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.