cover image Incidents in the Rue Laugier

Incidents in the Rue Laugier

Anita Brookner. Random House (NY), $23 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-679-43915-8

Six cryptic journal jottings in her French-born mother's hand drive Maffy, initially the narrator of Brookner's (Dolly) potently crafted novel, to fabricate Maud Gonthier Harrison's single ardent girlhood affair. Having reproduced the mysterious inscription in Maud's notebook (``Dames Blanches. La Gaillardier. Place des Ternes. Sang. Edward.'') and a scrap of Proust, Maffy teasingly begs the reader, ``Please accept me as an unreliable narrator,'' then vanishes, to appear only ``inadvertently'' in the tale that follows. Now in a third-person voice, Maud's story takes on a pulsating reality, involving her with charismatic ``scoundrel'' David Tyler and his friend since Cambridge, Edward Harrison--the man Maud finally marries. The triangle, erotic and latently homoerotic, forms during a sensual, heat-drenched season of the 1950s in the French countryside; then the three drift to a borrowed house on Paris's rue Laugier. Lost in love's delirium, Maud sees Tyler as an ``Apollo,'' a careless divinity who descends to sport with her and Edward, while emotionally damaging them forever. With delicate brilliance, Brookner probes Maud's and Edward's early family lives (Tyler, in contrast, appears from nowhere, born of mythically rich parents) to reveal how they become so entrapped. Like other Brookner heroines, Maud has a controlling mother whose tie with her is as intricately knotty as Maud's relationship is with the men. Edward, inflamed by Maud because of Tyler, grasps his own bewildering role as voyeuristic, feminine, childlike, servile and protective. With Tyler's withdrawal, Maud and Edward grow resignedly chill as they refashion their lives and tilt their relationship into a new imbalance, while the reader turns pages compulsively for a dazzling read in which every sentence seems clairvoyant. (Jan.)