'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.' Anita Brookner, The Rules Of Engagement Life: Electrical storms, sudden eruptions of lust or anger, murders: typically such drama is absent from an Anita Brookner novel. Ditto her 'life'. Brookner makes the likes of William Boyd and Margaret Drabble look like Arthur Rimbaud, the 19th-century French poet who quit poetry at 19 to become a gunrunner. Pity her biographer. Reporters desperate to make her sound interesting usually zero in on how she became the first female Slade Professor of Art at Cambridge University, a position she held for all of a year in 1967. This hardly makes her Emily Pankhurst. But Brookner would doubtless ask to be judged by the words on the page or even her trophies. In 1984 with a trademark bleak-meek-lady-searches-for-salvation offering, Hotel Du Lac, she bagged Britain's biggest fiction bake-off, the Booker. She also won one of those relics that smacks of tea and territorial ambition, known as a CBE (Commander of the British Empire) six years later. Despite the poise her novels exude, she could hardly be described as privileged. The only child of Maude Schiska, a former singer, and Newson Brookner, a Polish immigrant who worked in the Schiska family's tobacco factory after immigrating to England, Brookner was born in 1928 near London. She lived with her parents, grandmother, and uncle and her family often looked after Jewish refugees during the second world war. As a Jew, she felt out of place in British society but was not so weird that she could not fit into academia. After studying history at King's College in London, Brookner earned a doctorate in art history at the Courtauld Institute in 1953. She returned there to teach in 1964. Work: Ingres (1965); Watteau (1967); The Genius Of The Future - Studies In French Art Criticism (1971); Greuze: The Rise And Fall Of An Eighteenth-Century Phenomenon (1972); Jacques-Louis David, A Personal Interpretation (1974); A Start In Life (1981); Providence (1982); Look At Me (1983); Hotel Du Lac (1984); Family And Friends (1985); A Misalliance (1986); A Friend From England (1987); Latecomers (1988); Lewis Percy (1989); Brief Lives (1990); A Closed Eye (1991); A Family Romance (1993); A Private View (1994); Incidents In The Rue Laugier (1995); Altered States (1996); Soundings (1997); Visitors (1997); Falling Slowly (1998); Undue Influence (1999); Romanticism And Its Discontents (2000); The Bay Of Angels (2001); The Next Big Thing (2002); The Rules Of Engagement (2003). Subplot: Anita Brookner evangelists paint her for implicitly championing the value of stoicism in a confessional society. Commenting on Misalliance in the New York Times Book Review, Fernanda Eberstadt praised the novel's 'rather salutary and peculiarly welcome message, namely, that keeping up appearances in hard times is a virtue in itself, that kindness, self-restraint, good housekeeping and a certain cheerful worldliness may after all save the day. To this message, delivered with a lucid and refined intelligence and an invigorating asperity of tone, one can only respond with gratitude and pleasure.' Other critics respond with exasperation. Writing about Incidents In The Rue Laugier - the chronicle of another crushed, ageing lady - the Toronto Mail's Joan Thomas hissed: 'Brookner has been getting away with writing the same plot with variations for more than a decade' but added that she gets away with it because she is an impeccable stylist. Read: Hotel Du Lac. It may be an obvious choice but it shows Brookner at the height of her low-key powers.