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Once Upon A Bookshelf

Where Fiction and Reality Meet


Author: Anita Brookner
Originally Published: 2009
Publisher: Fig Tree, an imprint of Penguin Books

StrangersPaul Sturgis is a 73 year old man when we start this book. He lives alone in a small flat that he has come to loath. His only living relative is the widow of a cousin, and they (Sturgis and his cousin’s widow) were never close. He has no real friends – only a few acquaintances.

He lives a very uneventful life, until two very different women enter into his life. One, a younger woman, has been recently divorced and somewhat elbows her own spontaneous life into the middle of Sturgis’ slow paced and rather predictable one. The other is an ex-girlfriend of Sturgis’, whom he hasn’t seen in many a year. He has conflicting feelings towards both women, but he is determined to no longer spend the rest of his life alone.

In all honesty, there were things that I really liked and things that I really did not like about this book. And I liked the things I liked about the same as I disliked the things I disliked, so that in the end I’m not sure whether I enjoyed this or not… Which makes writing about it here a little bit difficult.

So, the things that I liked, first off… The author certainly made the loneliness of old age palpable. I could feel it, almost taste it. It was quite heartbreaking. (But in a good sort of way.) I also liked that this book wasn’t confined to one setting – it takes place in London, but Sturgis also takes trips to Venice and Nice, so it gives different views of places from the perspective of Sturgis.

And the things that I disliked… There was a period in the middle of the book where it dragged on, and I had to force myself to keep reading. I like how the flow worked with the beginning and ending of the book, but it just got to be a bit too much in the middle where it seemed like we weren’t working towards a climax of any sort. The other think I really didn’t like about this book was that, to me, the narration came across as being pretentious. It felt like big, obscure words work used for the sake of making the book sound really smart.

And then there’s Paul Sturgis, the main character, and I really can’t make up my mind about him. He’s a bit of a mystery to me. One moment he likes someone, then next he really dislikes them. He doesn’t want to be alone, but as soon as he’s in the company of another person he can’t wait to be alone. I just… am having a hard time wrapping my mind around the fickleness in him. And so I’m not sure whether to pity him or be annoyed.

The theme of having too much freedom played a very large part in this book. Sturgis has no one to be held accountable to, no one he needs to take care of, no one he needs to worry about leaving alone if something were to happen to him. He has no real responsibilities to anything in life. Yet this lack of ties is a lot of what results in his extreme loneliness. Gave me something to ponder about in regards to my own future.

Bottom Line: There were good things and bad things about this book. It sounded really good, but then the way it was written resulted in a book that wasn’t really my style – there wasn’t much happening, and it didn’t feel like much character development was going on. The author has won a Booker Prize for a previous novel, been long listed for another one, and has written many more books… I won’t be reading them.

Posted by Courtney Wilson @ 4:38 pm April 21, 2009.
Category: Fiction and Literature
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