I started reading Anita Brookner’s Leaving Home knowing next to nothing about the author and her book. As some of you might guess, I find the title – Leaving Home – very alluring.
I heard of Brookner at the same time as I learned about Anne Tyler, and somehow I came to imagine them as similar writers. My premature conclusion tells me they are not! Premature, obviously, I’ve only read one book by each of them, most of their writings are yet to be discovered.
My first meeting with Tyler was not all that successful. Brookner on the other hand impressed me a lot! And I must say it makes me laugh to read all the negative reviews she received for this book:
“With Emma Roberts, the heroine of Leaving Home, Brookner may finally have gone too far. In many ways, Emma is a typical Brookner character: bookish, meek, all but devoid of sexual passion. But she also displays a wide streak of self-pity that makes it difficult for a reader to like her nearly as much as Brookner does.” … “Yet Emma’s whining tone undermines our sympathy.” – Caryn James (the NYT)
I actually find the novel amazingly good.
Leaving Home is about Emma (26) who decides to leave her quiet life with her mother in London and move to Paris to study landscape gardening. Emma is looking for a life less ordinary, for a life different from the one her mother has lead. But Emma is old enough to recognize herself, and what she sees is a solitary and melancholic person. And a central question crystalizes: Is it at all possible to leave home? By leaving her mothers house Emma becomes more independent, but never extrovert. And gradually she seems to be mirroring the claustrophobic life of her mother.
To put it short: I like the story and I like the way it is told.
To be a bit more specific:
Emma is not a very likable person, and I sometimes wonder if she really is to believe – is she telling the truth about herself and the life she is living? A special atmosphere is created when the reader feels reservations towards the protagonist in a story – it is a very emotional disturbing situation, a situation that only very good authors can master. Brookner does. Emma does not have my sympathy: I do not understand her choices, I do not know what her next move will be, and in many ways she really annoys me. She is indecisive and weak despite her intelligence and means. This is how Brookner keeps my interest up; she has created a character I have difficulties in understanding, therefore I am eager to find out what this really is all about. But Brookner is stronger than me; there are no solutions or revelations in the end. Brookner has gone all the way down with her character – she is not interested in consoling her reader. This is how life is: deeply enigmatic. Why doesn’t Emma become an easygoing, social and funny girl like the rest of us???
This is why I like Leaving Home a lot better than Tyler’s Ladder of Years: Tyler doesn’t, in this book, dare to run to the end of the line. In the end she has to make her main character into a nice and polite women who will continue to take care of her family, even if she may have wanted something else. Tyler puts everything back to normal before she leaves us, Brookner, on the other hand, leave us in a black hole – . The home, which Emma unsuccessfully tries to leave, is a womb. Its uncanny and uninhabitable, but there is no way out.
I much prefer Brookner’s ending to Tyler’s. It demands more of the reader – and of the writer.