Paris in July, I had really intended to try and finish some of the books on my burgeoning TBR shelves; however, I've heard so many great things about Anita Brookner I couldn't pass up participating in International Anita Brookner Day, sponsored by Thomas of My Porch. My discovery of this novel, set in both France and England, seemed serendipitous.
The book begins with a prologue. After her mother's death, a young woman finds some intriguing items that belonged to her, including a notebook and a beautiful silk kimono. The book that follows is how she imagines her mother's life.
Maud Gonthier is the only child of bourgeois parents in Dijon, France. Her father dies when she is a small child in the 1950s, and her mother struggles to keep them financially afloat without appearing poor. She hopes to get the attractive Maud married off early. Maud's aunt married very well, and her mother hopes to unite her with her cousin Xavier, or one of Xavier's friends. On a summer visit at her aunt's country house, young Maud falls head over heels in love with Tyler, a dashing and wealthy young Englishman who has the world at his feet. Sadly, things don't turn out exactly as Maud hopes -- instead the hunky Tyler, she winds up with the solid but unexciting Edward Harrison, another young Englishman dragged to the country by Tyler.
Initially, this seems like one of those novels in which Not Much Happens. At first I really didn't much like the story or the characters, who seemed really cold and calculated, especially Maud's mother. I was resolved to stick with it, and the payoff was worth it. This book is a really great character study, and it's really made me think about marriages and relationships and True Love. And disappointment -- a lot of characters in this book are disappointed with their lot in life.
I'm beginning to understand why Thomas raves about Anita Brookner, another author to add to my burgeoning Must Read List.