As I slogged my way through A Misalliance, I became increasingly aware of a déja vu sensation. Not only, I realized, had I read A Misalliance before — but it was this very book, read some 25 years ago, that persuaded me to stop reading Anita Brookner. The problem with Brookner, I realized, turning page after dull page, is that she appears to have one thing to say. She said it well in Hotel du Lac, andeverything else of hers that I have read (except for her monograph on the 18th century French painter J. B. Greuze) treads around the same well-worn track. To wit: there are two kinds of women, the ones who get the men and the ones who, through no fault of their own, don’t. Men are often dazzled by vitality and youth, overlooking the quieter virtues. And society has no comfortable place for the single woman of a certain age.
A Misalliance concerns itself with Blanche Vernon whose husband Bertie has left her for a computer expert named Mousie. Blanche “perceived the difference between herself and Mousie as a very simple one: Mousie was used to being loved. Metaphorically, Mousie had been holding out her arms, in the certainty of meeting a welcoming embrace, since she was a little girl…. By holding out her baby arms Mousie had emitted the correct signals: people knew what their response should be.” Blanche, it need hardly be said, can’t compete. The misalliance of the title is her chance and rather hectic involvement with a slatternly stranger. The strong points of the book are Brookner’s wonderful descriptions of clothes, and the best fictional migraine ever. Not, perhaps, enough to fill 190 pages.