Hotel du Lac by Anita Brookner

IMG_0260Hotel du Lac has sat meekly on my shelf since being appropriated from my parents a few years after it won the Booker Prize in 1984. Edith Hope, a thirtysomething writer of romantic fiction arrives at a faded hotel near a Swiss lake. She interacts with the few other out-of-season guests, reflects on her life, receives an important offer, decides what she wants to do. The End. Anita Brookner died this month. She was highly intelligent, a very successful art academic – and wrote bestselling novels too. Given these credentials, obviously many people are sniffy about her. So it goes. Edith is at the hotel, we are informed, because of some unnamed disgrace (‘that business’; ‘my lapse’) which means that it has been deemed best if she goes away for a bit. Her few fellow guests include the awful, impressive Mrs Pusey (plus perhaps not-quite-what-she-seems daughter Jennifer); Mr Neville, ‘who looks rather like that portrait of the Duke of Wellington that was stolen from the National Gallery some time ago’; and the old, deaf and abandoned Mme de Bonneuil. The novel is full of wry, dry humour. Edith has been told she looks like Virginia Woolf, a description which to some extent may inform her sense of self. One character tells her that this might not be the best thing. And that image is punctured anyway by Mrs Pusey who tells Edith she looks like Princess Anne. The elderly M. Huber oversees everything at the hotel, sucking up to Mrs Pusey in particular. Deflation, self-deception and hypocrisy are the watchwords at the Hotel du Lac. It’s not a riot, in truth. Woody Allen might have had a bit more fun with the situation. Edith’s disgrace, when it is finally revealed on p.118, seems embarrassing rather than terminal – but there you go, that’s the 1980s for you. Or at least, the 1980s in Brooknerland. There is, in many ways, a hopeful ending, although it has been laid out in detail that the life to which Edith may return is perhaps not a great deal to shout about. So this is a novel of First World problems, yes – but it is beautifully written; a subtle, psychologically realistic novel too.










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