The Rules of Engagement

The Rules of Engagement

3.28 (577 ratings by Goodreads)
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'I have come to believe that there can be no adequate preparation for the sadness that comes at the end, the sheer regret that one's life is finished, that one's failures remain indelible and one's successes illusory.' Elizabeth and Betsy are old school friends. Born in 1948 and unready for the sixties, they had high hopes of the lives they would lead, even though their circumstances were so different. When they meet again in their thirties, Elizabeth, married to the safe, older Digby is relieving the boredom of a cosy but childless marriage with an affair. Betsy seems to have found real romance in Paris. Are their lives taking off, or are they just making more of the wrong choices without even realising it?show more

Product details

  • Hardback | 256 pages
  • 142 x 218 x 28mm | 458.13g
  • Penguin Books Ltd
  • London, United Kingdom
  • 0670914363
  • 9780670914364

Review quote

This is Brookner's 22nd novel, and, as one might expect, it deals splendidly with human relationships. Elizabeth and Betsy are old friends dating back to their schooldays. Elizabeth's mother disapproved of their friendship, moaning at her daughter, "Can't you find someone more suitable?" Meaning someone richer, more fortunate, more useful. But Elizabeth is her own person, and she goes off and marries an older man, Digby, who is rather dull and boring. Elizabeth has no children, and embarks on an affair while Betsy seems to find romance in Paris. It is a clever, entertaining novel, beautifully more

Review Text

Anita Brookner's 22nd novel can only enhance her considerable reputation as a writer of supremely elegant, understated prose. The Rules of Engagement has a deceptively simple plot, but with Brookner it is the complicated tangle of human emotions that is the stuff of life, the flesh upon the bones of her novels. What happens to her characters may seem pedestrian - marriage, affairs, illness, bereavement - but she dissects the shattering effect of these experiences with insight and sensitivity. Elizabeth and Betsy have been friends since their schooldays, when their identical names drew them together in an unlikely alliance. Even as children, Elizabeth was aware that Betsy's manner was somehow not quite right - an over-enthusiasm, a lack of restraint, a certain gaucheness, set her apart from her classmates, and her impoverished background caused Elizabeth's mother to look on Betsy with condescension and disdain. Yet the friendship continued throughout their schooldays, with Betsy always the willing admirer, and Elizabeth the superior recipient of Betsy's praise. It is years later when they next meet, at Elizabeth's wedding to a safe, wealthy older man, Digby. But Betsy has changed in the intervening years. She is bubbling over with a scarcely repressed sexuality, a quality Elizabeth regards with something akin to jealousy. As Elizabeth prepares to begin a settled married life with a man who arouses little desire in her, Betsy announces her infatuation with the insalubrious Daniel, a young student embroiled in politics, who has no intention of settling down with Betsy, or indeed anyone. Their lives, seemingly so different, are destined to meet on a collision course to disaster. Elizabeth, galvanised by her renewed friendship with Betsy, looks at her marriage with its interminable dinner parties and regular mealtimes in a new light, and steps out from the security of the marriage bed into the arms of a lover. Betsy meanwhile, has to cope with a sudden bereavement, but soon finds happiness with another man. As the relationships gradually intertwine, the rules are strained to breaking point and friendships are tested only to be found wanting. (Kirkus UK)show more

Author information

Anita Brookner was born in London in 1928. She trained as an art historian and taught at the Courtauld Institute of Art until 1988. She lives in London SW10. THE RULES OF ENGAGEMENT is the 22nd novel from this Booker Prize-winning more

Rating details

577 ratings
3.28 out of 5 stars
5 13% (76)
4 32% (182)
3 33% (193)
2 14% (81)
1 8% (45)
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