From Publishers Weekly
Making things better has been Julius Herz's lifelong responsibility. He is yet another character in Brookner's sepia photograph album of dutiful sons and daughters trapped by familial duties into stoic existences. Like many of her protagonists, Julius is an outsider whose assimilated Jewish parents settled in London to escape the Nazis and never really fit in. His older brother Freddy's nervous breakdown, which ended his incipient career as a concert pianist, hurled their parents into bottomless grief, and firmly placed Julius under obligation to minister to the needs of all three. Now they are all dead. At 73, retired from an undemanding and unfulfilling job and amicably divorced, Julius faces existential questions with a sense of panic. He's desperate to find a purpose for the rest of his life, to create some companionship and perhaps even intimacy, and to put an end to his lonely interior exile. Brookner's gentle exploration of Julius's emotional dilemma is pursued with exquisite precision and empathy. In her novels, fate is cruel and hope of happiness a chimera, yet her characters are so fully realized that one feels the beat of life in their veins and longs for them to yield to their stifled urge for freedom. In Julius's case, the resurgence of sexual desire and an unexpected letter from the cousin he has loved since their youth in Berlin provide insights into what he belatedly recognizes as "the fallacious enterprise of making things better." While he grasps at a last chance at happiness, the narrative becomes a meditation on the longing for love, its risks and dangers, and how its absence makes life itself null and void. If Brookner treads a small territory again and again, there is no sense of dej
vu or of staleness. She has the facility to make each of her extended character studies (this is her 21st novel) ring with psychological truth.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.
In her twenty-first novel, Brookner presents yet another exquisitely rendered portrait of a deep-thinking loner well on in years who is granted startling insights into the undercurrents that have shaped his staid life. Julius Herz has exemplified obedience, uncomplainingly sacrificing even the most modest desires to meet the needs of his inept and unhappy parents and strange older brother. The family fled Germany for London once being Jewish became a liability, and somehow they never recovered from the shock of their exile, a fate seemingly avoided by Julius' glamorous aunt and her sexy and petulant daughter, Fanny, the great unrequited love of Julius' life. Now all alone after a brief marriage to a nurse, Julius struggles to maintain his dignity under the assault of age and utter solitude. Brookner is a master at depicting the stormy inner weather of an outwardly placid life, and she has conjured a munificent consciousness in Julius, a devotee of Freud who pays careful attention to his dreams and to his responses to everything from a painting by Delacroix of Jacob struggling with the angel to the "magnificent indifference of nature." As Julius mulls over his past and experiences frissons of desire when a beautiful young woman moves in downstairs, he comes to understand that he has been beguiled more by his fantasies then by his actual life, and his arduous and compelling journey of self-discovery becomes a conduit for profound reflections on what we owe others and on how we define ourselves. Donna SeamanCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved