In Strangers, Paul Sturgis is a retired bank manager who lives alone. In fact, he's alone a lot. The only other person left from his family is a cousin by marriage with whom he doesn't get along, but still manages to visit every Sunday. His only other interactions are with strangers; his hairdresser, the people he sees in coffee shops, the people he meets on trips. He's lonely and desperately wants more, but it just isn't happening. That is until he meets Vicky Gardner, many years his junior, in Venice. She mainly interested in herself and very demanding, but at least she's some company for Paul. Sometime later, he runs into an old girlfriend, Sarah, and they try to find some common ground again. He knows he's near the end of his life and ponders how he's going to spend those days.
This is a terrific book. Brookner examines the loneliness and uncertainties of old age with wonderful, beautifully written prose that accentuates just how alone Paul is. Reading it was a little emotionally draining, though. At times the book is very depressing. I kept thinking about growing old, being alone and coping with it all. In contrast, a few of the events are exasperating bordering on comical.
While I really liked Paul, not all of the characters were likeable. Vicky was maddening. She was only interested in herself and what she could get from others. I could see why Paul put up with her though. Someone is better than no one, I guess. I couldn't quite get a handle on Sarah, Paul's former girlfriend. I'm not sure why, possibly because I didn't really like her either. I also couldn't understand some of Paul's reactions towards her. Even with the company that Paul finds, it struck me that he was still with strangers. Vicky did almost nothing to find out about Paul and Sarah had changed so much she, too, was now a stranger.
I'll admit that while I enjoyed reading this book, my attention wondered more than once. There's not a lot of action in the story. Mostly, the novel takes place inside Paul's mind while he remembers past events and tries to figure out where to go from here. I still enjoyed it enough to think about reading it again.
Recommended. I'd love to read another novel by Brookner. Her writing is superb.
For more information about this book, please visit the Penguin Canada website.