At the Hairdresser’s: Anita Brookner

“Deranged personalities should be avoided, in art as well as in life.”

Last year, I went on an Anita Brookner binge, but I managed to pull myself up before I read everything she’d ever written. I wanted to save some books for later. And that brings me to Brookner’s short story: At the Hairdresser’s.

The story is told by a very typical Brookner character: the widowed Elizabeth Warner, who lives in a London flat, and who is enduring old age alone. There are trips to the hairdresser and trips shopping. It’s a safe, quiet life, but all that changes when she’s introduced to a young man who runs his own taxi service.

It took me a few pages to warm up to this character–she’s clinical, yet elegant when describing her life which has been weighed, sorted and found to be … well by us, at least, fairly sterile.

I am not lonely except in company. I accept the odd invitation but it does not go well with me. I am easily overwhelmed by insistent conversation and usually leave with a sigh of relief. At such times the night seems beautiful to me and I wish that I had the strength to walk as I used to, through the empty streets, appreciating those lighted windows which hold such promise. 

At the beginning of the story, Elizabeth discusses friends in her past–women she no longer has contact with, and now the big event in her life is the bi-weekly trip to the hairdresser. One day when it’s raining, the hairdresser arranges a “car service” run by a young man named Chris. Chris is attentive to Elizabeth, but there are warning signs. Soon Chris is driving Elizabeth around regularly. Does she see the warning signs? Does she choose to ignore them?

This is a rewarding, ultimately optimistic,  short story for Brookner fans. This is not the first time Brookner addressed the theme that bad relationships or experiences can be freeing. I’m thinking of A Private View: the story of a retired man who becomes involved with the nomadic, Katy, who would like to use George…. well for all sorts of things.

In At the Hairdresser’s, Brookner argues that it’s never too late to learn, not too late to change, and that even unpleasant experiences can have some sort of pay off.

TBR stack.

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6 Comments

Filed under Brookner Anita, Fiction

6 responses to “At the Hairdresser’s: Anita Brookner

  1. The Brookner addiction is a good one, I like the sound of this. Is it in a book of short stories?

  2. PS And may I recommend a fabulous hairdresser story by A S Byatt. From her short story collection called Matisse Stories. The story is entitled Medusa’s Ankles. Here is an excerpt to whet your appetite.

    She had asked cautiously for a cut and blow-dry. He had done her himself, the owner, Lucian of ‘Lucian’s’, slender and soft-moving, resembling a balletic Hamlet with full white sleeves and tight black trousers. The first few times she came it was the trousers she remembered, better than his face, which she saw only in the mirror behind her own, and which she felt a middle-aged disinclination to study. A woman’s relation with her hairdresser is anatomically odd. Her face meets his belt, his haunches skim her breathing, his face is far away, high and behind. His face had a closed and monkish look, rather fine, she thought, under soft, straight, dark hair, bright with health, not with added fats, or so it seemed.

  3. It sounds very optimistic for Brookner. On the other hand . . . a life in which a trip to the hairdresser is an event.

  4. I like the sound of this – particularly that it’s hopeful and that there’s the idea that it’s never too late to learn. I haven’t read a Brookner short story. I must suss one out sometime. Might be a good way to refresh myself when I can’t find time to read a whole bool.

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