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The Debut

3.64 of 5 stars 3.64  ·  rating details  ·  370 ratings  ·  37 reviews
Since childhood Ruth Weiss has been escaping from life into books, and from the hothouse attentions of her tyrannical and eccentric parents into the gentler warmth of lovers and friends. Now Dr. Weiss, at forty, a quiet scholar devoted to the study of Balzac, is convinced that her life has been ruined by literature, and that once again she must make a new start in life.
Paperback, 192 pages
Published February 19th 1990 by Vintage (first published 1981)
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Mary Ronan Drew
A Start in Life (1981) is Anita Brookner's first published novel, and it is splendid. I expected it to be a bit rough but it displays the same smooth skill of her better-known later novels.

The protagonist is Dr Ruth Weiss, a 40-year-old professor of French literature. Scenes from her current life bracket the rest of the novel, which is the story of her youth and her struggle to escape her claustrophobic family. Her mother, a beautiful and famous actress, slowly deteriorates as the story progress
...more
Laura
This is a very odd little novel. After finishing it I went online to
read what other people have thought about it in an effort to clarify my own thoughts. It is generally considered to be loosely autobiographical in its depiction of Ruth's parents and her childhood in general. In fact, the author described her own parents as "just as bizarre but not quite so fetching" as the parents she created for Ruth in the novel.

The protagonist, Ruth Weiss, is a very passive person who never seems to question
...more
Nick Schroeder
With an opening sentence of, "Dr. Weiss, at forty, knew that her life had been ruined by literature." any serious reader would suspect that what follows will be good. And this was. Ruth, as Dr. Weiss is know for most of the novel, is brought up in an unusual household with her actress mother, Helen, and her antiquarian bookseller father, George, but mostly in her early years is raised by her grandmother Mrs. Weiss. It is a strange household where Ruth "was expected to grow up as fast as she coul ...more
Unbridled
Quickly finished Anita Brookner's thin, exquisite little novel, The Debut. Quite fitting that our yearning, restrained, competent Anglo-heroine, Ruth, is an academic of French literature (Balzac of course). Some things happen but nothing considerable happens in this short and precise exercise of quiet (English) meanings and manners – and yet amid nothing big the pretty particles dance and jerk around us, pleasing distractions to the left and right, and quietly we're at ease and enjoying the expe ...more
Angie
This is Booker-prize winning novelist Anita Brookner's first novel. It is also called "The Debut". It is a short novel about young Ruth Weiss who has been escaping from life into books. She turns her love of Honore de Balzac into her career. The blurb on the back of the book says "And now Dr Weiss, at forty, knows that her life has been ruined by literature, and that once again she must make a start in life." How can you resist a novel whose heroine has "been ruined by literature"? The story is ...more
Bridget
Simply, this book made me sad. Ruth and her parents are so tragically transparent, you can’t help but feel for them. The entire book you are pushing for them, because you know what they want, why can’t they just figure it out? I was a little annoyed with the fact that Ruth’s parents played such a large role in the novel, as it wasn’t what I was expecting, especially since I found the chapters about Ruth herself so much more poignant. For me, the biggest tragedy in this novel was not the gradual ...more
Ronald Wise
One of several novels written by this British art-historian author since the early 1980s. On the first page we are introduced to Dr. Ruth Weiss, a scholar of literature, but quickly travel back in time to her childhood to see what may have contributed to her adult persona. Raised by inept parents, she learned at an early age to find escape in literature and modeled herself after the heroines she found there. This was an interesting character study, though not much in the way of suspense or drama ...more
g
Brookner is clearly a very talented writer; the blurb from The New York Times describes the writing as "precise," which is apt. But this doesn't mean that her novels are enjoyable. I have no idea what Fay Weldon was smoking when she called this novel "very, very funny." It's not funny at all. Ruth Weiss, our redheaded heroine, is vaguely intriguing but ultimately spineless, and her parents are deeply flawed, monstrous egotists. There is not one likable character here. And the last part of the la ...more
Eric Rickert
Adjectives That Crossed My Mind While Reading The Debut by Anita Brookner
by Eric R. Rickert

Sharp
Incisive
Brutal
Genuine
Haunting
Fucked (up)
Taut
Glowing
Harsh
Homely
Masterly
Shrewd
Principled
Empathic
Remote
Lean
Fatty
Disgusting
Hard-nosed
Dry
Calloused
Pockmarked
Bleak
Staid
Prophetic
Fleshy

It reminded me of Kanye's YEEZUS because I loved it and hated it, and myself, simultaneously. I also thought a lot about "Grace Under Fire" for some reason.

It made me feel itchy. I felt her words in me, y'all.
Lauren Albert
I knew right away that I'd read this before--I've read so many Brookner novels, it's easy to get them mixed up. But how could I not like a book that starts, "Dr. Weiss, at forty, knew that her life had been ruined by literature."

It can be a painful read as you watch flawed people stumble their way through life. But there are moments of humor, mostly with Ruth's parent's housekeeper.
Lauren Albert
I really liked this. The opening is auspicious, "Dr. Weiss, at forty, knew that her life had been ruined by literature." Like many children of childish parents, Ruth Weiss skipped childhood altogether instead disappearing into literature. But life can never quite live up to literature.
Sophie
Fantastic. Read this one first if you want to fully appreciate the kaleidoscoping of Brookner's characters in subsequent novels, the way similar human types crop up in different forms, and even certain lines echo. You don't even have to have read Balzac to enjoy it.
Abailart
"Dr. Weiss, at forty, knew that her life had been ruined by literature."

First lines don't come much better than that. The rest is Brookner, each sentence crafted, words about words, people made out of words. A delight.
Roberta
Anita Brookner è una scrittrice piuttosto nota, per lo meno in certi ambienti e in certi blog, soprattutto inglesi, o filo-britannici. Addirittura alcuni blogger hanno creato un International Anita Brookner Day, con tanto di blog. A Start in Life (pubblicato negli Stati Uniti con il titolo The Debut) è proprio il romanzo di debutto della Brookner, che esordì alla tenera età di 53 anni, dopo una carriera accademica e di insegnante. Il romanzo ha sicuramente molti punti di contatto con la vita del ...more
Rita
1981. Gosh, Brookner's novels are always good, well written, well portrayed characters. This seems a lot more depressing than others of hers. The parents of the main character are so dysfunctional it seems quite unreal.

For such a short book there is an awful lot packed in, maybe too much. A book to reread later.

Here's a sentence that struck me:

"Mrs Weiss had brought with her from Berlin pieces of furniture of incredible magnitude in dark woods which looked as though they had absorbed the blood o
...more
Laura
Brookner is good but I can never quite find her to be great. I keep waiting for one her books to really grab me. When I got to the end of this one, I couldn't understand why it had started the way it did, with "Dr. Weiss, at forty ...." I'm sure it would've made more sense if I'd read Eugénie Grandet or at least been more familiar with Balzac than I am (which is not at all). One of the things I liked most about this book was the emphasis on the daily need for food: the weight of being the person ...more
Ali

I do so love Anita Brookner novels, I always rather like the characters, they are so human, fragile and flawed as well as beautifully written.
This is one of Anita Brookner's earliest novels, yet it is still highly accomplished. At forty Ruth Weiss an expert on Balzac thinks her life has been ruined by literature. As Ruth looks back on her life, her role as a daughter living with her peculiar parents and their funny housekeeper, her short time in Paris and a doomed love affair, she is in a sense
...more
Lisette
Refer to my review of Hotel du Lac by the same author.
Luisa Fer
I love Anita Brookner and the more I read her books, the more I wish I could write "like" her.

This book begins with a slam but then it diverts into a plot that could be considered weak, but it's kept afloat by her original characters. Every trait, virtue (or lack of thereof) is subtle, it's drawn to perfection. I loved the housekeeper most of all.
The atmosphere is full of melancholy and hoplessness.

Brookner shows with mastery the worst human flaw of all: to live in the past.
Cecily
A tale of how literature can ruin one's life? Like many of Brookner's books, the time period feels loose, but that doesn't really matter. It's a (mostly) sad tale of an eccentric and dysfunctional family, especially their only child, mainly in her teens and beyond as she tries to make her own life, via studying and latterly teaching about the women in Balzac's novels. The knowingness of others (in her life and the fiction she reads) is an interesting counterpoint to her own naivety.
Jim M
While avoiding her crazy parents, a woman drifts into a fantasy world of books until a doctor is certain novels have ruined her mind and must get a fresh break.
Thom Dunn
Brookner's first novel, published in 1981 when she was 53 as "A Start in Life". Why change the U.S. title to "Debut", I wonder......but there is a well-known short story by I-Forget-Who called "A Start in Life".

This book is so clearly drawn from the life of her own family. In 1984, just three years from this, she will win the Booker Prize with Hotel du Lac.
Paula
I didn't really "get" this book. It's about a strange British family, and maybe I didn't get all of the English wit, but I didn't find it that interesting or insightful. I must stop picking up every book that has a "This is the best novel I've read in years!" testimonial on the cover :)
Iliana
I loved how this book began and somehow the middle was not what I was hoping for yet in the end I can say I still liked this book a lot. Brookner is wonderful at characterization.

Can't wait to read more by this author who is fast becoming a favorite.
Ashish Gourav
A melancholic book interspersed with interesting repartee.

My takeaway from this would have to be:

"Is it all a game, then?" She asked.
Anthea looked sadly back. "Only if you win," was her reply.
"If you lose, it's far more serious."
Jen
A quiet little book. The story wasn't a revelation or anything, but I found myself very engaged in it. I was pulling for Ruth, the heroine, but I was really more interested in her "tyrannical and eccentric parents" and their enabling housekeeper.
Henry Jefferies
Certainly a depressing book, yet the emotional intensity of the narrator's life story makes it irresistable.
Lynn
Understated, as I've come to expect from this author. I love how her stories seem simple but are anything but!
Idza
Always been taken in by books about people in the literary world, and this was one of those.
A good read.
Lynne
Well up to her usual standard, I preferred it to Hotel du Lac which she won the Booker for.
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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...
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“Dr Weiss, at forty, knew that her life had been ruined by literature” 20 likes
“We shall none of us ever make love again, she thought, and did not much care. Life had not been too harsh; the sea would still be there at the end. She was nearly ready.” 0 likes
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