With Falling Slowly, Anita Brookner, the highly praised winner of the 1984 Booker Prize for her novel Hotel du Lac, has written another perfectly crafted, precise novel, revealing the dramas and desires that seethe inside seemingly quiet, proper lives. In this, her 18th book, Brookner's writing is as perceptive and polished as ever as she analyzes and gives significance to the inner lives of ordinary people. The book revolves around Beatrice and Miriam Sharpe, two British sisters who have reached middle age, and the heartbreaking realization that true love might never happen to them. Beatrice, who entered a room with a helpless suppliant air, as if looking for a pair of broad shoulders, of strong arms to which she might entrust her evident womanliness, has spent her life searching for the perfect man like those found between the covers of her favorite romance novels. Miriam, her stoic and sensible sister, had married not out of love but out of impatience and is now divorced. The sisters live quiet, sophisticated lives in London. Beatrice is a pianist and Miriam has a satisfactory but routine career as a translator of French texts. Though they talk often about their young, sociable days, the sisters have become lonely but determined companions, settled uneasily into anonymous middle-aged lives. Everything changes, however, when Miriam comes home one day to hear a strange man's voice in the drawing-room. It belongs to Simon, a golden stranger, a man for whom the word handsome seemed too tepid, too indefinite. He has come to tell Beatrice that her career as a pianist is over. The news hurdles Beatrice into a long decline as she finally gives in to the disappointment that life has let her down. Miriam, on the other hand, steps out of character and into a devastatingly cavalier affair with the married Simon. A rift begins to emerge between the sisters as new men further complicate their lives. Ultimately, Falling Slowly is a dark, melancholic story of loneliness, desire, love, and loss. Yet Brookner teaches us that there are many kinds of love that can sneak up on us at any age. Even love that stems from loss has the power to transform us. Patty Housman is the book publishing managing editor at The Nature Conservancy.

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