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The Debut (Vintage Contemporaries) Paperback – February 19, 1990

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Product Details

  • Series: Vintage Contemporaries
  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reissue edition (February 19, 1990)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679727124
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679727125
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.4 x 7.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #318,466 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"Precise and haunting...Brookner is a master at creating miniaturist portraits of attenuated lives"

-- The New York Times

"An almost flawless novel." -- People

"Sly, detached humor has caused Brookner to be compared to Barbara Pym, but her vision is darker and more complex .... Brookner's ambitions exceed those of Pym's genteel novels of manners and place her outside the genre, to which her writing, with its delicate shadings of character, otherwise seem suited."-- The Philadelphia Inquirer

"Anita Brookner is a stunning writer." -- Edna O'Brien

"Deft, lively and quite touching." -- Mary Gordon

From the Inside Flap

Since childhood Ruth Weiss has been escaping from life into books, and from the hothouse attentions of her tyrannical and eccentric parents into the gentler warmth of lovers and friends. Now Dr. Weiss, at forty, a quiet scholar devoted to the study of Balzac, is convinced that her life has been ruined by literature, and that once again she must make a new start in life.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Roger Brunyate TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 11, 2010
Format: Paperback
[This book was originally published in Britain as A START IN LIFE, a title whose irony is especially poignant. I am not sure whether there are other alterations between the two texts as well. The review below is based on the British version.]

"Dr Weiss, at forty, knew that her life had been ruined by literature." So begins the first of the many novels that Anita Brookner would publish virtually annually between 1982 and the present. It has all the hallmarks of her later work -- the protagonist an educated woman no longer in her first youth, the story a brush with romance, the mood bitter-sweet, and the style impeccable -- and yet it is distinctly different from most of those that follow -- funnier for one thing, and focusing on several characters rather than just one.

Ruth Weiss, an expert on Balzac, teaches French Literature at London University. She leads a quiet academic life where none of her colleagues would be so distasteful as to pry into her personal existence as a woman, and yet she has one -- or at least has had one. After the opening chapter, the novel plunges back in time to when Ruth, the only child of a Jewish book-dealer and an English comedy actress, is a promising high school student. It follows her as she goes to London University as an undergraduate, and then to Paris to pursue doctoral research. It shows her struggles to get out from under her demanding but useless parents -- the actress mother no longer able to get roles, the father prematurely retired. It reveals her encounters with romance, running the gamut from abject failure to sensible accommodation. One can sympathize with Ruth, cheer for her, weep with her, but fortunately also laugh with her.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By John P. Jones III TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 9, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I first came by Anita Brookner via her Booker Prize winning novel, Hotel Du Lac; purchased in my favorite bookstore in Paris, which is the setting for part of this novel. I'm sure some might debate the technical merits of this one against her award winner, but I found them both quite enjoyable and insightful; the differentiation I'll leave to the literary specialists.

Speaking of which, the protagonist, Dr Ruth Weiss, is a Professor and literary specialist on Honoré de Balzac. The first chapter depicts her in that mid-life role, but the vast majority of the book concerns how she assumed that role, her "debut" into the adult world, as she managed to shake off the influences of a highly dysfunctional family situation, and found solace in literature. Brookner introduces one of the central themes early, in the form of non-translated French, a quote from Balzac's "Eugenie Grandet." Like many other English writers of a certain class, she assumes that her readers understand the language of the diplomatic world (well, at least of the 18th Century). And if you'll excuse my French, as it were, she states the fear of many a woman who worries that her wit, intelligence and character just might not be enough for him; that the deciding factor will be her physical beauty.

Ruth's mother, Helen, is an actress passed her prime, endlessly reminiscing of her triumphs, on stage, and sometimes in bed, and now enveloped in hypochondria. Her father, George, used to own and run a bookstore, but has now taken to some modest philandering, rationalized since it is not fully consummated.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By R. M. Peterson TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 27, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
For a novel of only 192 pages, THE DEBUT is surprisingly multi-faceted and complex (though it reads effortlessly). For an author's debut novel, it is astonishingly good.

The beginning and end of the novel - the front and back covers of it, as it were - feature Ruth Weiss as she is now: forty, an academic, and an authority on Honoré de Balzac. She appears to be a stereotypical character of academia - one of those colorless and seemingly sexless female scholars, married to her discipline but in real life destined to spinsterhood. However, the bulk of the novel (pages 11 to 191) provides the back-story; it tells of how Ruth came into the role in life she now occupies. It turns out that she too has lived and loved. One lesson might well be: Don't judge a book by its cover.

As things happened, much of her life was consumed by her parents. Both were incredibly self-centered, and their self-absorption sucked the life out of one another and, nearly, Ruth as well. Near the end of the novel, after her parents' follies and infirmities have pulled Ruth back to drab London from the life-as-an-assured-single-girl she was forging for herself in Paris, Ruth sighs: "I can't nurse them through this. It's about time they behaved like adults." But then author Brookner comments sardonically: "Ruth still believed that adults adhered to a superior standard of behavior." That is another lesson: Many (most?) adults are self-centered buffoons.

That lesson is imparted over and over in this novel of understated but acerbic wit. The "sly, detached humor" of Anita Brookner has often been compared to that of Barbara Pym, but the humor of THE DEBUT is more caustic, more barbed than that of Pym's. It reminds me instead of Kingsley Amis.
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