cover image Fraud


Anita Brookner. Random House (NY), $21 (262pp) ISBN 978-0-679-41606-7

Like most of Brookner's other fiction, this novel features a middle-aged, discontented, lonely British woman with family money; unfortunately, it features none of the author's singular spring-loaded narrative technique and brillant characterization, which made the best of her previous titles (the Booker Prize-winning Hotel de Lac, Brief Lives ) so distinctive. Mousy spinster Anna Durrant cares for her widowed mother until the elder woman's death, then transfers her fanatical altruism to a family friend in her 80s, Vera Marsh. Vera resents Anna's patronizing and false cheer, describing her as ``Little Dorrit . . . like a nun . . . or a saint . . . plucky and good and desperate, and if one were a man one would move on.'' Indeed, a man has moved on--Lawrence Halliday, the physician who made house calls to her mother and showed interest in Anna before he was snatched away by a more determined manhunter, the silly Vickie Gibson, outfitted and manicured in flirtatious red, ``Daddy's girl or Mummy's little princess . . . spoilt ever after.'' Brookner's unusual ability to depict her characters' dreams--here, Anna's of a wedding ring buried in an elaborate cake and of her mother as a coquette--is never employed to best advantage. In fact, nothing is fully developed in this work, including Anna's enigmatic disappearance as the story opens and her incredible resurrection at novel's end. To the reader, this mystery conceit looks like a flimsy sash losing the battle against the flab it's meant to contain. The mot juste here is not fraud but sloth , on the part of the characters and the writer alike; Brookner fans should pass on this title and await a future offering more representative of her conscientious and elegant artistry. (Jan.)