This very great writer commits a novel that deals exclusively with old age, loneliness, purposelessness and decline… what a subject ! Now, can anyone imagine anything more depressing or frightening since decline lies at all human lives' end and since this fate is inescapable . Yet very few writers deal with old age except Phillip Roth who is a case on his own with the sole biography of the famed Zuchermann , his declining hero , who by now seems all but immortal.Old Zuchermann still enjoys sexual follies in his far away Vermont, not wondering too keenly whether this is a sign of sure decline , showing an unconquerable zest for life..
Very few old persons are so unbroken .Brookner has always been a very serious writer who is mainly interested in the moral quality of life and the human capacity to endure: for her, living is an ordeal and a ceaseless struggle where very few are able to survive. She states that truth quite often and it is sobering to find a writer so totally devoid of stupid optimism. No, life is mostly unbearable and lucid individuals see this clearly , God is obviously absent , and often loved one also.Paul Sturgis, a retired banker, alone with no family or kids, the symbol of modern loneliness , sees quite clearly the predicament of old age but nevertheless tries to find some solace in the company of others. But what others ? None others than the strangers in the streets ,who are the title of this book, who live and are engulfed in ordinary actions, whom he sees every day . Paul likes them enormously.His friends or lovers have long disappeared and if he contacts them again, they are now as indifferent as he is himself, self centered on their own survival. It is a gripping realization ,Paul lives unseen, unknown, absent and unmissed by anyone , and all he must do is to resign himself to this fate.Many in western cities are like him: old and unseen.
He does that with every courage he can muster, being by nature weak and cowardly, and one must admire Brookner's determination to depict this sad and noble voyage toward the unthinkable : I will be a very old feeble person,may be" gaga", and perhaps handicapped and thus totally dependent on others, before dying. Here let me insert a tiny confession: I am a reader , amongst many others, who does not like to think of such dreadful issues but Brookner reminds us that we must. We will decline . A forceful and immensely courageous book on naked human fate, with no idealism of any sort , no particular wit or colorful style, but a Pascalian virtue of charity : one must see man as a fallen creature , who knows he is fallen.