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Anita Brookner. Random House (NY), $23 (240pp) ISBN 978-0-679-45785-5

When youth and age collide, the fallout, as charted by veteran Booker Prize winner Brookner, is funny, unexpected and moving. At 70, Dorothea May has been a widow 15 years. She enjoys the small freedoms of her dull but comfortable existence and just tolerates the only family she has--her husband's two cousins, Kitty and Molly, and their spouses. When Kitty's American granddaughter comes to London to get married, Kitty prevails on Thea to put the best man up at her flat for a few days. As it turns out, the groom, a self-described ""bearer of the message of Jesus,"" and the bride, a homeopathic therapist who rejects the idea of dressing up ""just to get hitched,"" aren't exactly the endearing young people Kitty has imagined. And Steve Best, the best man, is just as bad, a drifter whose ambitions seem limited to checking out the local music scene. But, as they spend more time together, and as old family skeletons pop out of the closet at wedding time, Thea comes to like Steve's solitary nature and his occasional bouts of wit. Brookner remains an exquisitely subtle observer of how manners bear the imprint of psyches. Her portrait of how the wedding tumult and Steve's presence make Thea aware of her interior life--and her dreams and recurring memories--is moving without being sentimental. In the end, it's a delight to watch Thea take courage upon entering her old age, which she describes, with a quiet excitement, as ""a country without maps."" (Jan.)