Like a biologist preparing slides, Brookner dissects subtle psychological states with a Proustian precision. Her resultant character studies are both aesthetically and philosophically illuminating. In "Leaving Home," she turns her scrutinizing eye on a dependent young woman teetering on the verge of an uncertain adulthood.
Emma comes to realize that if she doesn't leave home soon she'll never leave. She will end up her mother's companion, her caretaker, and finally taking her mother's place altogether, replicating her reclusive, spinsterish life. It is more the fear of this fate than it is any love of the subject or the scholarly life that inspires her to go to Paris to study classic garden design. But although she has successfully escaped one home Emma can't find the more suitable home she's always imagined would one day replace it. Instead, Emma finds that it is in the transitory state between "homes" that she feels most at home. Likewise, she finds herself only "at home" in relationships that provide companionship while maintaining distance and reserve. She comes to understand that her growth as an individual seems to depend on her facing the challenges that cannot be avoided when one leaves the safety, security and familiarity of home.
"It was, paradoxically, the knowledge that one had voluntarily cut oneself off from one's roots that brought about the liberating courage to persist, to seek one's continuity in those who followed a similar trajectory."
"I prefer my gardens deserted, on misty mornings, at unpopular times of the year, compelling in their silence and their secrecy."
"I am more or less comfortable, more or less contented. Not everyone is born to fulfill an heroic role. The only realistic ambition is to live in the present. And sometimes, quite often in fact, this is more than enough to keep one busy. Time, which was once squandered, must now be given over to the actual, the possible, and perhaps to that evanescent hope of a good outcome which never deserts one, and which should never be abandoned."