Jonathan Yardley picked an Anita Brookner title for me for IABD. Well, not personally, but the process of choosing just one proved too daunting so I turned to searching through the opinions of others to find a title that was a bit more than just the piercingly perceptive depictions of loneliness for which Brookner is so well known. And then I found a piece from the Washington Post in 2005, one of those Yardley contributions I enjoy so much where he reconsiders a "notable and/or neglected book(s) from the past." Where he looks beyond the psychic isolation of Look at Me protagonist, Frances Hinton, to the thoughtless treatment she receives at the hands of careless people, people Yardley compares to Daisy and Tom from The Great Gatsby. "It was all very careless and confused," Fitzgerald writes. "They were careless people, Tom and Daisy - they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated into their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made."
Frances leads a quiet life contained within an inherited flat with inherited possessions with a housekeeper that she also did not choose, and ventures out for few things other than her work in a small medical research library. When her life is touched by the beautiful and fun-loving Alix and her equally appealing husband Nick who works as as a doctor at the same institute as Frances, she comes alive with the possibilities of life and permits this couple to treat her as an object of entertainment and an occasional funder of their merriment. They pair her with James, another doctor from work, with whom her sensibilities mesh, and her contentment elevates her out of loneliness. Until the bright and beautiful cease to find her amusing anymore.
Even as Frances recognizes the casual disdain with which she is treated, she still seeks to preserve her inclusion in the social circle of her new friends.
"I could have been different, I think. Once I had great confidence, great cheerfulness; I did not question my purpose or the purpose of others. All that had gone, and I had done my best to replace it. I had become diligent instead of spontaneous; I had become an observer when I saw that I was not to be allowed to participate. I had refused to be pitiable. I had never once said, Look at me. Now, it seemed, I must make one more effort, one more attempt to make myself viable. And If I succeeded, I might be granted one more opportunity to do it all over again. I did not dare to think what would happen if I failed."
So what she requires from this relationship with the careless is not to possess them, to become them but to regain possession of herself. In an odd way, she uses them as much as they use her especially in her frequent relegation of the cast of characters around her to mere subject material for her writing. But she does this only from desperation in an attempt to claim a voice in a life that has not readily afforded her one.
"I saw the business of writing for what it truly was and is to me. It is your penance for not being lucky. It is an attempt to reach others and to make them love you. It is your instinctive protest, when you find you have no voice at the world's tribunals, and that no one will speak for you. I would give my entire output of words, past, present, and to come, in exchange for easier access to the world, for permission to state 'I hurt' or 'I hate' or 'I want.' Or, indeed, 'Look at me.' And I do not go back on this. For once a thing is known it can never be unknown. It can only be forgotten. And writing is the enemy of forgetfulness, of thoughtlessness. For the writer there is no oblivion. Only endless memory."
The observations of self and others stream in an exhaustive flow of pent-up release. An observant mind that finds no occasion to share her thoughts freely except on paper. Juxtaposed against the excesses of speech and action in the careless, this is a jarring reminder to allow oneself to hear the unsaid, to see the unseen certainly not out of misplaced pity but in order to connect to a broader consciousness. A stunning and elegant book.