Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Prince Charming Tale with a Twist of Emotional Turmoil

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Prince Charming Tale with a Twist of Emotional Turmoil

Article excerpt

It's become a cliche to call Anita Brookner the modern Henry James, but with her latest novel, she's outdone the fusty old master. Some future genius will have to be called the modern Anita Brookner.

"The Bay of Angels," her 20th elegant novel, perfects an examination of loneliness that threatened to grow monotone in her last few books. Yet here, remarkably, she makes another quantum leap into psychological depth, splitting the atoms of human nature and tracing the particles that veer off.

Her narrator is a compulsively analytical young woman named Zoe Cunningham. She lives in quaint isolation on the margins of life and London with her widowed mother, "a woman in embryo."

Despite their static circumstances, Zoe is sustained by the lessons of those earliest books, the fairy tales of Hans Christian Anderson and the Brothers Grimm, and later by the stories of travail and triumph by Charles Dickens.

"I was willing to believe in the redeeming feature," she notes wistfully, "the redeeming presence that would justify all of one's vain striving, would dispel one's disappointments, would in some mysterious way present one with a solution in which one would have no part, so that all one had to do was to wait, in a condition of sinless passivity, for the transformation that would surely take place."

When a wealthy, older man falls in love with her mother, the fairy godmother seems to have come through after all.

Simon is loving, generous, and paternal, just the sort of gentleman to whom Zoe can relinquish her gentle mother and go off to live a modern, liberated life. "It was providential," she writes. "All seemed to agree on that point."

Simon moves Mrs. Cunningham to his modern villa in Nice, France, sets Zoe up with her own flat, and all live happily ever after.

"Though it satisfied the requirements of legend," Zoe concedes darkly, "it made me aware of what all the stories left out, namely the facts of what happened next. …

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