Strangers by Anita Brookner
What an odd story! Anita Brookner’s Strangers is about a 70 year old man, Paul Sturgis, who is all alone in the world… no family, no friends, and no children. He hasn’t even one or two close friends. He’s retired from a career in banking and has pretty much given up on maintaining any contact with old work associates. And he doesn’t know his neighbors. He is truly alone.
As the story begins, the reader discovers Paul is bored, depressed, and bitter that life has passed him by. The problem with Strangers is the meager plot and the small cast of characters (4 people, including Paul). Because those two critical ingredients are minimal, one would expect highly developed characters, but such development does not occur. The reader never learns just what motivates anyone or feels empathy toward them. Thus, none of the characters were remotely likable. And worse, none of them seem like real people. There is no emotion, no humor, and no intimate details. They are almost like modern art- a lot of broad strokes- cold, abstract and elusive.
Anita Brookner makes several references to Proust, as though Brookner is comparing her superficial character Paul to Marcel Proust. In your dreams Brookner! The idea is preposterous. There is absolutely no comparison. Proust was the deepest, most self-analyzed character I’ve ever come across. And regarding other people, Proust was an excellent judge of character. He was highly emotional, passionately analytical, obsessively descriptive, and philosophically thought-provoking. In comparison Paul Sturgis seems like an empty shell of a man.
Anita Brookner won the Booker Prize for her novel Hotel Du Lac, but this novel falls far short of prize material. The lack of detail and minimal plot leave the reader to wonder why they bothered to finish reading the book. Perhaps that is Brookner’s point- Paul Sturgis lacked any credible personality. It is no wonder he lived such an oddly disconnected life. It reminds me of the Beatles song “Nowhere Man.” Such a subject made for a great song, but for an interesting novel? Not so much.
Rated 2 Stars
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