Anita Brookner's first novel, available as a Penguin Essential for the first time. 'Dr Weiss, at forty, knew that her life had been ruined by literature.' Ruth Weiss, an academic, is beautiful, intelligent and lonely. Studying the heroines of Balzac in order to discover where her own childhood and adult life has gone awry, she seeks not salvation but enlightenment. Yet in revisiting her London upbringing, her friendships and doomed Parisian love affairs, she wonders if perhaps there might not be a chance for a new start in life . . .