Thursday, December 15, 2011

Leaving Home, by Anita Brookner

A young woman leaves home and grows up. I think one might summarize the book this way, but it really isn't a "coming of age" book in the usual sense.

Emma Roberts, 26, heads from her home in England to France to complete her dissertation on formal gardens. Living in small tight quarters, she works daily in the library, lives almost monastically. At the library, though, she meets Francoise, a young French woman whose life is almost the opposite of Emma's. Emma listens to her friend's tales of one-night stands and her stories of her weekends at home with her mother. After some time, Francoise invites Emma to join her at her home one weekend and Emma accepts.

The house is large and stately, a bit run-down but still beautiful. Emma is entranced by it. She is also deeply affected by her encounters with Francoise's mother, who, while reserved and hardly friendly, seems to like her.

In the months to come Emma visits the house a few more times, and also visits her own mother back in England. She also starts to take up a small friendship with a young man, Michael, who lives in the same hotel. The two go on quiet walks and occasionally have coffee. They share a desire for distance, a companionable distance. Emma is happy with the lack of expectations of her.

The student life in France is abruptly interrupted when Emma receives bad news about her mother, and relationships slip a little. She reluctantly accepts invitations to visit Francoise's house again, and ultimately learns more about her friend than perhaps she wants.

There is growing up going on here, but it's clear that in some ways Emma has been grown for a while. She is so introspective that she almost lives doubly - in real life and in her mind. The book is small but the writing is "literary" - "lyrical". Simple actions are written in expansive prose that sometimes almost obscures what actually happened. At times I found the style irritating. As a rule, I like writing to be more straightforward, direct.

IT's a curious book. I didn't love Emma. Or her friends, particularly. Yet I found it interesting enough and ultimately it left me thinking, which is a good thing. 

No comments: