cover image A Private View

A Private View

Anita Brookner. Random House (NY), $23 (242pp) ISBN 978-0-679-43444-3

One has a (not unwelcome) sense of deja vu in reading the latest Brookner (Dolly) novel. Her protagonist is again one of those generally passive people, well provided with money and leisure time, who suddenly is moved to examine the unlived life. Here Brookner departs from custom in making her central character a man, the aptly named George Bland, who at 65 has lived cautiously, ``without daring, without heat,'' only to yield at this late-life crisis to a brutal passion guaranteed to crush him. When Katy Gibb, a 30-ish waif claiming to be an invited guest of neighbors away on holiday, shows up shoeless outside Bland's London flat, he hands over their keys despite evident warning signals that she is a con artist, parasite and predator. Katy prattles about starting a trade in stress healing, mentions aromatherapy and essential oils, New Age lore gleaned from a California guru. ``Health is very big news!'' she tells Bland, a man so haunted by his decrepitude that he keeps a stash of suicide pills. Bland tells himself that he merely studies Katy, but his fantasies run riot: she is a Renaissance courtesan, a sacred prostitute, ``a scullion.. sulky, a slut.'' Suddenly Bland feels deluged by other women beside Katy: Moira, the genteel harridan who dogs him; comfortable Louise, his nearly platonic mistress of many years; and the ghost of his unloving mother. Constructed chiefly of Bland's meditations-on his working-class origins; his inability to complete university; his old safe job in personnel; his practiced self-denial; and dear, dead Putnam, his best friend-Brookner's prose mimes Bland's habits of thought. The writing, deftly ironic and analytical, can get somewhat static and claustrophobic. But Brookner wraps it all together nicely as Bland achieves insight and plunges, lured by Katy, to decision. (Jan.)