Sunday, November 27, 2005

two novels about friendship

Just finished Anita Brookner's novel The Rules of Engagement. Didn't love it, although it was well-written and flowed nicely. The entire story is told from the first person perspective of a woman who has lived a timid and rather bleak existence. Most of the story focuses on her lifelong friendship with another woman whose experiences of life are less measured and more adventuresome, but nonetheless the unreliable narrator pities her. Classic case of the camel that can't see its own hump, but it is never clear the camel sees anything at all, which I found both annoying and depressing.

A much better book that I also read over this vacation week, and really enjoyed, was Mary Gaitskill's Veronica. Also told from the perspective of a first person narrator, and also the story about a friendship, Veronica is a novel about beauty and ugliness, and the most unlikely places to find them. This narrator, Alison, in contrast to the Brookner narrator, embraces life to the point of self-destruction, and when the book begins she is already at rock bottom, a former model fallen victim to hepatitis who now cleans houses for a living. How she got there, and the story of a friendship experienced years before that still haunts her (with an AIDS sufferer), is the novel's story. Equal measures of beauty and ugliness, redemption and despair, this was a book that was easy to get lost in, with some particularly stunning moments of writing to alight on for a second before flying on.

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