Book Review:  Fraud by Anita Brookner (1993)
Posted: 07 April 2008 08:14 PM   [ Ignore ]
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Thanks to Gregg.

The Washington Post
January 31, 1993, Sunday, Final Edition

“All the Lonely People”
Elmore Leonard

FRAUD By Anita Brookner Random House

A WOMAN DISAPPEARS in a novel entitled Fraud, and we wonder if Anita Brookner has turned to crime.

Immediately, however, we learn that Anna Durrant, in her fifties and never married, has been missing for four months before anyone notices she’s not around, and we realize that Anna is another of. Brookner’s lonely heroines: meek, well-bred English women of good manners, educated but no match for even the everyday variety of connivers and manipulators in their lives.

It’s my guess that no one describes the milieu of these moderately well-off ladies—and a few gentlemen—more accurately than or in such rich detail as Anita Brookner. She has been analyzing them in a dozen novels now, watching their every move and assigning motives.

From the time she was a little girl, Anna Durant has come to realize that “the whole purpose of her existence was to keep affection alive” while caring for and being a companion to her widowed mother, Amy, who encouraged her daugh-ter to believe that the best things in life were worth waiting for. What we have here is “a plain girl’s faith in a happy ending . . . that . . . was both her salvation and her undoing.”

An elderly sometime friend, Vera Marsh, used as a droll point of view throughout the novel, observes, “There is something odd about that household, the mother so frail and the daughter so cheerful. Marvelous, really. And yet she was too good, too filial. Like a daughter in a Victorian novel. Little Dorrit.” Marsh views Anna’s saintliness, “that everlasting smile of hers,” with suspi-cion.

The fact is, Anna’s smile is real; she never cries or becomes angry. She’s content to sit in the gloom of their respectable London flat reading, watching television, pouring tea, researching a writing project she’s been working on for years: something about the great salons of Paris during the Second Empire.

No, it’s her mom who throws their relationship out of sync. Amy goes shopping at Harrods and comes home with a boyfriend.

Ainsworth is “too glossy, too plausible, and her mother was too flushed, too pretty.” But to Anna’s horror, Ainsworth moves in. She becomes aware of his “brutal stink in the bathroom and the bottles of cologne he poured over himself in order to become the lover and to dispel the natural man.” It’s interesting that Marsh’s divorced son, Nick, has much the same earthy effect on Anna’s sen-sibility when he speaks to her, “spraying her with his meaty breath.” As they continue to exchange a few words at his mother’s Christmas party buffet table, Nick’s breath takes on the odor of cheese. THE CHRISTMAS PARTY marks the begin-ning of events that lead to Anna’s disappearance in the fall. The party serves also to introduce characters in one of the novel’s few live-action scenes. (Brookner ordinarily prefers to tell rather than show; which is okay, since she has the language to pull it off.)

Nick is introduced to Anna as a possible suitor, though not for Anna’s sake; Marsh sees her as an ideal daughter-in-law, someone to care for her in her de-clining years.

Physician Lawrence Halliday had originally been selected for Anna by her mother. But while Anna was waiting for Lawrence to recognize her virtues, the doctor succumbed to the sexual allures of Vickie Gibson. Vickie wears a red dress with big shoulders. Anna makes her own clothes, cutting the same conserva-tive pattern out of different materials. Vickie appears to be promiscuous. Anna isn’t a virgin, but just barely. Vickie is daddy’s girl, and can’t stand her mother. Anna devoted her life to hers. Lawrence, too, was extremely close to his mother, loving her to the extent that after she died “he took no comfort from his life, felt perpetually cold and disheartened.” He’s miserable married to Vickie, who leads him around by the nose. He feels nothing for Anna. Still, since they’re so much alike, products of maternal conditioning, he knows he could be happy with Anna. But is it too late?

Fraud opens with Anna’s disappearance and closes with what happened and what it all means—a satisfying and encouraging conclusion. Encouraging in the sense that Brookner’s docile heroines are beginning to stand up and might one day turn things around and put the Vickie Hallidays in their places.

Brookner’s classic style seems to borrow its discipline from another time, though maybe not so much the 19th century as the 1930s, only a hair’s breadth from the manner of Evelyn Waugh. This is an observation, not a suggestion. Brookner knows exactly what she’s doing.?

Elmore Leonard is the author of many novels, including, most recently, “Maxi-mum Bob.”