The Mookse and the Gripes Podcast
Episode 1: Anita Brookner’s Start in Life

I’m thrilled to announced the relaunch of The Mookse and Gripes Podcast! The first episode is dedicated to the first four books (of fiction) — A Start in LifeProvidenceLook at Me, and Hotel du Lac — by Anita Brookner, the trailblazing art historian who, in her 50s, started writing beautiful, lonely fiction.

More shows are in the works, most dedicated to a particular time in an author’s career. It should be fun. I hope you’ll check it out!

You should be able to find the show on iTunes and Stitcher and, hopefully, the podcatcher of your choice (I use Overcast and can confirm it is there now). I know some people can see it but not yet hear it on iTunes (I think the rollout is a bit slow while the show finalizes approval). I also have it embedded in this post right here, so you can just click the bar below and give it a go!

Many thanks to those who helped make this possible! I want to particularly thank Peg Star, William Check, Paul Fulcher, Dan Friedman, Michele McCarthy, Aaron West, Alan Teder, Laura Brown, and Paul Wilson, who donated their hard-earned money to show support and to help make this podcast happen. If you’d like to donate as well, please visit my Patreon page.

Sources and other items of interest:

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By |2018-02-19T11:50:03-04:00February 19th, 2018|Categories: Anita Brookner, Podcast|3 Comments


  1. David April 23, 2018 at 8:29 am

    Trevor, I just finished reading A Start In Life and agree that it is a tremendously good book. When I got to the end, I circled back and re-read the first two chapters again, which served as a nice coda to the book. Ruth is described as a person who is caught between the 19th and 20th centuries. I found the writing style of the book suggested to me that kind of temporal position as well. Brookner’s power at creating mood and character is really something. I was surprised you did not see the humour in the book. Surely both George and Helen are rather ridiculous people that makes a lot of the things they do and say quite funny. But Mrs. Cutler is such a bizarre woman that she must be the funniest one of all. Of course, the book is not a comedy, but I did laugh out loud a number of times and in ways that seemed to me to not detract at all from some of the bleakness of the story.
    You mentioned in the podcast your unwillingness to consider criticism of the book, but let me offer two small ones about plot developments near the end of the book. There is a tendency, especially among older books, for authors to just decide that a character has become “ill” (without ever bothering to give them a real or credible illness) which results in their death. In such cases, it is usually done when the death of the character seems required by the plot, but it does not otherwise make sense that it would happen. We get this with Helen. Were she to have lived, Brookner would have had to deal more with the failing marriage and the burden Ruth would continue to have taking care of her mother as well as her father, so it was easier to just kill her off. But it does not happen in a way that seams natural. She was killed by plot requirements, not by any real illness.
    The second, and more odd, plot development at the end of the book is Ruth’s marriage. Up to the point that this happens, we don’t get any real sense that she and Roddy even really knew each other at all and we are told that he was quite happy to get the entire Weiss family out of his life by moving his aunt away from London. But then Brookner does not want the marriage to be a lasting burden for Ruth, so she kills Roddy off as well. That just all seems too odd. If Ruth must get married at all, surely Richard would be the more believable match for her.
    These criticisms do not diminish my appreciation for the book much. The seem to me the sorts of errors I am not surprised a first time author might make. They also happen late enough into the book that I am more willing to accept them. The marriage, in fact, could have been left out altogether without changing much at all, as it happens so late in the story. It is a remarkable book even with these niggling problems. I’d be interested to hear what you might have to say about either of these matters, whether they seem more plausible to you or not.

  2. Trevor Berrett April 23, 2018 at 1:38 pm

    Sorry, David, I stopped reading after it was clear you were going to offer two small criticisms. I simply will not have it!

    Well, just kidding, of course.

    To respond to your points a bit, I do think the book has humor, it’s just not the first descriptor I’d use for it. As you said, there are times to laugh out loud and it never detracts. I’d say it even adds. But I agree with the ridiculousness, told with wit and humor, of the parents, though that humor leads to something like true sorrow and pathos. I just feel so bad for them all!

    As for your criticisms, while I will admit I don’t really think the book is unassailable, I don’t necessarily agree with yours, at least the first. Helen’s death didn’t seem like a plot convenience to me. She’s represents early on the idea that “things will turn around” is not always true. Life lives itself out, and Ruth needs to know that. It’s worse since it doesn’t seem Ruth can do anything with this knowledge.

    I think you have a point with Roddy and Richard. This does feel more like an authorial thumb on the scale.

    I appreciate that you acknowledge this all does not really diminish the book much, and I agree fully and am willing to accept Roddy and Richard and Ruth in that strange mess. The book’s successes far outweigh anything that may be a gripe.

    Thanks for taking it on, David, and for letting me know your thoughts here.

    Are you going to be moving on with Brookner?

  3. David April 25, 2018 at 3:32 pm

    Trevor, I think we are very close to seeing the book the same way. It’s not that I think the death of Helen could not have been made more plausible. I just think Brookner didn’t do it. Even give her a congenital heart disease (and risk the seemingly too on-the-nose symbolism) and I would have been happier.
    As for reading other Brookner, I plan to do that and the length of some of her early books should make that not hard to fit in somewhere (I was able to read A Start In Life comfortably in less than four hours all combined), but there are many things on my “to read” list, so it might take a while to get back to her. Another author I read not too long ago and put on my list of people to read more of is Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky. In fact, it was almost exactly a year ago I read his Memories Of The Future and it is only now (well, more likely next month) I will be getting back to him. I hope to try something else by Brookner before 2018 is over, but it might not be right away. So many books; so little time.

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