Pages for Her by Sylvia Brownrigg: Flannery and Anne reprised

Cover image Back in 2001, I was very taken with a novel called Pages for You. It was a love story, telling of the intense almost visceral affair between seventeen-year-old Flannery and her teacher Anne, ten years her lover’s senior. Since then I’ve read and thoroughly enjoyed Sylvia Brownrigg’s The Delivery Room, a very different novel. When I spotted Pages for Her on Twitter I immediately wanted to read it despite a niggling sequel worry. It’s a brave author who revisits her characters sixteen years after they emerged into the world but in this case, it’s a risk that’s paid off.

Flannery is now thirty-eight and married to a bombastic, self-centred yet affable sculptor, renowned enough to have an installation at the Venice Biennale. She’s the mother of six-year-old Willa whose conception prompted her marriage to Charles. Much to Flannery’s amazement, she loves being a mother if a little resentful of the hands-off Charles and bored by the circle of mothers she finds herself in. She has a bestselling memoir under her belt, a lightly fictionalised account of her search for the father she never knew accompanied by her lover Adele, best known for its raunchy sex scenes. Her more literary second book sank leaving little trace and now she’s blocked. She’s surprised to be invited to a conference on women’s writing but as soon as she sees Anne’s name on the schedule, she’s determined to accept. Meanwhile Anne has taken a lecturing gig on a cruise, hoping to lose herself in something different and turn her mind away from the rawness of her lover’s departure. A brilliant graduate student when Flannery knew her, she’s now a highly respected academic with a seminal work to her name and resolutely childless. When she’s asked to suggest a younger writer to invite to the conference, Anne thinks of Flannery. What will happen when these two women meet after so many years?

Brownrigg structures her novel into three parts. The first from Flannery’s perspective, full of domestic difficulties, love for her daughter and fantasies about Anne’s life. The second from Anne’s point of view, reflective on her long relationship with Jasper, her experiences on the cruise and her short stay with her sister in Venice with just a few thoughts about Flannery. The third section brings these two together for a reunion that one has longed for and the other has idly considered. It’s a very effective structure, neatly contrasting the two women’s lives, showing their affair from both sides and building a little suspense as we wonder how these once besotted lovers will find each other. Flannery’s character is particularly well drawn as she struggles with her egotistical husband while idealising the relationship she believes Anne shares with Jasper. It’s a pleasingly literary book, from the naming of Flannery and her daughter to the allusions scattered throughout, particularly in its final section. Brownrigg leaves the novel’s ending nicely open, possibly even enough to allow for a third instalment. That would probably be a step too far, although I’d be tempted to find out how Flannery and Anne get on in later life.

20 thoughts on “Pages for Her by Sylvia Brownrigg: Flannery and Anne reprised”

  1. I haven’t read the first book, but in some ways this one resonates with me even more. The nostalgia we bear for those youthful love affairs, when we may have been no more than an episodic, forgettable twist in someone else’s life…

    1. Exactly! The first novel was almost exhaustingly intense. This one’s much more measured. The contrast between Flannery and Anne’s lives and the place each now holds in the other’s life is smartly drawn.

  2. How unusual that the author returned to these characters so many years later. I always wonder why that happens, if there’s been pressure from readers or if the characters just cast such a spell that the author hasn’t been able to forget them.

  3. Mrs and Mr Bridge come to mind – although they’re different PoV of the same period, not separated in time.

    I was looking at this one just yesterday (the cover design called out to me) – but felt I should probably read the first first?

    1. I recently finished Mr Bridge after reading Mrs B years ago. I enjoyed both but preferred her version. What did you think?

      I don’t think you need to read Pages for You first, although I’d recommend it as a novel.

  4. How interesting to return to a set of characters many years later, and the way she has structured the book with the different perspectives of the characters sounds very interesting indeed. Lovely review.

    1. They’re both very different although I suppose you might expect that after such a long interval between the two. I remember the first one as extraordinarily intense while this one feels more reflective.

  5. This is the second review of this book I find on WordPress, and it makes me want to read the book 🙂 This book about lovers makes me think of Julian Barnes, who returned to his characters from Talking It Over (1991) in Love, etc. (2000). I loved it 🙂

    1. Oh yes, I’d forgotten about Talking it Over. I’m still intrigued as to why Brownrigg went back to Anne and Flannery after such a long break. I hope you enjoy if you do read it.

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