The Rules of Engagement by Anita Brookner

A conversation overheard in 1975…

Richard Yates: I usually write about men but I’m thinking I’ll do something about a miserable woman…

Anita Brookner: Well Dick, one knows that there’s plenty of material when it comes to miserable women.

RY: And so many tempting themes around misery…

AB (laughing): Misery loves company!

RY: Loneliness, bitterness, regret, jealousy…

AB: Yes, the truly miserable woman has it all.

RY: And all the more interesting when the woman does have it all. Not sure if you’re aware Nit, but I do love to plunge my middle-class characters into existential despair. Truly, they have nothing to worry over and yet they obsess about job promotions, the right car and houses…

AB: First world problems.

RY: First world problems…?

AB: Yes, just a little label I came up with. Not one that I identify with of course.

RY: No… because you don’t use your own life as material, do you…?

(very, very, very long uncomfortable silence)

RY: So yes, back to the book. I’m thinking some loneliness wouldn’t go astray…

AB: And perhaps some chaste flirtations…?

RY: My literary flirtations are generally not so chaste. Perhaps bitter, unfulfilled longing would work?

AB: Oh yes, that happens to be my specialty.

RY: Do I detect the germ of an idea for your own writing, Nit?

AB: More than a germ, Dick, more than a germ… You don’t think people will think we’re writing about our own lives do you?

RY: Pfft, not at all. *makes mental note that his characters absolutely must be women, to throw readers off the autobiographical trail*

AB: I think I’ll call my novel something such as The Rules of Engagement

RY: Excellent. Strong but with an emotional edge. I think I’ll go with something that sounds completely unthreatening before I throw the reader into the depths of depression. Perhaps The Easter Parade?

AB: Wonderful. Well, it’s been lovely to catch up Dick. We must do it again some time.

3/5 On the more bitter end of Brookner.

17 responses

    • I only started reading her last year – I love what I’ve read, if only for its solid and dependable style, but will make sure I don’t read too many of her books within a short space of time. My brief research into her life suggests she used a lot from her own experience 😬

      • No, but I’ll look it up. I got on to Brookner via my library’s audio collection – they have a lot of her titles as audiobooks, so I was curious. The narrators always read them in an appropriately plummy accent, which adds to my enjoyment!

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