Mixed reception for new Anita Brookner

This post was written by Friday guest blogger Emma Garman.

The reviews for Leaving Home, the new novel by my favorite living writer, Anita Brookner, are ranging from respectful to dismissive, but are all tending towards the same idea, practically de rigeur when reviewing Brookner: here we have the same story again. Claudia Fitzherbert in the Telegraph says:

So far so familiar, was the first thought provoked by the title of Anita Brookner’s 23rd novel. For the necessity, impossibility, cost and consequences of leaving home are the themes that have always animated – if that is not too strong a word – the fiction of this quietly prolific author. Her protagonists usually exist in a limbo somewhere beyond their sheltered, miserable childhoods, permanently unready for adulthood. They long to escape the unhappy confines of their parents’ lives, but discover the best they can manage is a bleak clandestinity.

This is Maureen Freely in the Guardian:

It is almost as if Brookner has chosen to go over old ground for the umpteenth time because she wants to be absolutely sure, before she’s through, that she’s demolished all signs of life in it. Gone is the raw anguish of Look at Me (her third and best novel) and the satirical edge that made Hotel du Lac (her fourth) so successful.

I too was disappointed by Leaving Home, but not because I felt the author was flogging old ground. I’ve never quite bought into the myth that Brookner’s novels are all alike, it’s simply that they all explore the fates of quiet, introspective, romantically unambitious protagonists. (Doomed Chick Lit, as Hermione Lee so brilliantly termed it.) Such characters are so unusual, in fiction and in life, that the Brookner oeuvre appears more homogeneous than it actually is. But whatever you think about the similarity or otherwise of the different novels there is no denying their individual substance, whereas Leaving Home, despite Brookner’s reliably gorgeous prose, has a strangely underdeveloped quality, its character and plot elements never quite coming together in a satisfying whole.

Still, it would be a pity for Brookner-virgins to be deterred from her many masterpieces, so, if you are one, treat yourself to any of the following: Altered States; Undue Influence; Incidents in the Rue Laugier (which, to entice further, features a character named Maud!) and, as Freely says, Look At Me.


You might want to subscribe to my free Substack newsletter, Ancestor Trouble, if the name makes intuitive sense to you.