Authors: Anita Brookner
A CLOSED EYE
“The meaty topics that Brookner … assays—wifehood, motherhood, and lust—are a pleasure to follow.”
—The New Yorker
“Beautifully written … Brookner sweeps the reader up … [but] her best attribute is a finely calibrated understanding of longing trapped in convention.”
Wall Street Journal
“Arresting … Henry James was fascinated by the theme of innocence and the corrupt or worldly. Anita Brookner has taken the theme for her own … a splendid novel.”
—Detroit Free Press
“Compelling … [Brookner’s] strength has been her honest, usually sympathetic portrayal of a person’s secret thoughts, fears and desires—usually passionately at odds with one’s outward demeanor.”
—Cleveland Plain Dealer
“[Brookner] writes so thrillingly well.… Admirers of her intelligent style, the almost bejeweled talent and alertness to incongruity, will be glad to know that [
A Closed Eye
] is rooted firmly in the territory she has made her own.”
“A master of the telling detail … Brookner’s thoughts on men, women, and social jockeying are always worth hearing.”
“Poignant … witty … Harriet Lytton is one of the most fully realized … of Brookner heroines who try and fail to do the right thing.”
—Seattle Times/Post Intelligencer
“Superbly crafted … a great comic touch. Brookner is one of the major talents that has emerged in the remarkable renaissance of the English novel in recent years. Like Jane Austen, [she] possesses a sense of social satire and a fast, deft art of characterization that is reminiscent of the great 19th-century novelist.… [
A Closed Eye
] shows us the difficulty that a woman can encounter when she is not free, even when it appears she has everything in life that she could want … exquisite.”
“Lives up to Brookner’s reputation as an astute gleaner of rich detail and a careful student of human nature. The pleasure in reading this book lies in the author’s mastery of her craft.”
—San Diego Union Tribune
“A stunning writer.”
A CLOSED EYE
Anita Brookner has written twelve novels, including
. Winner of the Booker Prize, she is also an international authority on eighteenth-century painting.
ALSO BY ANITA BROOKNER
Look at Me
Hotel du Lac
Family and Friends
A Friend from England
First Vintage Contemporaries Edition, January 1993
Copyright © 1991 by Anita Brookner
All rights reserved under International and Pan-American
Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by Vintage Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.
Originally published in hardcover by Jonathan Cape, London, in 1991.
First published in the United States by Random House, Inc., New York, in 1992.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
A closed eye / Anita Brookner. — 1st Vintage contemporaries ed.
p. cm. — (Vintage contemporaries)
Canadian Cataloguing in Publication Data
A closed eye
Author photograph © Jerry Bauer
She strikes me as a person who is begging off from full knowledge,—who has struck a truce with painful truth, and is trying awhile the experiment of living with closed eyes.
Madame de Mauves
Rue du Château,
La Tour de Peilz (Vaud),
‘My dear Lizzie,’ (she wrote),
‘No doubt you will be surprised to hear from me after all this time, and from such a strange place. Not that it is so very strange: indeed, it is extremely civilized, but you probably think of us still, if you think of us at all, in that house in Wellington Square which you once knew so well, though not perhaps in the happiest of circumstances. However, those days are now to be consigned to the past. I have had a great deal of time since then in which to reflect, and although I have reached no very firm conclusions I do know what courage is needed to see one through a life. You, my dear Lizzie, have always had that sort of courage. I was always impressed by you, even when you were a tiny child. But of course one does not say these things to a child.
‘The point of this letter is to ask you whether you would like to spend a little holiday here. I know how hard you work—my own short working life was frivolous in comparison—and
the air of this place would do you so much good. There are not many distractions for a girl of your age, but if you like to walk, the countryside is beautiful, and if you like to read, as I remember you always did, there is an excellent bookshop. Come at any time; there is snow in the winter, and the flowers are quite beautiful in the spring. And it is very pretty. I have grown quite fond of the place. I doubt if I shall ever go home now.
‘You see, we came to Switzerland when my husband’s health began to fail. He had enormous faith in the clinic here; one of his colleagues had benefited from similar treatment, swore he was a new man after a month’s stay. There was nothing really wrong with Freddie, but he was old and tired, and of course his heart was broken. In the first instance we only came for advice, but the moment he left Professor Lecoudray’s consulting room he said he felt better. He was not better, but it seemed only decent to help him to maintain that illusion. His final illness lasted six months; we found it convenient to take this rather nice flat, which Freddie liked, on a long lease. We both hated hotels. And there was room in the flat for Freddie’s nurse, Madame Irène. She stayed with me until he died, and still looks in from time to time. A nice woman, a good woman. And I have a very charming neighbour, Monsieur Papineau, so I am not at all lonely.’
(Such lies, she thought.)
‘Dear Lizzie, I am rather rich. There is no inoffensive way of saying this, but your holiday would be entirely at my expense. In addition to getting you away from London, I should like to spoil you a little. When we last met I thought you were looking very pale and thin (but you were always thin, even as a baby), and yet you seemed hardy. You singularly failed to take after your father, and you did not even look very much like your mother, although of course she was also fair, much fairer as a girl, when I knew her, than after you
were born. Her hair seemed to darken then; it often happens. She was my dearest friend. My more serious purpose in wanting to see you is to tell you what I remember of her. You were only a child when she died. How long ago it seems! We were dear, dear friends. I still miss her.
‘You would be entirely free to come and go as you pleased here. If you wanted to spend an evening at home with me I could tell you about those early days, when your mother and I were girls. It is important that you should think of her as a strong healthy woman, and not as you remember her. You see, I know you a little. I know the shock you had, and I don’t want it to have had a permanent effect.
‘You are young, and you have your future before you. Dear Lizzie, don’t let an impression of sadness dim your love of life, which is too precious to be wasted. I have always felt that you had it in you to be something remarkable, and I should like, if I may, to help you towards whatever you see as your goal.
‘So, all I need is a telephone call or a postcard to say when you are coming. I will send your air ticket (Geneva, terribly quick) and await you here with the most eager anticipation. Forgive this long letter: letter-writing is the exile’s main occupation. Dear Lizzie, do come soon.
‘There is just one thing I ought to say before we meet. One name must never be mentioned. I know that you, who were always so sensitive, will understand.
‘With love, as always,
‘Your old friend Harriet (Lytton).’