by Anita Brookner
Random House; 260 pages; $20
A gentle irony rests in the title of this novel, Anita Brookner's 10th, for the lives portrayed in it are anything but brief. Fay Dodworth, the narrator, is approaching 70 at the time she tells her story; her reminiscences are set off after seeing an obituary of Julia Wilberforce, who was nearly 80. Both women had achieved a certain fame when young, Julia as a sophisticated cabaret performer and Fay as a singer of ballads on the BBC. Their friendship did not begin then or, in truth, ever. They were thrown...