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The Bay of Angels Paperback – April 9, 2002

3.4 out of 5 stars 21 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The heroines of Brookner's 20 novels are usually passive, introspective, lonely women, leading quiet lives of muted emotions. Zoe Cunningham is typical of the breed at the beginning of this excellent novel. The daughter of a self-contained widow, Zoe is pleased when her mother agrees to marry elderly, wealthy and generous Simon Gould, who carries his new wife off to his villa in the south of France. When, after a few months, Simon dies suddenly, surprising events unfold. Simon, it seems, was about to run out of money and did not even own the sumptuous villa. Zoe, whose university degree has led to a series of freelance editing jobs in London and, more important, the freedom that she craves arrives in Nice to find that her mother has suffered a breakdown and is in a clinic undergoing a sleeping cure. Ensuing events call for more action, assumption of responsibility and displays of emotion than Brookner's heroines generally demonstrate, creating dramatic tension. Beset by worries and difficult decisions, Zoe belatedly understands the limitations of her independent life: "I have the terrible freedom of which others are justifiably afraid." In working through the issues of female liberation and its compromises, and her fears about loneliness and a solitary old age, Zoe arrives at a grateful accommodation to reality and "a condition of acceptance" that finds her in a satisfying relationship. Brookner's economical prose moves gracefully and flawlessly, and her story acquires a mesmerizing intensity rooted in the reality of the events she describes with consummate skill.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal

Zoe Cunningham, the latest in a long line of ruminative, solitary, and otherworldly Brookner heroines (see, e.g., Undue Influence), has grown up believing in the promise of fairy tales, including Prince Charming and happy endings. But when life doesn't turn out to be a fairy tale, she longs to withdraw from the world in a way she acknowledges is unacceptable for a woman of her generation. Also, like so many other Brookner women, she has adopted the role of dutiful daughter to her single mother. Life changes abruptly after her mother marries an older man, who whisks her off to live in Nice. With her mother gone, Zoe enters university, has an unhappy love affair, and goes on to find employment as a researcher. But it isn't long before her stepfather dies and her mother becomes an invalid who needs her once again. In Nice, Zoe's mettle is tested as she negotiates her stepfather's estate and her mother's continuing care. It comes as a pleasant surprise that a Brookner heroine turns out to have the inner resources to see her through life's vicissitudes and find a measured happiness. The dependable elegance of Brookner's writing should be enough to justify purchase of this book, especially for libraries trying to collect her complete oeuvre.
- Barbara Love, Kingston Frontenac P.L., Ontario
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (April 9, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375727604
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375727603
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #880,730 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Charles Slovenski on May 4, 2001
Format: Hardcover
This writer has got to be the best wordsmith around. In each novel the sentences stand alone, dynamic, fresh and gleaming in intensity. The story is important, the characters are profound but these are often upstaged by the absolute pleasure of reading such sharp writing. I can't be the only person buying the latest novel of Anita Brookner every year as soon as it hits the shelf.
Much has been said about Brookner's lonely women and feminist approach and I will leave that to others who are better informed than me to remark upon. What I look for in every novel is the dramatic turn which never fails to be exciting. In THE BAY OF ANGELS, there are several but the most outstanding is the moment when Zoe returns to reclaim her stepfather's house in Nice and finds it already occupied, cocktails in hand, by his greedy relatives. The attitudes and survival tactics of the women who share the clinique with Zoe's sick mother are searing. Best of all is the moment by the sea when Zoe's reflects on the angels flying up from the bay and inward to land where they will reinforce the already celestial commercialism of earth.
A friend of mine in London once remarked to me that he sometimes sees Anita Brookner early in the morning on the Kings Road heading towards Waitrose supermarket. I was astounded, "doesn't anyone stop her," I asked imagining that she would be beset with fans. "No," said my friend, "nobody knows who she is." I would prefer to think that London is so vast that it renders one anonymous and invisible which is often the very dilemma ensnaring her characters.
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Format: Hardcover
I don't think we can find more sensitive and more accurate writer than Anita Brookner in describing and touching the "alive meat" of the loneliness of a woman - without self pity and no melodramatic epizodes - just the simple and the very true facts.
I have read more than 10 books by Anita Brookner, and each one of them was and still a great experience and an enrichment for the soul and the mind!.
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Format: Hardcover
First off, I love Anita Brookner and have read everything I know of that she has written. She writes, in my opinion, the most elegant prose and has a unique gift for penetrating layers and sublayers of her characters--many of whom are completely neurotic so I guess this could be annoying for some readers. I like it. There are threads in the books-the mother/daughter thread, for one that is very interesting. There is also the woman-taken-advantage-of -usually temporarily-by some cad. And every book has a setting that is so atmospheric that I delight in the long walks, the lonely evenings, the manners of her heroines. Most people I know who read for pleasure prefer simple zip-through novels and read very little non-fiction. I read very little fiction so I am picky and particular. Barbara Pym's "Excellent Women" and "Quartet in Autumn" are two novels I loved. I can't stand the Jan Karon or the Anita Shreve "sets"-so if you want that type of reading, forget Brookner. Evan Connell's old "Mr and Mrs. Bridge" books have a similar penetrating character analysis-or course without the elegance or atmosphere.
Having said all this, "BAy of Angels" is really not terrific Brookner. The main character Zoe is not quite right, so I recommend the earlier titles. If you like them, proceed. She is not for everyone.
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By A Customer on May 25, 2001
Format: Hardcover
I am perhaps one of the most rabid of the countless readers who eagerly await each year's new Anita Brookner novel, but, I have to admit, I was fairly disappointed in this one. I can't help feeling I must have missed something, because I am stunned by how utterly uninvolving the characters and the plot were to me. Brookner's prose, as always, is breathtaking, so I would recommend this to any fan, with the caveat: "Wait for the paperback". New Brookner readers would do better to start with Look at Me and Hotel du Lac or my more recent favorites, Falling Slowly and Undue Influence
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Format: Paperback
Zoë Cunningham is the first-person narrator. Her story begins when she was a girl, living in London with her mother Anne, who was widowed shortly after Zoë was born and then became reclusive. When Zoë is in her late teens, her mother improbably meets Simon, who, as he says, is "nearly the wrong side of seventy". He seems to have money and they get married and move to Nice. Zoë splits her time between London and Nice, but out of loyalty to her mother she never establishes an independent existence. Then Simon dies and Anne retreats further inside herself, and her ebbing health forces her to be moved to a convalescent facility. Meanwhile, Zoë meets a possible male companion, but he is tethered to his sister, who seems destined to spinsterhood.

Zoë is a very introspective and passive person. The novel essentially consists of her analyzing, in sometimes excruciating detail, the situations she finds herself in, none of which truly makes her happy, both because she feels caged by her loyalty to her mother and due to her extraordinarily quiescent personality. She inwardly rails against her lonely existence, but outwardly she does nothing about it, because that might entail giving offense to someone. So she grudgingly acquiesces in being buffeted about. And all the while she meditates on life's lessons, reaching the following conclusion by the end of the novel: "Life has brought me to this condition of acceptance, and at last I understand that acceptance is all. * * * The plot will unfold, with or without my help."

I note that many other Amazon reviewers have criticized THE BAY OF ANGELS for its navel-gazing and lack of plot. Those are understandable reasons for dissatisfaction.
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