Published Nov 1990
Fay Langdon first encounters the impossible, theatrical Julia under the harsh colours of her own Gertrude Street dining-room. They might have met far earlier, since Fay had had success as a singer, and Julia was at one time a famous diseuse, her glamour and repartee a legend. But when Julia sweeps in, wearing ravishing black silk, their celebrity is already past, and it is only through their husbands, the exceptionally graceful Owen Langdon, and vague, bulky Charlie Morton, that they are finally brought together.
From the outset theirs is a precarious friendship. In her chilly drawing-room, whisky to hand, Julia would insult her reduced audience in the quest of entertainment. They are bound by a mutual distrust, and Fay, in her haplessness, is never wholly at ease, yet she finds herself increasingly drawn into Julia’s circle of acolytes. Beneath Julia’s polished appearance, her ironic inner heart corresponds to something in Fay’s own, and for all Julia’s hauteur and Fay’s diffidence, they both remain fatally out of step with their times, allied by the dread disappointments and betrayals that age inevitably confers – until Fay is called upon to dispense her obligations in one last heroic effort.
With her unique perception, Anita Brookner reveals the lives of two women governed by alliances forged long ago. Despite their opposition, Fay and Julia are caught up in a delicate dependence on one another. Brief Lives is a moving story of love, friendship and romantic disenchantment. Unmatched in its subtle elegance and deep feeling, it is Brookner at her most accomplished.