Picks and Pans Review: Undue Influence
There are Cosmo girls, and then there are Brookner girls. Unlike the former, the prizewinning Briton's heroines prefer to watch. There is something curiously middle-aged—or of another age altogether—about these young women who dissect their world like latter-day Jane Austens, exquisitely sensitive to every moral and social nuance.
Take Claire Pitt, narrator of Undue Influence. The pretty Londoner has always felt smugly superior to her timid widowed mother. But when Mum dies, leaving Claire their home and a modest inheritance, what does she do? Instead of spreading her wings, the young bookstore clerk clings to her own rigid routine, permitting herself a single indulgence: flirting with a handsome but married customer, Martin Gibson. Very little else transpires—that is, outside of Claire's head, where obsessive thoughts of Martin circle endlessly. Although the book offers the redeeming pleasures of Brookner's spot-on social observation, expressed as usual in enviably pointed prose, this time around the result feels skimpy, like trying to make a meal of tea sandwiches. (Random House, $24)
Bottom Line: Stylish novel of manners, light on substance