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Brief Lives

3.59 of 5 stars 3.59  ·  rating details  ·  210 ratings  ·  27 reviews
With this novel, Booker Prize-winning author Anita Brookner confirms her reputation as an unparalleled observer of social nuance and deeply felt longings. Brief Lives chronicles an unlikely friendship: that between the flamboyant, monstrously egocentric Julia and the modest, self-effacing Fay, who is at once fascinated and appalled by Julia's excesses. Thrust together by t ...more
Paperback, 272 pages
Published April 7th 1992 by Vintage (first published 1990)
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I wasn't going to review this one, but having finished listening a few minutes ago, I've changed my mind.

A reviewer has stated that if the protagonist, Fay, were to attend a costume party, she'd attend as a Question Mark by default. I agree; her life so identified with being a wife (and widow), that we never really learn exactly who she really is. She even seems to try the role of adulteress, although the fellow is dead by the time the story gets going, and his widow (as it later turns out I bel
Rebecca West once famously said, "I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat." The narrator could do with a bracing slug of feminism. Trod-on, used, manipulated, the narrator never grows into a full person, although maybe we are all malleable in different ways. The book is ponderous and detailed in relaying the inner workings of a woman of a certain age, and is at least revealing about a world I don't quite understand.
Definitely one of the most boring books I have ever read.

Sometimes, I'm okay with very little action and a lot of introspection. The woman - Fay - was just far too introspective and depressing for me. And she went on and on and on about her unhappy life and how she just basically gave up and resigned herself to a life of loneliness. Not to mention she had some masochistic wish to be friends with a woman named Julia who was clearly a Bitch with a capital B.

Most of us would have dumped Julia long
Chris Walker
The book clubs will have fun with this one, discussing the arresting limitations of the ageing characters, especially the narrator. Well written, full of unrealised hopes and dreams and the approaching spectre of old age - good depressing fare! The self aware reader will no doubt have lots of good advice for the narrator by the end of it of what she should be doing instead of sitting in her flat feeling sorry for herself when she is obviously still in good health and retains a fantastic brain wi ...more
As we single women toddle towards our deathbeds, all alone, how should we best be feeling? ('At least HE isn't here to see me in this mess!' or 'Help me Help me Help me!' or 'Ahem! I have some last words here! Let go of that drip and copy this down!') or what? The narrator is telling her story, the story of her life, from the perspective of a well-behaved English woman in her sixties. She considers herself elderly. She is certain that she will die without any loved ones present to help her on he ...more
I usually like Brookner, her detail of quiet lives, the routine, the chance of something different. This one didn't quite hit the mark for me, the great detailed writing was there, but I just didn't care enough about the characters to really care what happened. They were sad women, for a variety of reasons, and I cringed more, wanting it to be over.
I really do love Anita Brookner’s writing, although, I find when it comes to writing a review I am somewhat at a loss to explain why. Her novels are certainly not plot driven, and people who only like plot driven narratives might well be driven mad by the quiet contemplation and introspection. I like the quite genteel lives of Brookner’s world, and find – maybe alarmingly that I understand them. I often hear and see the word depressing applied to reviews of Brookner’s novels – well I can see why ...more
A Brookner book [1990] is certainly not cheerful! The two main characters are upper-middle-class women who each spend their last years alone [husbands having died]. The one is a convincingly described self-centered manipulator. The other allows herself to be manipulated -- by everyone, pretty much. Although she is deep into introspection throughout the book, she doesn't seem to me to ever get beyond her childhood training of dutifully pleasing and caring for other people.

I find it all quite depr
This is my first Anita Brookner book and while it is very well written it is also a very depressing story. The main character, Fay, compromises her life so much through marriage, friendship, an illicit affair and even her living accomodation that by the end of the book I wanted to slap her an tell her just to paint the bloody walls another colour and replace that horrible carpet and stop thinking of yourself as old at 45 and get rid of that bitchy 'friend'.
Anyone over fifty would be wise to have a stiff drink before starting this book - preferably a gin and tonic because that is what everyone in the book is drinking. The author has a brilliant talent for describing in unflinching detail what it is to grow old in the company of widows and unmarried women. A very painful read.
Anne M
Brookner is my kind of author. It's all about the writing - not just plot. Page by page is a pleasure. Subtle characterization is the hallmark of her writing. This book's lead character is vividly developed. A very satisfying read.
Bill Viall
I remember this as the worst book I ever read. It drove me up the wall with its dreariness. I probably wasn't reading it properly.
Oh quit yer whining!
Reading this novel is like reading the diary of a woman's marriage and widowhood and her relationship with a vain, narcissistic, former theater actress. This is very much a character study which I enjoy. Fay shares with us the expectations, disappointments, fears, accommodations, and consolations of a rather lonely life. I liked Fay. She was not a particularly brave or assertive woman, but she did find the strength to make for herself the kind of life in which she could be happy. I was drawn in ...more
Personal note - a little bit repetitive in places, particularly at the beginning. I loved getting to know the female characters so intimately, but felt a bit frustrated by the lack of depth in the male characters, although having read most of Brookner's novels, I feel that I understand the point of this. Not much offered in terms of plot, but I loved the book even more for this - it's all about the women.
Charles M.
Tale of two women, Fay and Julia, in flashback and how their friendship grows and then draws a part. Includes some rather surprising developments in their lives, which threaten to destroy their friendship...from the "Jane Eyre" of our generation!
Elyn Balongcas
Lots of reality in life.
Susannah Bell
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Hannah Katsman
The narrator of Brief Lives tells her life story, focusing on her relationship with her husband Owen until his death, and Owen's business associate Charlie, and Charlie's self-centered wife Julia. Brookner looks at each character and relationship from a variety of perspectives, over time. Like all of Anita Brookner's plots, the story of Brief LIves inches along slowly. But the careful writing and well-developed characters make it worthwhile.
Took me a while to get into this book but once I did I enjoyed it. I found myself loving the fact that having to obey her parents and then husband she could, once they had all gone enjoy some time on her own doing her own thing. Of course I found the friend Julia irritating but then most narcissistic people are irritating! Dealt well with the ideas of the time, also felt biographical?
One of those hard-to-put down books. It's about women, their lives and their friendships, and how we can become part of each other's lives and stay so indefinitely, regardless of the degrees of love, liking or even loathing that exist between us.
A story about aging, with several women characters who deal with
the issue in varying ways. The writing is exquisite. The women
were born in the 1920s and 30s, so many of the issues do not at
first seem relevant to today, but is many ways they are.
Lauren Albert
A book on how the need for companionship can drive us. Two women--Fay and her almost epically self-centered "friend"--interact over the course of their adult lives.
Luin ensimmäiset sata sivua ja luovutin. En päässyt ollenkaan tarinaan sisälle, hahmot jäivät etäisiksi enkä oikein ymmärtänyt lukemaani. Lyhyesti: tylsä kirja.
A great story on the inner lives of 2 upper class women.....however very depressing!
Wonderful. . . .beautifully written and a clever look at living and loving.
Feb 27, 2009 Mollie marked it as wishlist
Brief Lives by Anita Brookner (1992)
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Anita Brookner published her first novel, "A Start In Life" in 1981. Her most notable novel, her fourth, "Hotel du Lac" won the Man Booker Prize in 1984. Her novel, "The Next Big Thing" was longlisted (alongside John Banville's, "Shroud") in 2002 for the Man Booker Prize. She has published over 25 works of fiction, notably: "Strangers" (2009)shortlisted for the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, "Fr ...more
More about Anita Brookner...
Hotel du Lac Look at Me The Rules of Engagement Leaving Home Strangers

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“I reminded myself of someone, but someone I had not seen for a long time.” 2 likes
“I think that those few words were my greatest mistake.” 1 likes
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