Saturday 11 August 2018

A Start in Life

Finished August 8
A Start in Life by Anita Brookner

This short novel looks at the early life of lonely academic Ruth Weiss. As the book begin, she is forty, looking back on her life to that point. Her major research has been on the women in Balzac's novels, and her immersion in the world of literature is her life now.
She looks back on her life, with her parents, Helen, a high-spirited and successful stage actress mother, and George, a quiet father who had inherited a stock of rare books from his own father, running a small shop of them. For the early part of her childhood, she had primarily been looked after by her paternal grandmother, a woman with a sad European past, who had brought from Europe a selection of large dark wood furniture, classic china and silver, highly pressed table linen, and a deep sense of order.
To the child it seemed as if all dining rooms must be dark, as if sodden with a miasma of gravy and tears. She imagined, across the unknown land, silent grandmothers, purple flock wallpaper, thunderous seascapes, heavy meats eaten at speed. Velvet curtains, the damask cloth laid over only half the table, the intricate siege architecture of the chair legs and cross bars.
As Ruth, named for her grandmother, kept to herself, escaping within the world of literature, she was also aware that although she loved her parents, they would be no support for her, for they were unable to even look after themselves properly. Following her grandmother's death, they hired a live-in woman to do the housekeeping and meals, Mrs. Cutler. George lost interest in the store and began to look for a buyer. Helen began to go straight to bed upon arriving home, supplied their with drinks and a light meal. The two slipped easily into an intimacy with Mrs. Cutler that prevented them from ensuring that she carried out her work, and the house fell into slovenliness, with poor meals.
Ruth concentrated on her studies, mastering French and venturing into the discovery of French authors, including Balzac. She went to college and planned to study abroad in France, where she would be able to do more research on her subject of choice.
But it is her parents, and their worries and lack of independence that would draw her back from her life of independence.
A look at a woman who life has for the most part, passed by.

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