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In Falling Slowly, Anita Brookner brilliantly evokes the origins, nature, and consequences of human isolation. As middle age settles upon the Sharpe sisters, regret over chances not taken casts a shadow over their contented existence. Beatrice, a talented if uninspired pianist, gives up performing, a decision motivated by stiffening joints and the sudden realization that her art has never brought her someone to love. Miriam, usually calm and lucid, slides headlong into an affair with a charming, handsome--and very married--man. And as each woman awakens to the urgency of her loneliness, illness threatens to sever them both from the one happiness they have grown to count on: each other. Painfully wise, the Sharpe sisters embody the conflicting yearnings Jane Austen delineated in Sense and Sensibility.
Beatrice seemed determined to let time pass without incident, whereas Miriam knew that this danger above all was to be avoided. What she loved about Simon was his pleasure, his natural effervescence. After a life of minimal satisfactions she discovered, marvelling, that it was possible to be confident, expectant, at ease. Or rather that it was possible for Simon to be all of these things. If one is unaware of fatality it is possible to delight in happy accidents. That was her status, and it
And no need to look for a place to live, or to discuss money, of which, presumably, they both had enough. Since his travelling days were over he would fill his time agreeably in this city which had long been his home, would take reminiscent walks, while Beatrice occupied her days with the hairdresser or the dressmaker, might start to invite a few friends again, since he knew that she would always be an excellent hostess. And when the time came (but not yet!) she would undoubtedly nurse him with
his mother and sister, by clucking aunts, even by a remote grandmother. Few spoiled him nowadays. Only Beatrice was gentle enough to play her part. ‘Why exactly are you here, Max? Couldn’t you have telephoned?’ ‘I don’t sleep very well,’ he confessed. This at least was the truth. ‘I wasn’t in a hurry to get home. And you are so near …’ He thought she might have offered him a cup of coffee, made more of an effort. He was affronted by her cross expression. So great was her annoyance that he
one to express the slightest shadow of disapprobation. 14 When the girls were young, when the house was becalmed, and no visits could be expected, they walked, on Sunday afternoons, round the silent streets of their suburb and sometimes as far as the scrubby woodland that surrounded it. Though berating the silence, the inactivity, they experienced a certain peace as their steps took them past the houses of neighbours who on any other day they would greet politely. They were on the lookout for
these kindly strangers, whose names, she was sure, would be offered in due course. What would she say to them? What did one say? ‘Thank you for coming,’ would be in order. But that was the formula usually offered to the departing guest, and she surmised that their departure would be delayed for some time. ‘Will there be a memorial service?’ asked a woman in a smart black hat. ‘Oh, no, nothing like that. Beatrice was a very private person.’ She wondered if this was true. What was certain, and