Leaving Home

by Anita Brookner

Twenty-six year old Emma Roberts loves her mother very much, but
Emma fears she is on the way to becoming just like her ---
cerebral, reclusive, alone. In graceful, almost fussily precise
prose, Emma relates the story of her decision to leave her home in
London for Paris, hoping that this carefree city might loosen the
binds of her very British reserve.

There she meets Francoise Desnoyers, "...a striking woman, with
bold Gallic features, not beautiful, but more than that, electric
with an energy that made her presence in the library dangerously
welcome." They become friends in the way that totally opposite
characters often do, and Emma humbly accepts her role as a lesser
light and confidant, while constantly comparing her own cautious
nature to her friend's mercurial, entitled personality.

Francoise invites Emma for a weekend at L'Ermitage, her widowed
mother's grand country house, where Emma spends her time avoiding
the quarreling mother and daughter and wondering whether or not she
envies her friend. She meets some of the members of their social
circle, one of whom is the man her mother expects Francoise to
marry. Emma earns the approval of Francoise's mother, an important
fact for Emma, who seems very preoccupied with not giving offense
to anyone for any reason. She knows she's attracted to Francoise
because Francoise does whatever the heck she wants --- for a while,

While Emma is in France, her mother dies suddenly. She returns to
London to deal with her uncle, whom she detests, and her
inheritance. Impulsively she buys a London flat of her own, waiting
for something or someone to shape her life. When she's in London,
she misses Paris; when she's in Paris, she feels she really belongs
in London. She goes back and forth between the two cities at least
five times in the course of the novel, and wonders if Francoise is
taking advantage of her. She dreams of "pure bliss" yet settles for
boring relationships with undemanding male friends as reserved and
complacent as she is: Michael in Paris and Phillip in London.

Francoise rebels but ultimately bends to her mother's will, and
Emma resigns herself to her own quiet fate. "But then I know that
both she (Francoise) and I have passed the age, and the stage of
life, that permits such fantasies, and realize, perhaps a little
bleakly, that both of us have done quite well, and that it would be
pure folly to go in search of more."

This is largely a novel of astute and detailed self-observation,
which an uncharitable person might call navel-gazing. The writing
is fine, but the reader longs for even some impure folly to liven
it up. You know you're desperate for action when the high point of
a dinner party is M. de Robillard's petit pain shooting off
his plate and landing in Emma's lap. In the end, Emma's meek
fatalism and indifference became for me a transcontinental


Reviewed by Eileen Zimmerman Nicol on December 30, 2010

Leaving Home
by Anita Brookner

  • Publication Date: January 3, 2006
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Random House
  • ISBN-10: 1400064147
  • ISBN-13: 9781400064144