Sunday 31 March 2024

Don't call me Fanny

Look at Me

I have no idea how Anita Brookner's 1983 book Look At Me came into my possession. It's an old paperback copy with yellowed pages and the back cover missing. I'd been told that the author's output was melancholy, which suits me fine, so when I spotted it on the shelf I thought I'd give it a go. And I'm glad I did.

The story's narrated by Frances Hinton a medical librarian and aspiring writer who yearns to be noticed. She fears that she will "grow into the most awful old battle-axe" and says she writes in order to become visible, to be heard, "to make people laugh". In other words, she says she wants people to "look at me".

Frances has a bit of a crush on Nick, one of the medical researchers, who takes advantage of her desire to please. He calls her "Darling Fanny" and introduces her to his wife Alix, who gives her the nickname "Little Orphan Fanny". If you were paying attention, on the first page of the book Frances tells us, "I do not like to be called Fanny", and you might wonder what the future holds for the librarian as she strives to become part of the high-spirited couple's circle.

Should we take Frances at her word? How reliable is she? When things start to go wrong she considers what she must do to maintain her friendship with Alix and Nick: "Of course, my status would be changed. I would be humbler, more subordinate. That was the price to be paid. And I would pay it. But if, at the same time, I were to make notes for a satirical novel...? If they were to meet their fate at my hands, and all unknowing, would this not be a very logical development?" Very meta.

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