Christmas in Modernity: Anita Brookner

by Christian Parreno

I find, however, that this particular dilemma, which I will call Public Holiday Syndrome and which I would rank next to Two-Star Hotel Bedroom Syndrome as an affliction to which I am particularly prone, is not to be talked about, even as a joke. It is generally felt that complaints about loneliness are unseemly and should be turned over to professional Samaritans. My own friendships have always been strong, but they no longer satisfy me. I do not seek out friends so that they will offer consolation: I have a horror of that. I am an extremely good listener, and thus pretty well in demand, although recently I suppose I have been lazy. I have been aware of a boredom, a restlessness, that no ordinary friendship can satisfy: only an extraordinary one. I have grown tired of my lot, I suppose, and have wanted strenuously to change it. So I write, and I take a lot of long walks, and I ferment my ideas, and if I am lucky they come out as vivid as I should like real life to be.

[…]

I walked home, trying to spin out the afternoon. Christmas was in three days time, on the Thursday, but most people seemed to have stopped work already. I always hated this cessation of work and the empty streets and the desolation of Christmas. I hated the madness of the people in the supermarkets, buying half a dozen loaves of bread, and the aftermath of office parties, with girls hanging on to each other on the pavements, giggling, and hitching up the straps of their evening sandals. I hated men roaring outside pubs; I hated cars driving away with crates from off-licences; I hated the shop windows, especially in the Edgware Road, where extreme cynicism expressed itself in placing a sprig of mistletoe in the corsage of the same wax nurse, wearing the same white nylon overall and cap that she had worn for the last six months, or where identical tired garlands of coloured bulbs winked on and off in the window of the Asian take-away and the television rental company. Above all, I hated the launderette. On Christmas Day, Nancy served a full Christmas dinner, which we ate together in the dining room. When we had watched the Queen, it was time for her to go to her room and rest until much later in the afternoon, when she would join me for tea and Christmas cake. While she was resting I would go out for some much needed air, for on that particular day of the year I found my surroundings oppressive, and it was on one of those walks, when it was so quiet that I could hear the sound of my own heels ringing out on the pavement, that I passed the launderette, and saw inside the steamy window three men and one woman, quite well-dressed, reduce to spending their day like this, and finding what company the desperation of others afforded them. I never wanted to see that again.

Brookner, Anita (1982) Look at Me. London – UK: TriadGraffon. First published in 1981. 70, 152-53

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