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Undue Influence: A Novel Hardcover – December 28, 1999

3.4 out of 5 stars 27 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

A new Anita Brookner is unlikely to surprise, unlikely to shock or disturb. Yet her fiction remains utterly compelling. Undue Influence, her 19th novel, follows the usual pattern: a single, bookish woman, whose life is dominated by loneliness and the seeming impossibility of marriage, has her forlorn equilibrium disturbed by an unsuitable attraction. At 29, Claire Pitt is one of Brookner's younger alter egos--financially independent, clever, emancipated but empty. When she sees Martin Gibson in the secondhand bookshop where she works, Claire is beguiled.
I looked at my watch and realized that he had been silently reading for thirty-five minutes. By this time he could have had one or two of Heine's poems off by heart. Either that or he was translating them. Perhaps he too was a man of letters. But he looked too ineffable, and also too unhappy, for that. I altered my estimate of him. He was a dilettante, a caste I had always admired.
Soon, Claire's desire to be part of the story she tells herself about Martin's probable life leads her to provoke the quiet crisis so indicative of a Brookner dénouement.

This gifted author, who is seen by some critics as the embodiment of Jamesian exactitude, is really quite the opposite. An almost pathological writer, Brookner returns again and again to her notion of the inability of women to think of marriage as something that will rescue them--and yet they are pulled toward the ideal (one they easily deconstruct) of a romantic savior. A particular, melancholic despondence saturates her work, and disappointment dominates, despite the humor, erudition, and classical elegance of her prose. Brookner is a modern, bitter writer. Few novelists have the ability to create such complete characters and then dissect their motives so clearly. Even fewer have the skill to delineate the emotional complexity of the domesticated manners that mark our inability to communicate with one other. Undue Influence is another triumph of profound psychological investigation--and perception--from one of England's finest writers. --Mark Thwaite

From Publishers Weekly

To 29-year-old Claire Pitt, a self-contained single woman living in London, her mother's death is more than an ordinary bereavement: it is the beginning of a process of self-doubt and a failure of nerve. Left alone in the apartment that she and her mother shared, Claire gradually realizes that she craves "the permanence of someone's affections"Aand the state of marriage, which she has always despised. Having vaguely pitied her widowed mother, Claire now feels sorry for the elderly spinster she works for at a second-hand bookstore. Faintly hoping to avoid these two women's lonely fates, Claire now sees that she is as alone and vulnerable as they were, and that her sexual freedomAexercised in quick, anonymous couplings that she initiates and then abandonsAhas not given her any basis for a lasting relationship. Opportunity seems to appear when Martin Gibson, a handsome, wealthy, but shallow and self-absorbed ex-professor, comes into the bookstore. When Martin's invalid wife dies soon afterwards, Claire sets her cap for him and fantasizes the life she will haveAnotwithstanding her skeptical nature and the absence of love on both sides. In Brookner's expert hands, Claire's realization that weak, unworthy Martin will not neatly fulfill her dreams is accomplished with lapidarian skill. At first Claire is complacent about her own shortcomings ("I'd lay claim to few moral qualities"), but she has no qualms about her behavior. She is an opportunist who views the world through ironic eyes. Yet Brookner's portrait of Claire's disillusionment and growing fear, as she descends from a competent independence to a state of frightened wandering in the heart's desert, is etched with quiet compassion. The novel contains a fine brace of supporting characters whose behavior implicitly reflects on Claire's fall into limbo, and Brookner's narrative skill works like a scalpel exposing the complexity of each of their lives. As she has done many times before (Falling Slowly, etc.), but never with more acuity or grace, Brookner illuminates the inner turmoil of lonely people living courageously while the door to the future begins to swing closed. (Jan.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 231 pages
  • Publisher: Random House (December 28, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 037550334X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375503344
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 5.2 x 6.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,994,751 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Wendy Steiner, reviewing Brookner's Undue Influence for the New York Times Book Review, finds fault with the first-person narrator for transparently revealing a heavy-handed authorial control that shows little respect for the inutitive reader. Kirkus Reviews, likewise, regards the protagonist, Claire Pitt, "more a symptom than a person." Even more damning than its contention that Claire is less a character than a theme is its final pronouncement that the book is "dry and unmoving." I disagree with both reviews and would argue that Claire's character flaws, evident in her reactions to Martin Gibson and revealed in the careful, probing style of Brookner's writing, dawn upon the reader gradually and as a result of compounding evidence laid out by an author certain of her reader's ability to discern.
Claire Pitt, the 29 year old protagonist of Brookner's latest novel, prides herself on understanding the weaknesses of others, but her intellectual pride paves the way to a disastrous miscalculation into the motives of Martin Gibson, the widower whose serious attentions Claire hopes to attract. Claire's misguided reliance on her own intellect leads her to offer herself physically to a man she thinks is weak and shy of the world; this intimacy, she hopes, will create a bond that will eventually lead to marriage. Despite the fact that Martin has proved repeatedly that he is self-absorbed and not even remotely interested in Claire's life and thoughts, Claire does not believe he is capable of duplicity. It's an age-old dilemma. The intimacy proves to be a false one, and Claire suffers an emotional setback at a time in her life when she can least afford it.
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Format: Hardcover
I want to reassure her many fans, and advise those that are fortunate enough to have ahead of them the pleasure of discovering her, that Anita Brookner's latest novel is one of her very best. Anita Brookner is the only writer I know whose words seem to lighten the air I breathe. Life is what happens while awaiting her next novel, and UNDUE INFLUENCE makes the past year's anticipation worthwhile. By placing Claire Pitt (a bookish young spinster-in-waiting) under her microscope, and by dissecting her every thought, Brookner has shown that there are many hours of pleasure still to be derived from wallowing in self-indulgent introspection. I have two wishes for Ms Brookner: that she write faster, and that she outlive me.
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By A Customer on October 10, 2001
Format: Paperback
Is it just me, or is each of Anita Brookner's heroines treading down the same bland, lonely path? While I enjoyed the (more compelling) characters of The Misalliance and Hotel du Lac, this book -- and Bay of Angels -- simply eat at my soul. To give Brookner credit, it's a beautifully written book. But it's as if she's trying to repeatedly work through the same problem -- unsuccessfully -- ad nauseam. The 20-something "spinster" imprisoned by circumstances, attracted to and betrayed by the wrong men, thirsting for anything that smacks of real life yet doing nothing to break out of the artificial ties that bind. Add another 20 years to this heroine, make her regretfully childless or a grudgingly single mother, and you have the stock character number-two. Sometimes the two even appear in the same book, and I, for one, would love to see Brookner's considerable craft not wasted on truly regrettable, forgettable characters.
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By A Customer on June 15, 2001
Format: Paperback
Yes, it is true that Anita Brookner's writing is not for everyone, and when I started reading her novels several years ago I found them painfully depressing and difficult to appreciate. But now that I am older and wiser, I have found every one that I have read simply fascinating. She is easily one of my favorite authors, simply for the fact that she writes so intelligently, and I can identify with the characters in every one of her stories (what that says about my life, I don't care to think too much about..) Whenever I read one of her novels, I find that I have to keep a highlighter close to me, because Brookner manages to put into words the feelings and thoughts that I don't have the courage or the eloquence to express myself. Her novels are by no means uplifting, but they are not without wit or hope. "Undue Influence" is definitely one of her finest.
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Format: Paperback
Every now and then I pick up a novel by Anita Brookner after I've read something rather Rabelaisian or epic. The smaller canvas and quiet introspection provide a nice contrast to larger, more flamboyant works of fiction. As I read "Undue Influence," I was struck by the fact that the inner landscapes of Ms. Brookner's characters(in particular, her female protagonists)are as exotic and fascinating as any jungle or tropical beach. I believe that the central character of this novel, Claire Pitt, could ONLY have been created by a female. As a male reader, I find this exploration of the feminine mind a real adventure, full of unexpected twists and turns. This is not meant to be a condescending remark--I truly believe that men and women process their thoughts and emotions differently. I will go so far as to say that this book presents a challenge to male readers(and this is a GOOD thing). There is an intense female sensibility in Brookner's fiction. Claire reminds me of Austen's Emma Woodhouse, or Catherine Morland in the way that she speculates and create fictions about friends, acquaintances, and even total strangers. Maybe it's a way to make her self-imposed isolation more bearable. At times I want to hit her over the head, but she continues to follow her own path and sort out things in her own time. Even at her most delusional moments, she can be profound. My favorite epiphany in the book begins with Claire saying to the reader(and I paraphrase this)"Let me tell you what women really want."(Chapter 17) Even though she's all wrong about the guy, Claire has startlingly insightful things to say. Often, I had trouble reconciling Claire's mousy demeanor with the fact that she was, by her own admission, reasonably attractive.Read more ›
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