Volume 91, Issue 89

Wednesday, March 18, 1998

Leave it to Weaver


BOOK REVIEW: Analyzing the state of shatered love

Altered States
Anita Brookner
Random House Vintage
$16.95 / 229 pgs.

The altered states that Brookner depicts in this lugubrious, yet weirdly fascinating tale, are neither hallucinatory nor Dionysian, as one might expect – but rather feelings of profound resignation and guilt. Love is dutiful, lust and ambition short-lived, yet permanently debilitating.

As Brookner writes a highly polished and unnervingly morbid novel, she seems to be moving inexorably towards a peculiar form of transcendence, a cosmic plane of acceptance distressingly close to what would ordinarily be considered as defeat. Her gloomy characters ponder their fates with such ferocious concentration they can barely stand the company of others, or any divergence from their strict and monastic techniques.

In her newest drama of dashed hopes and thwarted dreams, two embittered sisters choose to live in an old people's home long before it is even necessary; a lonely, kind, destitute woman marries a dreary unmanly man to secure a home and family but is denied both; and Brookner's hapless hero Alan (she seems to enjoy writing from a man's perspective, especially if they are weak, lonely and long-suffering) becomes enthralled by a sexy, fearful friend; a mismatch with tragic results.

The main characters are believable as the personality of Alan could conceivably map to a real person, as might Sarah's. Her character is portrayed quite artfully in a series of short glimpses, consistent with Alan's exposure to her, but the author fails to invoke enough emotion in the first occurrence to fuel the obsession in the reader's mind that would drive the rest of the story.

Combined with the stereotypically dry English attitude and the humiliating repression of Alan, it's hard to muster any sympathy for him. He doesn't seem to learn from his mistakes and lives too much in the past. As a result, he is denied the luxury of a new and worthy beginning.

Dullness is cast as a virtue as Alan discovers "there are no rewards and few consolations." His altered states are in the form of loss and compromise – intrinsic aspects of life that Brookner analyzes with brilliant intensity and surprising results.

–Saleh Zaidi

To Contact The Arts and Entertainment Department: gazent@julian.uwo.ca

Copyright The Gazette 1998