A Friend From England by Anita Brookner read by Cherie Lunghi

Rest, it seems, is a peculiarly English thing. Restfulness in all its timorous, melancholic glory cushions the indoor lives of Oscar and Dorrie Livingstone, in a peculiarly English way. Not as the accidental sidebar of an otherwise busied existence but as an aspiration, a calling, a rigorous end in itself.  Oscar is

…a bulky soft-voiced man with beautifully cared for hands. Something about him broadcasting the resignation of a schoolboy who has to submit to an inspection before he is allowed to leave the house.

All in all they are a placid wistful couple, resigned and melancholy by themselves and for each other. Well fed, well napped, well sheltered they form a restful destination for the nervous, ambitious, insecure and disinclined Rachel Kennedy who would have liked to see herself in this pink shell of kinship and central heating. Miss Kennedy takes up a remote and impassive alliance with Heather, the passive offspring of this mildly inert, mildly well off couple who accommodates her parents imagination by pretending to manage her own clothing shop in London, a Daisy Miller with short hair, unexcitable and worrisome.

She would glide from virginity to matronhood with no sense of a change in her condition. She would duplicate her mother, succeed her, and no doubt become the center of the family circle in her own home with the full approbation of that mother whom she planned so closely to copy… As she sat there emotionless and smiling in the midst of this agitated assembly,  she looked like the bride in a Breughel painting, as if she were already at her own wedding breakfast.

Rachel Kennedy lives a perfectly balanced and satisfyingly sombre life, too glad to come to rest at the Livingstone family home, to inhabit the functionary role of ‘friend’, to perform the duties of that functionary, like a glum, gloved observer at a greenhouse of rest. Here she studies English life, exacting a micro-analytics of personality and sensibility and mood as meticulous as a clinical formula.