Adventures in Reading

Fiction: The Visitors by Anita Brookner

“This was surely the stuff of fiction? A strong plot, unusual characters, a threatened outcome: who could ask for worthier diversions?”

Anita Brookner’s Visitors was an impulse selection from the library book sale. Its publishing house Vintage often puts out nice books and I liked the texture of the cover. And after concluding Visitors, I enjoyed it so much that I quickly Bookmooched her Hotel du Lac – a Man Booker Prize-Winner. Visitors is a story of disruption. Dorothea May is a solitary, elderly widow living alone when a member of her extended family asks her to house an impromptu visitor: Steven from America.

Brookner takes great care in establishing her novel. Dorothea is isolated, estranged from all relationships, though seemingly satisfied with this. As a result, much of the book is the internal dialogs and thoughts of Dorothea. The writing style and usage of the book befits this character perfectly and it wasn’t until after roughly thirty pages that I had any indication what time the novel was set in (besides after the invention of the telephone) and I was quite shocked when Rollerblades were finally mentioned.

This visitor Steven is young, brash, and with a party of other young people. This party is invading the space of a set and reliable elderly group. Both groups confront the unknown in an exchange of values and mores that range from wedding planning to religion to manners. From Dorothea’s perspective, Visitors becomes a book about what it means to be old and looking back on her life. “Those who survived and grew old were in a country without maps: she knew that. All that was left to them was to find some middle way, between acceptance and defeat. When grace was gone only usefulness remained.”

Reminiscing on Anne Elliot of Jane Austen’s Persuasion, Dorothea describes that “The world of Persuasion had been long gone even when she had read it as a girl, believing it to be the norm. Yet Jane Austen had never gone out of fashion; rather the opposite. It was as if those who flouted traditional values long to be reminded of fine manners, even if they marveled at them, and made little attempt to emulate them.”

Visitors is a delicate and subtle novel filled with well-crafted complexities and demands. While my literary experience has been largely lacking with regard to elderly protagonists, Dorothea confronts her reader with all the fears of age (from dying to breaking a hip) and graceful acceptance of her life. Brookner has written a tender novel and I cannot wait to get my copy of Hotel du Lac.

Conclusion: Keeper.