The Rules of Engagement by Anita Brookner

First published: 2003 Penguin Random House Penguin Genre: Literary Fiction

This is the story of two childhood friends from the 1950s, Elizabeth and Betsy. Now adults, Elizabeth narrates the progress of their relationship as they resume their friendship. Elizabeth, married to an older man, places great importance on respectability and correctness. Betsy, brought up by an elderly aunt, has a need for affection and belonging.

“That was the singular gift of passion: it eradicated fear”

Although the author uses “surgical precision” (Kirkus) to chronicle the lives of the two friends, all of Elizabeth’s thoughts and actions are described in detail, which becomes monotonous. This is compounded by the fact that there is a very meagre plot so there is little action. For the most part, I enjoyed the author’s use of emotive language.


“My one thought, and an imperative one, was that I must go away, away from the tedium of the English weather, away from the more menacing tedium of female soul-searching. I would go back to Venice, where the light was stronger. I would even go back to Paris, which haunted me, as a lost opportunity often does”.

“‘I have come to believe that there can be no adequate preparation for the sadness that comes at the end, the sheer regret that one’s life is finished, that one’s failures remain indelible and one’s successes illusory.'”

Author: Anita Brookner

Main image credit: Wikimedia

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