In Strangers, Anita Brookner's 24th novel, the uncertainties of old age and loneliness are explored.
Paul Sturgeis is a 72 year old introspective, bachelor. A retired bank manager, who lives a solitary life in his London flat: Crescent Mansion. When he ventures out, he prepares in advance for mundane conversation, should it arise, with the people he meets along the way. His only contacts seem to be his hairdresser and "strangers" he sees when he goes out. A lover of books, Paul had always been a great reader, someone who found consolation in books. Although he had two women in his life (great loves as he called them), he never married. Paul believes that "niceness was a condition which had earned him few favours".
Paul spends time on Sunday visiting his only relative, Helena, a widow of his cousin who is about the same age as Paul. Helena is equally uncomfortable around people, and Paul is her only relative as well. To avoid being invited by Helena to spend Christmas with her, he decides to take a trip in Venice.
In Venice Paul meet Vicky, and the two meet for coffee, lunch etc while in Venice. She too is from England, and once each have returned to England she stays in touch with Paul.
(p.81) "What he wanted from her was not so very different: not an audience--never that--but some sort of acknowledgement that he too had a life and a history, even if it was of no interest to her. He would have liked to be gently questioned, without in any way being judged".
When Paul receives a call from the Royal Free Hospital, to say that Helena had passed away, as her only relative, he is faced with making her final arrangements. This causes him to focus more on his own mortality, and his solitary life, and wonder who will take care of his final arrangements, or be there for him if he is sick. .... "her death somehow cancelled the past, so that only the future remained".
Paul runs into Sarah, one of the women from his past. She is a widow, and sickly. Both Sarah and Vicky help to transform Paul's ways, and to help him sort out what he wants to do with the time he has left.
Strangers is a beautifully written novel, about aging, loneliness, and the choices one makes in life. I did not find this story depressing in any way, but it did make me take stock of my own life, and the choices that have brought me to where I am now. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
I also enjoyed Hotel du Lac by this author.
RATING - 5/5 ; COMPLETED - 7/16/09; Library Book