cover image Latecomers


Anita Brookner. Pantheon Books, $16.95 (248pp) ISBN 978-0-394-57172-0

Booker Prize-winner Brookner's eighth novel (a bestseller in England) shows her at the peak of her form. The portrait of a friendship between two men, the story is as much concerned with the texture and substance of lives as it is with the unfolding of the tale it tells. Hartmann and Fibich, both called Thomas, both refugees from the Nazis, were united as schoolboys, paired by common circumstance and language, although forbidden to speak their native tongue. Now partners in a London printing business, the two men have chosen to respond in quite different ways to their shared past. Hartmann ``aspired to the sublime . . . the perfecting of simple pleasures.'' Desiring no connection with his past, he has ``consigned to the dust, or to the repository that can only be approached in dreams,'' all troublesome memories, and is now ``deliberately euphoric.'' The melancholy Fibich, who is desperate to recall what he has lost, is obsessed with the past, and even turns to psychoanalysis. The blithe Hartmann reminds him, ``It is over.'' Their office has a family atmosphere that evokes a sense of home for both men--a home they both crave. How both their families are emotionally entwined, and the effect of this on the men, their wives and children, are Brookner's nominal subjects. But it's the beauty of her prose and the sheer depth of feeling with which she infuses her narrative that give it life. In this tender study, Brookner has produced a quiet little masterpiece. (Mar.)