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The Rules of Engagement


The Rules of Engagement

THE RULES OF ENGAGEMENT is a literary novel about the evolution of
a friendship between two schoolgirls. Told in the first person by
Elizabeth Digby, the story develops throughout their childhood days
into young adulthood, marriage and beyond. Although physical
descriptions are given, I did not get a clear handle on Elizabeth,
the storyteller.

Rather, the novel is an examination of the lifestyle changes for
both women as they mature. Elizabeth was fortunate, economically,
because she did the expected thing required of genteel English
girls in the 1960s. She got married, did not work outside the home
and catered to her "older" husband. In short, she led a relatively
tedious life, with one exception. She had a long-standing affair
with a family friend, Edmund Fairlie, a married man. The flaw in
Elizabeth's character is that she has no regrets. She appears above
self-reproach, simply given to self-analysis.

Her friend Betsy Newton, on the other hand, has lived in Paris with
the thinkers of the '60s and has become attached to a radical bon
vivant Socialist named Daniel. To Elizabeth, Betsy's stories of her
life in Paris are as distant from her own predictable existence as
she can dare to imagine. Yet she feels emotionally protective
towards Betsy. Whereas she lived with two parents, albeit unhappily
married, her spinster aunt rears Betsy. Life experiences keep the
two friends apart until Betsy returns home to London to settle her
aunt's estate. Elizabeth has buried her husband, dead of a heart

The author has a penchant for large words that necessitate one's
keeping a dictionary at hand. Thus, I categorize the writing as
literary rather than a mainstream novel. It is a story about two
lives that drift apart and together, then apart again, to be
connected in one friend's final days. Action is minimal; verbiage
is lengthy. RULES OF ENGAGEMENT is a thesis on friendship. Brookner
has a firm command of the words used to express Elizabeth's
self-psychoanalysis and is a good character analysis.

Elizabeth's acceptance of her mundane existence makes the reader
want to change her outcome. RULES OF ENGAGEMENT is short on plot
and long on character flaws. My favorite reads would not include
this novel, but I suggest it for those who enjoy reading a
character-driven story.

Reviewed by Judy Gigstad on January 23, 2011

The Rules of Engagement
by Anita Brookner

  • Publication Date: December 30, 2003
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Random House
  • ISBN-10: 1400061652
  • ISBN-13: 9781400061655