Sunday, July 28, 2013

{review} incidents in the rue laugier

hosted by Karen (Bookbath)
& Tamara (Thyme for Tea).

hosted by Ali at Heavenali

Argh! What happened to July? I've been reading a lot and writing near to zero. Fortunately in this post I can cunningly cover the two bases of Paris in July and Brookner in July. I feel wonderfully efficient...  

Anita Brookner Incidents in the Rue Laugier (1995) 


It took me a while to warm to this book, I have to say, and I think that this was due to my expectations about the structure being somewhat confounded from the beginning. When I finally became swept up in the narrative, something clicked, and by the time I had finished I rather thought I had just read something remarkable. 

At its most simple (which it isn't), Incidents in the Rue Laugier tells the story of the meeting and marriage of Maud Gonthier of Dijon and Edward Harrison of London. Since this is a Brookner, one expects - and finds - little evidence of great passion, profound happiness or exciting events. (I should say, at this point, that I would be horribly disturbed to find these in a Brookner.) 

It is 1971: Edward is trying to escape the burden of an unexpected inheritance (appropriately enough, a bookshop) that will put an end to his dreams of travelling the world. His Cambridge chum, the rich, charismatic and predatory Tyler (Apolline is an apt description his "atavistic" nature) has put him on to a good thing - he can stay in a room of an acquaintance's empty apartment in the Rue Laugier in Paris (for people like me who love to know if a place really exists, yes it does, in the 17th arrondissement near Place des Ternes). Then comes another invitation from Tyler - to join him at another house near Meaux. And it is at La Gaillarderie near Meaux that Maud is visiting her aunt and falls for... Well, I'm not going to give that away, am I?! 

There are a number of familiar threads running through this novel - the main characters possess a great deal of reserve (Edward "would not be adverse to celibacy"; Maud has inherited her mother's "natural hauteur"; she desires her "prelapsarian integrity"), both are trapped by a need to maintain a personal, almost physical integrity, and forced to do what is expected rather than enter into risk (risk is such a point of vulnerability in a Brookner). Hope must always be sacrificed to reality. Passion is to be sacrificed to respectability. Silence replaces communication. Love cannot save one from loneliness.
They were not marrying for love, whatever he might think. She had only to glance across the table and meet his unhappy smile to understand that. They were marrying because of one false step, one regrettable encounter, one shared shock; they were marrying because their lives were already going wrong, because they understood how and when they had gone wrong, because events that had taken place in the rue Laugier had bound them together, while at the same time making them incapable of explaining those events, and their prehistory, to a third party.
This is such an interesting quotation for me, because of what I have thus far omitted to tell you about the structure of the book. At the beginning and the end of the book, Brookner provides a framing device that overarches the narrative -- of Maud and Edward's daughter packing away her late mother's possessions and finding a notebook:
The notebook was old, slightly bent at the corner, the pages stuck together. There were only a few notations, apparently written on the same day. 'Dames Blanches. La Gaillarderie. Place des Ternes. Sang. Edward.' Further down the same page, and written with a different pen, a recipe for Sauce mousseline. Then a short list of book titles. Last of all Proust's opening line: 'Longtemps, je me suis couché de bonne heure.'
The daughter contemplates the impossibility "that a life could be covered by those so brief notations" -- this lack of knowledge is "frustrating": "Something predated me, and I had no idea what it was." What is this mysterious, missing "prehistory", from which the daughter is excluded, given that the "indelible" nature of her parents' histories is also an indelible part of who she is today? She wants their memories:
And the lives of those we love must hold some meaning for us, and if that meaning is withheld, who can blame the survivor for his or her curiosity, even if that curiosity holds as much mourning as celebration?
And, so, the reader comes to understand that the lives s/he has followed may well be "fantasy", the product of a self-proclaimed unreliable narrator; and this adds another level of uneasiness to the narrative itself. For it is, I think, an uneasy read when one remembers the structure and starts to think about who is really narrating these events: then the hints of sexual aggression, the strangely angry silences, the sense of entrapment take on other, darker shades of meaning. And how do we feel about recreating a parent's life when they've deliberately revealed nothing?

There's another little joy to be found in the text -- references to books. Apart from Proust -- of immense importance and likely the key to this book -- we are offered an image of the ideal European lady transposed to England reading "her Elizabeth Bowen and her Rosamond Lehmann and her Elizabeth Taylor". And Edward, owner of a bookshop, brings his wife home books with women's names:

Out of a delicate feeling for his wife, the feeling that subsisted when all others seemed stale and crude, he concentrated on French books, putting on one side for her books with the names of women, La Cousine Bette, or La Petite Fadette, or Germinie Lacerteux, books he thought suitable to her frail composure, having forgotten what quiet horrors such titles concealed...
I've gone on a bit longer than I anticipated, as I always think I need to defend Brookner from her detractors who note how little happens, how literary everyone is, how much the heroines needs a kick, how everyone seems a good twenty to forty years behind the times (there's sex, post-natal depression and aeroplanes in here you people!!). But what about how limpidly beautiful are her sentences, how quietly insightful and incisive her descriptions, how brilliantly constructed her narratives [and so on!]? I suspect that this particular Brookner will not convert anyone, but I came to think that it might be one of her best. 

Thanks to Ali for hosting Brookner in July and to Karen & Tamara for hosting Paris in July. I've thoroughly enjoyed this month of reading.


  1. I have yet to read Anita Brookner, I only discovered her through blogging - but I'm getting a good idea of her books through the reading week posts (as happened with Muriel Spark last year). What would you recommend as a first book?

    1. Everyone always says Hotel du Lac (which I love), but I'd suggest her first, A Start in Life. I also like Fraud quite a lot. (Just don't read her if you're feeling a bit 'I shall die single, eaten by cats'.)

    2. Hahahahaha..... wicked! ;)

  2. Very interesting, Vicki. I haven't read Anita Brookner at all and yet I hear enough about her, I think I need to dig a little deeper.

    1. She's not everyone's cup of tea, but if you like books where not much happens but it happens very beautifully, then she's for you!

  3. I love the sound of this one, it's not one I've read before. Lovely review thank you : )

    1. There's really a lot in this one for her fans, Ali -- as I know you like her writing, I'd definitely recommend this one!

  4. I love that quotation about the books. As if books titled with women's names were gentler! (Anna Karenina and Mme Bovary come to mind.) Quiet horrors indeed. Brookner is still on my horizon; this is a lovely review.

    1. Thank you, Jenny -- it's also sort of 'off' that the husband is a book-seller! I suspect I wouldn't take a recommendation from him. ;-) You might find Brookner professionally interesting too - France features in quite a number of her books, and there's always a fair bit of Proustian stuff going on (more than I recognise, I suspect!).


{READ IN 2018}

  • 30.
  • 29.
  • 28.
  • 27.
  • 26. The Grave's a Fine & Private Place - Alan Bradley
  • 25. This is What Happened - Mick Herron
  • 24. London Rules - Mick Herron
  • 23. The Third Eye - Ethel Lina White
  • 22. Thrice the Brindled Cat Hath Mewed - Alan Bradley
  • 21. As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust - Alan Bradley
  • 20. The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches - Alan Bradley
  • 19. Speaking from Among the Bones - Alan Bradley
  • 18. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine - Gail Honeyman
  • 17. Miss Ranskill Comes Home - Barbara Euphan Todd
  • 16. The Long Arm of the Law - Martin Edwards (ed.)
  • 15. Nobody Walks - Mick Herron
  • 14. The Talented Mr Ripley - Patricia Highsmith
  • 13. Portrait of a Murderer - Anthony Gilbert
  • 12. Murder is a Waiting Game - Anthony Gilbert
  • 11. Tenant for the Tomb - Anthony Gilbert
  • 10. Death Wears a Mask - Anthony Gilbert
  • 9. Night Encounter - Anthony Gilbert
  • 8. The Visitor - Anthony Gilbert
  • 7. The Looking Glass Murder - Anthony Gilbert
  • 6. The Voice - Anthony Gilbert
  • 5. The Fingerprint - Anthony Gilbert
  • 4. Ring for a Noose - Anthony Gilbert
  • 3. No Dust in the Attic - Anthony Gilbert
  • 2. Uncertain Death - Anthony Gilbert
  • 1. She Shall Died - Anthony Gilbert

{READ IN 2017}

  • 134. Third Crime Lucky - Anthony Gilbert
  • 133. Death Takes a Wife - Anthony Gilbert
  • 132. Death Against the Clock - Anthony Gilbert
  • 131. Give Death a Name - Anthony Gilbert
  • 130. Riddle of a Lady - Anthony Gilbert
  • 129. And Death Came Too - Anthony Gilbert
  • 128. Snake in the Grass - Anthony Gilbert
  • 127. Footsteps Behind Me - Anthony Gilbert
  • 126. Miss Pinnegar Disappears - Anthony Gilbert
  • 125. Lady-Killer - Anthony Gilbert
  • 124. A Nice Cup of Tea - Anthony Gilbert
  • 123. Die in the Dark - Anthony Gilbert
  • 122. Death in the Wrong Room - Anthony Gilbert
  • 121. The Spinster's Secret - Anthony Gilbert
  • 120. Lift up the Lid - Anthony Gilbert
  • 119. Don't Open the Door - Anthony Gilbert
  • 118. The Black Stage - Anthony Gilbert
  • 117. A Spy for Mr Crook - Anthony Gilbert
  • 116. The Scarlet Button - Anthony Gilbert
  • 115. He Came by Night - Anthony Gilbert
  • 114. Something Nasty in the Woodshed - Anthony Gilbert
  • 113. Death in the Blackout - Anthony Gilbert
  • 112. The Woman in Red - Anthony Gilbert
  • 111. The Vanishing Corpse - Anthony Gilbert
  • 110. London Crimes - Martin Edwards (ed.)
  • 109. The Midnight Line - Anthony Gilbert
  • 108. The Clock in the Hatbox - Anthony Gilbert
  • 107. Dear Dead Woman - Anthony Gilbert
  • 106. The Bell of Death - Anthony Gilbert
  • 105. Treason in my Breast - Anthony Gilbert
  • 104. Murder has no Tongue - Anthony Gilbert
  • 103. The Man who Wasn't There - Anthony Gilbert
  • 102. Murder by Experts - Anthony Gilbert
  • 101. The Perfect Murder Case - Christopher Bush
  • 100. The Plumley Inheritance - Christopher Bush
  • 99. Spy - Bernard Newman
  • 98. Cargo of Eagles - Margery Allingham & Philip Youngman Carter
  • 97. The Mind Readers - Margery Allingham
  • 96. The China Governess - Margery Allingham
  • 95. Hide My Eyes - Margery Allingham
  • 94. The Beckoning Lady - Margery Allingham
  • 93. The Tiger in the Smoke - Margery Allingham
  • 92. More Work for the Undertaker - Margery Allingham
  • 91. Coroner's Pidgin - Margery Allingham
  • 90. Traitor's Purse - Margery Allingham
  • 89. The Fashion in Shrouds - Margery Allingham
  • 88. The Case of the Late Pig - Margery Allingham
  • 87. Dancers in Mourning - Margery Allingham
  • 86. Flowers for the Judge - Margery Allingham
  • 85. Death of a Ghost - Margery Allingham
  • 84. Sweet Danger - Margery Allingham
  • 83. Police at the Funeral - Margery Allingham
  • 82. Look to the Lady - Margery Allingham
  • 81. Mystery Mile - Margery Allingham
  • 80. The Crime at Black Dudley - Margery Allingham
  • 79. The White Cottage Mystery - Margery Allingham
  • 78. Murder Underground - Mavis Doriel Hay
  • 77. No Man's Land - David Baldacci
  • 76. The Escape - David Baldacci
  • 75. The Forgotten - David Baldacci
  • 74. Zero Day - David Baldacci
  • JULY
  • 73. Pilgrim's Rest - Patricia Wentworth
  • 72. The Case is Closed - Patricia Wentworth
  • 71. The Watersplash - Patricia Wentworth
  • 70. Lonesome Road - Patricia Wentworth
  • 69. The Listening Eye - Patricia Wentworth
  • 68. Through the Wall - Patricia Wentworth
  • 67. Out of the Past - Patricia Wentworth
  • 66. Mistress - Amanda Quick
  • 65. The Black Widow - Daniel Silva
  • 64. The Narrow - Michael Connelly
  • 63. The Poet - Michael Connelly
  • 62. The Visitor - Lee Child
  • 61. No Middle Name: The Complete Collected Jack Reacher Stories - Lee Child
  • JUNE
  • 60. The Queen's Accomplice - Susan Elia MacNeal
  • 59. Mrs Roosevelt's Confidante - Susan Elia MacNeal
  • 58. The PM's Secret Agent - Susan Elia MacNeal
  • 57. His Majesty's Hope - Susan Elia MacNeal
  • 56. Princess Elizabeth's Spy - Susan Elia MacNeal
  • 55. Mr Churchill's Secretary - Susan Elia MacNeal
  • 54. A Lesson in Secrets - Jacqueline Winspear
  • 53. Hit & Run - Lawrence Block
  • 52. Hit Parade - Lawrence Block
  • 51. Hit List - Lawrence Block
  • 50. Six Were Present - E. R. Punshon
  • 49. Triple Quest - E. R. Punshon
  • MAY
  • 48. Dark is the Clue - E. R. Punshon
  • 47. Brought to Light - E. R. Punshon
  • 46. Strange Ending - E. R. Punshon
  • 45. The Attending Truth - E. R. Punshon
  • 44. The Golden Dagger - E. R. Punshon
  • 43. The Secret Search - E. R. Punshon
  • 42. Spook Street - Mick Herron
  • 41. Real Tigers - Mick Herron
  • 40. Dead Lions - Mick Herron
  • 39. Slow Horses - Mick Herron
  • 38. Everybody Always Tells - E. R. Punshon
  • 37. So Many Doors - E. R. Punshon
  • 36. The Girl with All the Gifts - M. R. Carey
  • 35. A Scream in Soho - John G. Brandon
  • 34. A Murder is Arranged - Basil Thomson
  • 33. The Milliner's Hat Mystery - Basil Thomson
  • 32. Who Killed Stella Pomeroy? - Basil Thomson
  • 31. The Dartmoor Enigma - Basil Thomson
  • 30. The Case of the Dead Diplomat - Basil Thomson
  • 29. The Case of Naomi Clynes - Basil Thomson
  • 28. Richardson Scores Again - Basil Thomson
  • 27. A Deadly Thaw - Sarah Ward
  • 26. The Spy Paramount - E. Phillips Oppenheim
  • 25. The Great Impersonation - E. Phillips Oppenheim
  • 24. Ragdoll - Daniel Cole
  • 23. The Case of Sir Adam Braid - Molly Thynne
  • 22. The Ministry of Fear - Graham Greene
  • 21. The Draycott Murder Mystery - Molly Thynne
  • 20. The Murder on the Enriqueta - Molly Thynne
  • 19. The Nowhere Man - Gregg Hurwitz
  • 18. He Dies and Makes No Sign - Molly Thynne
  • 17. Death in the Dentist's Chair - Molly Thynne
  • 16. The Crime at the 'Noah's Ark' - Molly Thynne
  • 15. Harriet the Spy - Louise Fitzhugh
  • 14. Night School - Lee Child
  • 13. The Dancing Bear - Frances Faviell
  • 12. The Reluctant Cannibals - Ian Flitcroft
  • 11. Fear Stalks the Village - Ethel Lina White
  • 10. The Plot - Irving Wallace
  • 9. Understood Betsy - Dorothy Canfield Fisher
  • 8. Give the Devil his Due - Sulari Gentill
  • 7. A Murder Unmentioned - Sulari Gentill
  • 6. Dead Until Dark - Charlaine Harris
  • 5. Gentlemen Formerly Dressed - Sulari Gentill
  • 4. While She Sleeps - Ethel Lina White
  • 3. A Chelsea Concerto - Frances Faviell
  • 2. Kipps: The Story of a Simple Soul - H. G. Wells
  • 1. Heft - Liz Moore
Free Delivery on all Books at the Book Depository