When I feel swamped in my solitude and hidden by it, physically obscured by it, rendered invisible, in fact, writing is my way of piping up. Of reminding people that I am here. And when I have ordered my characters, plundered my store of images, removed from them all the sadness that I might feel in myself, then I can switch on that current that allows me to write so easily, once I get started, and to make people laugh. That, it seems, is what they like to do. And if I manage this well enough and beguile all the dons and the critics, they will fail to register my real message, which is a simple one. 'Look at me,' I would say. 'Look at me.'I like Brookner, but I think I would like her better if she were more Pym herself. There are some delicious acid touches, especially in the exchanges between Olivia, the other librarian, and the regulars, but this is a serious book and, though brief, it is at times quite slow. I did rather want to tell Frances ("I do not like to be called Fanny" she tells us and then almost everyone does) to stop thinking and join a film society or something, but at the same time I could understand why she was so guarded, and I didn't want her to be humiliated.
Look At Me shares a theme familiar from many mid-twentieth-century books, the fear of lonely old age. Frances makes monthly duty visits to Miss Morpeth, a retired librarian, and these are difficult occasions. There is little dignity about poverty in the elderly and Frances is afraid that her own future looks bleak. Her memories of her most recent Christmas, alone in her over-large flat with her late mother's housekeeper, lend urgency to her need for company and affection, for disruption to her ordered days.
I don't find Brookner easy to talk about - her writing is elegant and stylish, her wit sparse but dry, yet you wonder if she chooses to write about the alienated because she doesn't like excessive emotion herself. That's something I can understand, even approve of, but it doesn't leave a lot to enthuse about. Indeed, it would be rather ridiculous to try... So her novels are an occasional, if muted, pleasure. It must be some twenty years since I read Hotel du Lac. That's about the right interval, I should think.
This was 1983 in the Century of Books.