Obituary

Booker Prize winner wrote about lonely people Notable books

Author Anita Brookner (above) was an academic and began writing fiction at age 53.
Author Anita Brookner (above) was an academic and began writing fiction at age 53.PHOTO: RANDOM HOUSE

British author Anita Brookner said being childless was the reason she continued to write

LONDON • Anita Brookner, the Booker Prize-winning British author and renowned art historian, has died at the age of 87, according to British reports.

The news was revealed in a notice placed in The Times newspaper, which said she "died peacefully in her sleep on Thursday", the BBC said.

Among the first to pay tribute was fellow author Jilly Cooper, 79, who told The Times that Brookner was a "wonderful writer who had this wonderful lucid prose... she was an icon (of) my age".

She recalled that Brookner was a "serious, serious writer who was very spare in her prose".

London-born Brookner won the Booker Prize in 1984 for the novel Hotel Du Lac, which was later adapted for television in 1986.

  • Notable books

  • HOTEL DU LAC (1984)

    This Booker Prize-winning work tells the story of Edith Hope, a novelist who is ostracised by her friends after calling off an engagement and goes to stay in a hotel on the shores of Lake Geneva.

    There, she encounters a series of eccentric guests and gets sucked into people-watching. She is later propositioned by a suitor who arrives at the hotel.

    THE RULES OF ENGAGEMENT (2003)

    Two childhood friends, Elizabeth and Betsy, find their lives intertwined when they meet again as adults. Elizabeth, trapped in a stale marriage, seeks refuge in an affair. But things take a tragic turn when Betsy finds herself romantically involved with Elizabeth's lover.

    STRANGERS (2009)

    Retired banker Paul Sturgis, 72, is an elderly man who leads a solitary, austere existence. On his travels abroad, he first meets a divorced younger woman with whom there is the possibility of love, followed by a former lover. The book dwells on the loneliness, regrets and hopes of its protagonist.

    •Hotel Du Lac ($21.19), The Rules Of Engagement ($26.64) and Strangers ($25.05) are available from Books Kinokuniya.

She won Britain's highest literary honour, just three years after she began writing fiction at age 53, when she published her first novel, A Start In Life (1981).

Until then, she was an academic. She was the first woman to hold the Slade chair of fine art at Cambridge University between 1967 and 1968, and taught at the Courtauld Institute of Art, said The Guardian.

She went on to publish a novel almost every year for decades, writing more than 20, including Look At Me (1983), Latecomers (1988), A Private View (1994), The Rules Of Engagement (2003) and The Next Big Thing (2002).

Her last full-length book, Strangers, was published in 2009, and a novella, At The Hairdressers, came out as an e-book in 2011.

Made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1990, she wrote about lonely people, often women.

A Start In Life, about an unfulfilled middle-aged academic, begins with the line, "Dr Weiss, at forty, knew her life had been ruined by literature".

Hotel Du Lac, her fourth novel and about meek romance novelist Edith Hope coming to terms with loveless solitude at a Swiss hotel, was an unexpected Booker winner as J.G. Ballard's Empire Of The Sun had been the favourite to win. Judges called her novel "a work of perfect artifice".

She never married or had children but, in a rare interview in 2009 with The Telegraph, she said that being childless was the reason she continued to be a writer.

Asked if she was happy, she said: "No. Contented. But unfulfilled. No children."

She added: "I'm very good on my own. And I manage, I think, pretty well. But it takes courage."

She was known to be an intensely private person and for her fleeting appearances at parties. The notice of her death said Dr Brookner, of Chelsea, had requested not to have a funeral, the BBC reported.

"I feel I could get into The Guinness Book of Records as the world's loneliest, most miserable woman," she said the year she won the Booker.

She was born, an only child, into a family of Polish-Jewish immigrants and raised in a large Victorian villa in south London filled with servants, all refugees from Germany.

Her maternal grandfather founded a tobacco factory. Her mother was a professional singer before marriage and her father was described in The Guardian as a "gently failing businessman". They changed their name from the German-sounding Bruckner.

She often drew on her background, creating Jewish and European characters in her novels.

She went to King's College London and studied art history at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London.

Her publisher Juliet Annan on Monday said Brookner "had the most extraordinary effect on people because she had such a highly developed sense of what was morally right", as reported in The Guardian.

"If you were with her, you felt that you had to behave a whole lot better, but she was also very, very funny and very self-deprecating."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 16, 2016, with the headline 'Booker Prize winner wrote about lonely people Notable books'. Print Edition | Subscribe