wrong! Secondly, you have me intrigued with this post even if the book wasn’t exactly a clear favorite for you. I’m interested in Brookner’s ability to convey interiority, something another blogger just sold me on recently, and you say much the same thing here about her characters with another book entirely. Reassuring to hear, thanks!

    • Richard – thanks so much for your kind words, I really do love reading and blogging and need to find a way to balance that with the other things I need to do. Basically I think a lotto win and no work is the way to go.! You make a really good point with the interiority thing, there is something really personal and gracious about her characters in sharing such intimate and vulnerable aspects of themselves. I think I can relate to that vulnerability, perhaps we all can in a way and that’s what appeals even though the stories are not perfect for me. I’m wondering if you have read any of Brookners books, am going to pop over and visit to find out.

  7. I have not read Anita Brookner. But your post has piqued my interest. I’ll have to look for her books. I seldom see her works in bookstores here in my city. If I’m to just read one, which would you recommend?

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