Pages for You by Sylvia Brownrigg (Picador, 2002)
Note: This is the first book of two, both of which I’ve read. The sequel is Pages for Her, but these are stand-alone novels although I highly recommend reading both. Rare to my experience, I found that the two acutely observed characters, Flannery and Anne, who fall in love at Yale, feel very comfortable with some of my experience. Other readers may not identify with Anne and Flannery to the extent that I did, but they will be entranced by their powerful physical and emotional attraction. Some may find the insertion of bisexuality upsetting; others may find the complexity welcome and a fresh relief from the usual either/or orientation choices. I, for one, felt known and understood by the author, and, curiously, as a writer myself, I was frequently aware of an incredible sensation: that these characters might be ones I could create or, in part, already had.
Pages for You is told from Flannery’s perspective. She is a college freshman, seventeen, impulsive, and falls hard for Anne, who is twenty-eight, a TA in the same English department. The overpowering intensity of first love is perfectly captured, as is Anne’s reaction—Anne is the older, wiser, more experienced woman, yet she is unable to resist Flannery. The contrast between these two is brilliantly handled and reflects their differences, yet Brownrigg makes us feel the heat, passion, and understanding as these differences dissolve in the face of their affair. The writing has fine pacing, created by the use of short chapters, yet the author builds her story with care, into an evocative commemoration of a relationship of beauty, subtlety, and originality. Brownrigg is a fine stylist and an insightful writer who perceives the psychological complexity of her characters. Highly recommended (both titles).
Pages for Her by Sylvia Brownrigg (Counterpoint, 2018)
Unlike the first book, which is told solely from Flannery’s perspective, Pages for Her is told from Flannery’s point of view as well as Anne’s. As a result, Brownrigg achieves even better balance and complexity as she weaves together the lives of the two women, and we learn about the paths taken in the years they are apart, after their brief incandescent affair at Yale, when Flannery was a freshman and Anne was a TA in the English department. The story begins again, two decades later. Flannery is married to a famous sculptor, a selfish, boorish man, who—if the novel has a single flaw—is so annoying as to make the reader incredulous that she would be attracted to him. Flannery now has a young daughter, Willa, and Flannery’s maternal feelings are brilliantly depicted. However, it is the character of Anne, eleven years older than Flannery, who drew me in and made me feel a strong resonance with her personality. Anne has reached a wistful age and has been hurt because her partner, Jasper, the love of Anne’s interim years, has left her. (In a nice piece of irony, Anne opted for Jasper over Flannery many years before.) Now, at forty-eight, Anne is at sea—literally, in one of the opening scenes—and she is also searching and assessing her life. When a women’s conference is held at Yale, both women return and the story reignites where the first book ended. The lives and the love story are beautifully rendered; the characters written with strong and yet different personalities. Both follow roads away from their lesbian affair and select a heterosexual primary relationship, and yet the magnetic pull between the two women is the thread that unites them. The fluid sexuality is adroitly handled and explores the range in a way few contemporary novels manage with such believable success. Let’s hope Sylvia Brownrigg has a third book in the making, because the reader will want to continue this evocative saga.
The Delivery Room by Sylvia Brownrigg (Counterpoint, 2008)
The Delivery Room was published in between Brownrigg’s two linked novels, Pages for Her and Pages for You, and is a considerably different creation. This is a “big” novel, with multiple characters whose lives interweave, and a changing point of view, which allows for different perspectives and amplifications of the characters’ histories, thoughts, and feelings. If there is a central protagonist, it would be Mira, a therapist who was born and raised in Serbia. Her English husband, Peter, is dying, so this is also his story and the story of his family and relationships. The war in Serbia is also incorporated, though I would have preferred less detail about its history and the ongoing news there, which is frequently updated throughout, because this shifts the emphasis away from the primary location and characters. In creating Mira, Brownrigg has done a brilliant job synthesizing the numerous pulls and pushes she deals with: her husband’s encroaching illness, the needs of her therapeutic clients, her grave concern about her Serbian family, and her feeling of uneasiness about being a Serbian woman in England. Her character is rich with complexity—true also of Peter and many others. “The Delivery Room” is a very readable novel, with a fascinating cast—the reader will surely find a character who resonates or an experience that hits home.