A Friend From England, by Anita Brookner: A Précis

A substitution easily becomes an obsession. Perhaps the unacknowledged realization, somewhere inside, that it is not real, not one’s own, propels the urge to excess.

Certainly Rachel Kennedy, without family or friends of her own, becomes family-friend retainer to the Livingstones — remembering their little preferences in cakes and weather, supplying an audience to their myopic family tales, giving succor, sustenance, advice, protection to their daughter when it is perceived to be needed, though, in fact, it is not.

Rachel is in danger of becoming scenery.

Meanwhile, life as the Livingstones choose to live it, goes on despite any input from Rachel. She makes no impact, no difference. Oh, they like her, dear Rachel, the family friend. And she likes, loves, cares for, worries over, them — until one day in Venice, when it becomes clear that Rachel is first with no one.

There is no face across from her at her own table, no body in her bed — no one, in fact to perform those services for — and engender those feelings in — her.

Not even herself.

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