The Debut by Anita Brookner

It would be no surprise to me to find that Wes Anderson took some of his more quirky, melancholic characters from Brookner’s work. In fact, the attitude and breezy familial prose of this book hearkens back to the presentation of The Royal Tenenbaums in many ways; reading it in Alec Baldwin’s cracked Baritone almost adds to the appeal of this mostly sad but beautiful tale about life, love, illness, divorce, and missed potential. 

Brookner presents the life of Ruth Weiss as she reflects on a life absolutely ruined by literature. In every interaction with those around her, her expectations of what can possibly happen are tied to Balzac’s work – an author who she is intimately well-versed in. In every instance, she expects to have her heart broken and throw herself to the moors where she will scream and wail until the true love of her life picks her up and consoles her with a violent kiss. In Ruth’s life, nothing is as literature makes it out to be, and yet the expectations of the men in her life and the twists and turns of affairs, parental illnesses, and the simplicity of the mistakes we make when our expectations truly detract from the things we should be doing in the relationships we were destined for, life simply presents difficult moments that we have no control over – leading to a future that can either be terrible or somewhat satisfactory depending on where the needle of our expectations lands as we speed toward it. 

I read this book as a recommendation in a New York Times Book Review article published last March. I had never read her before and had only been exposed to who she was a little through my English major studies. Alam suggested that readers start with The Debut, as I have, and I can certainly see why. What Brookner manages to accomplish in a breezy 192 pages is a triumph of sophisticated, yet seemingly effortless exercise in characterization. From the opening line, it’s apparent that we’ll be treated to a book whose sentences evoke mastery of prose, story, and structure. An incredible book – I’m looking forward to continuing through Alam’s Brookner curriculum. 

•  •  •

“Dr. Weiss, at forty, knew that her life had been ruined by literature.” (7)

“Love imposes obligations and these are constant. An intermittent lover is no use to a person of dignity and courage.” (150)

“…but you’ve been a fool. Some women take advantage. Once they’re married, and they’ve got a good husband, they think they can do what they like. And if they take him for granted-” she paused significantly- “they just don’t bother anymore.” (166)

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