Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Rules of Engagement ” as Want to Read:
The Rules of Engagement
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Rules of Engagement

3.27  ·  Rating details ·  714 ratings  ·  91 reviews
Elizabeth and Betsy had been school friends in 1950s London. Elizabeth, prudent and introspective, values social propriety. Betsy, raised by a spinster aunt, is open, trusting, and desperate for affection. After growing up and going their separate ways, the two women reconnect later in life. Elizabeth has married kind but tedious Digby, while Betsy is still searching for ...more
Paperback, 288 pages
Published February 8th 2005 by Vintage (first published December 30th 2003)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Rules of Engagement, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about The Rules of Engagement

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.27  · 
Rating details
 ·  714 ratings  ·  91 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of The Rules of Engagement
Sep 10, 2011 rated it did not like it
I'd like to give Ms. Brookner, whose rather expansive body of work has heretofore flown under my radar, the benefit of the doubt. I'm hoping that my first encounter with her work ("The Rules of Engagement", her 22nd novel) was a flukey bad choice, and that everything else she's written is deserving of the accolades heaped upon her. From my limited perspective, however, I'm not terribly optimistic that this pseudo-19th century poseur of a novel isn't indeed representative of the whole. After ...more
Jun 16, 2009 rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jane Gregg
May 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
Ah, what it is to have been born too soon. You get to witness all the benefits and bonuses you long for being enjoyed by the generation that comes after your own, but you don't get to experience any of them first hand. This is the story of two friends, both born too soon. It is not a happy novel but, as per Anita Brookner, it is beautifully told.
Dec 13, 2017 rated it did not like it
Shelves: english, beletristica, bs
Bad, bad, bad. A book spanning over a few decades and ignoring EVERYTHING happening not in the world, but even in the UK - as if the seventies and thatcherism never happened. Unbelievable. Not to mention Digby's end which was criminally stupid. I regret the time lost with this book and the fact that I remember it after more than five months.
Lou Last
Oct 17, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novel

For the remote and lonely
Jan 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
Beautifully written meditation on female friendship, desire, marriage & aspiration
Katherine Pederson
Sep 28, 2018 rated it liked it
From my archives - Well written! Good!
Christopher Roth
Nov 15, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Well, all Anita Brookner is good. But this one ended on a particularly depressing note. It wouldn't do to read two Anita Brookners in a row.
Carmen Lau
Feb 28, 2015 rated it liked it
I've only read one other novel by Anita Brookner -- Leaving Home, years ago -- and I remember being horrified by how perceptive she is regarding solitary female lives. It was as if someone had opened me up and taken stock, coldly. The Rules of Engagement is not so different from Leaving Home, and from reading other reviews I suspect that most of her other novels are similar. I don't see that as a bad thing, necessarily, because I found both novels enjoyable.

From what I can tell, Brookner's
Feb 22, 2016 rated it really liked it
This book has been on my shelf for years. Recently I made an intentional TBR stack choosing mostly those that have been on my shelf for three or more years. I seemed to be in the habit of reading my most recent acquisitions. But I digress . . .

The best way to describe this book is that it seemed the epitome of the English in all their demeanor, mannerisms, and utmost restraint. It is the story of two women named Elizabeth one of which narrates to us, while the other she refers to as her friend
Apr 21, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It was only about 3 years ago I think, that I started to read Anita Brookner, and she is now quietly becoming a firm favourite. This is the 7th of her novels I have read.
There is a touch of the melancholic about her writing, but I don't find her depressing at all. The themes of this novel are very similar to that of the others I have read, that of lonliness, grief, and the choices women make in their lives. Elizabeth married a man many years older than herself, while her childhood friend Betsy
Jul 04, 2017 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
May 31, 2015 rated it really liked it
Anita Brookner is such an accomplished author; however, her books leave me feeling sad because the subject matter is usually lonely women leading introspective lives. This novel is no exception. Elizabeth is a quiet woman married to a respectable (dull) man when she embarks on an affair with a man who is also married and experienced in clandestine affairs. When Elizabeth's husband dies, she concludes her affair with Edmund, only to see her long-time friend, Betsy, begin her own affair with ...more
Karen Garverich
Great read about two women and their friendship from youth to middle age. A must read for
women in their 50's and up. It travels through the changes in their friendship caused by choices they made in their life. the aging process plus more but ever so beautifully written establishes the loyalty we have for our true women friends.
Highly recommend for women
Danny Schiff
Nov 21, 2018 rated it it was ok
I received this book as a wedding gift at my sister’s wedding two weeks ago. First of all, let’s revisit this, has there ever been a cooler wedding gift?!? Not that shot glasses and apple butter weren’t also wonderful but come on, what a great touch. But sadly, in direct contrast to a beautiful wedding, T.R.O.E. was about as dark and depressing a look at love, marriage, and aging as it gets.
Phyllis Leigh
Apr 16, 2012 rated it really liked it
Astute, perceptive. I reel in amazement at her ability to recognise and describe the emotions and the motivations of her characters. Particularly when I recognise these in myself. An astonishing appreciation of human nature and behaviour. Read through it pretty rapidly to find out what was going to happen. Now I need to go back and read it slowly and take time to enjoy the beauty of the writing.
Mar 04, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Brookner voice and language is articulate as a surgeon's or a concert pianist's hand, and all other bumbling writers have the clumsy soft barely formed fingers of a small child.

Themes of friendship, life choices, women who live essentially solitary lives.
Aug 27, 2011 rated it it was ok
Two female friends who both lead unsatisfactory lives in their own way. While individual sentences were neat, the writing still seemed sloppily redundant in that many of the sentences were repetitive - we'd wander off ruminating a point for a while, and then we'd start off ruminating the point again, in words very little different. One of the purposes of the novel is to capture a generation and kind of women Brookner feels were born too late to live the lives they would have been expected to ...more
Cass Blakeman
Jan 04, 2012 rated it did not like it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Miriam Walker
Jan 31, 2016 rated it really liked it
The Rules of Engagement is Anita Brookner's twenty-second novel, and as usual, her eloquent and intelligent telling of the story has the power to keep the reader focussed, even transfixed, on the central character with her ruminative and sometimes entertaining thoughts on complex issues surrounding love, marriage, infidelity, jealousy and passion.

The story is narrated by Elizabeth, a woman in her fifties who takes an introspective look at her life and that of her friend Betsy whom she's known
May 07, 2010 rated it liked it
Brookners' books always stretch my vocabulary and French, and I feel like I've accomplished something when I finish one. I wish Elizabeth in this story wouldn't have been so rigid, for example, she could foresee her marriage to both Digby (what a name!) and Nils, but she herself could have changed them and not be so passive. Ditto for doing nothing but walking and reading once she was a widow at a young age (maybe before 35?) with not volunteering, learning any new hobbies, etc. Near the end ...more
Jan 04, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone!
Betsy and Elizabeth has knew each other since childhood, and have been school year children. They have shared a very close relationship and share similarities about life, affection and trials. Losing contact with one another has been very hard for both of them,but eventually they reconnect and find their life not as how they have imagined. Elizabeth is married to Digby a much elderly man that she is not as affectionate with, but she loves his company. On the other hand, Betsy is married to a man ...more
Another Brookner read for IABD at The story centers on two childhood friends who connect and reconnect through the years, leading sort of parallel lives. The book covered what I am finding are typical Brookner themes: loneliness, adultery, and sad childhoods. Like with Falling Slowly I found reading this book to be tedious; like listening to a friend ruminate about a bad break up over and over again till you just want to slap her and tell her to get a life.
Oct 21, 2008 rated it it was ok
Boy, what a depressing end! As someone said on goodreads, Loneliness prevails.
I enjoyed the book a lot at first, probably because from the synopsis I was expecting a chick-littish or romancey book, so it turned out more than what I had expected. And I could relate so much to the teller's loneliness.
But then the heroin started to annoy me a wee bit, that apparent lack of passion and her patronising view of Betsy were getting on my nerves. I had to keep telling myself it was just her upbringing.
Oct 02, 2012 rated it did not like it
Started well, and there are certainly passages of writing to be admired in her prose...but could not bring myself to finish this novel. Listening to the protagonist whine about her unsatisfactory, unfulfilling life in comparison to her childhood (and apparently now only) friend started to take its toll. Sorry to say I abandoned this book just short of halfway. Zadie Smith's novel 'On Beauty' was waiting patiently on the night stand and I think I definitely made the right choice to pick up that ...more
Hemmie Martin
Aug 06, 2012 rated it really liked it
This story follows the interwoven lives of two women from their early years until middle-age. The author describes the characters in great depth so that as the reader, we feel we know them in intimate detail.
However, there is a melancholy air that runs through this book, which doesn't lend itself to being a 'light' read. But the author's beautiful use of literary language and vocabulary took my breath away at times.
This wasn't perhaps my favourite novel by this author, but she's definitely an
Barbara Matteau
I enjoyed the characterizations in the book. It was fascinating to be within the depths of the main character Elizabeth and how she approached her life and her relationships, both with the men in her life and with Betsy, her one woman friend.

I did find the book on the whole depressing. The main character had a rich inner life but did nothing to reach a rich and vigorous life. She seemed to purposely want to stay in a rut in her life that really was of her own making.
May 06, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-2010
A well written book about loneliness, grief and a woman living a life she wasn't sure she wanted....wanted to shake her though!! Enjoyed it for the setting, as it's my neighbourhood in London, but the character I found very depressing at times. If she were my own friend, I would say to her, "you think too much!" but I suppose it is a novel and that's kind of the whole point, a big interior monologue. This is the first Anita Brookner I've read, and I'd like to read more.
May 21, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: best
Dense thick prose, almost impenetrable, re-read many pages to absorb meaning.

A slender plot of friendship and false social pretentions and loneliness.

A quote on her difficulty in socializing:

"If I were to exhibit an unseemly solitariness I should fail a number of tests and be condemned to perpetual marginality."
Dec 09, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This was unfortunately a DNF for me. I found that however many times I started it, I just couldn't make myself read past page 50. Something brighter and more interesting always appeared on my horizon and I was not willing to put in the effort to force my way through this book when I could be reading something I enjoy.
« previous 1 3 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »

Readers also enjoyed

  • The Millstone
  • Jerusalem the Golden
  • Knitting
  • Ghostwalk
  • Before We Began
  • Sleep, Pale Sister
  • Something Fishy (Murray Whelan, #5)
  • So Far Back: A Novel
  • Runner
  • Things We Didn't See Coming
  • The Night They Stormed Eureka
  • Everything You Need
  • Stoner & Spaz (Stoner & Spaz, #1)
  • One Sunday
  • Abyssinia
  • Pobby and Dingan
  • Notes from the Teenage Underground
  • Under the Net
See similar books…
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, Fraud (1992) ...more
“That instant proved to me that it was not the first, almost unemotional, sighting of a potential lover that was significant, but the second, the moment not of recognition but of confirmation, so that every other consideration is irrelevant, as if it might have mattered at some point in the past but no longer had any currency in the charged wordless exchange that seals the matter for ever, regardless of the dangers thus incurred and whatever the cost.” 0 likes
More quotes…