Friday, October 5, 2012

Hotel Du Lac - Anita Brookner

'Hotel Du Lac' is the latest read from a postal book group I belong to (it's a brilliant idea - not mine - there are 15 of us in the current round, you send a book out along with a notebook, and get it back a couple of years later with everybody's comments attached, it'a a remarkably pressure free set up and I've discovered some great books this way) it's also the first Anita Brookner I've tried.

Reading through the comments that others left in the notebook has in this instance proved an exceptionally helpful way of clarifying my own thoughts on the book - curiously, because this is by no means common, most of us seem to have had similar reactions to it. 'Hotel Du Lac' won the booker in 1984, but in many ways it feels like a much earlier sort of book. The central character, Edith, works for a living - but as a lady novelist writing harmless romances which feels very 1930's. Her need to escape a scandal she's caused, and the method she chooses to escape is positively Edwardian - discreet retirement to a Swiss hotel to see out the end of the season. Did people really behave like this in the 1980's? Especially people living in mildly intellectual and literary circles in London - it seems somehow unlikely.

Edith, who has a certain measure of success as a novelist hankers after the comfort and companionship of married life, unfortunately she has chosen a married lover instead - one who obviously won't leave his wife. Along comes another man who seems to think she'll fill his mothers shoes, in this case the allure of marriage is all in the status it will confer; instead of being a troubling single woman Edith will be safely married off and far more welcome at dinner parties. She changes her mind at the last possible moment - hence the exile, and whilst in Switzerland she meets another wealthy, presentable, man who puts forward a case for marriage in even starker terms - it's all about position, and a woman without a husband apparently has a very precarious one.

Edith's ability to attract men, despite her habit for long cardigans, and albeit men with some fairly serious shortcomings gives the book the feel of a standard romance - dowdy woman gets the men over her glossier, blonder, sisters because they see through to her innate qualities beneath - but Edith is both too passive and too well off for this reader to care much about.

I know people rate Anita Brookner's books - I'm inclined to think with this one that it's reached a difficult age where to many things about it feel awkward and contrived. Despite that feeling the writing is often beautiful, and occasionally strikes a real chord, as when Edith feels she may have had enough of having to earn her own living; that writing is no longer a creative pursuit, but is instead likely to become a never ending chore that must be done to make ends meet. 


  1. I felt exactly the same, Hayley - there's something off about it, and I think it's the setting. It just doesn't fit being set in the 80's at all and I found the whole book weirdly off kilter as a result. She is a beautiful writer, though!

    1. Far to beautiful a writer to dismiss on the basis of the niggles I had with the book. I'm sure I'll be back for more.

  2. You knew I would chime in on this one...

    I think Brookner definitely has an old fashion view of life and gender roles, no doubt about it. By the time Brookner wrote her first novel (at 53 in 1981)her world view must have been pretty definitely formed, and most of the characters throughout all of her novels seem like throwbacks to an earlier time. But I don't think I would put them as far back as the 1930s. Lately I have been watching the painfully bad British "comedy" May to December which was made in the 80s. I can definitely see a Brookner character being a contemporary of the characters on that show. They wouldn't have hung out in the same circles, but they could have existed at the same time. I think the 1980s were more old fashioned than we remember (for those of us who can remember). I will admit, however, that even if you grant me that point, Brookner's characters would have seemed old fashioned in the 1980s, but perhaps not as old fashioned as we think.

    Can I repost your review on the IABD blogsite?

    Also, FYI, al--and I mean all--of Brookner's characters are "too passive and too well off" so if you read more of her novels you will see more of that type of character.

    And speaking of throwbacks...your "postal book group" is positively medieval. Of course I love the idea of it but I could never find enough people willing to do it, especially in this day and age when we all have blogs.

    1. Feel free to repost Thomas. The postal book group is an old fashioned idea but a good one. It comes from the same on-line book group where I met Simon Stuck-in-a-book and Elaine Random Jottings and there are no shortage of people taking part.

      I started to make a point that 'Hotel du Lac' might seem less dated in another decade or so. Had it been set somewhere more provincial I would have believed in it rather more but as it stands - well, I'm roughly the same age as Edith is in the book so my memories of the eighties are quite youthful as are those of most my friends. But you're quite right when you mention dire 80's sit coms, it was a different sort of world and Edith would probably have been very familiar to women of a slightly earlier generation than mine.