Brad's Reviews > Hotel du Lac

Hotel du Lac by Anita Brookner
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Sep 06, 2008

it was ok
bookshelves: booker-prize, better-as-a-movie
Read in July, 2005 , read count: 1

I ate dinner at an historical park once, and when I think of that meal I always remember being pleased with the place setting and the table linens. The table cloth was crisp and white, the silverware was highly polished, but I can't remember the feel of the fabric or the design of the forks and spoons and knife. What little I remember accumulates into nice. It was all nice.

Nice but mostly forgettable.

And that's all I'm left with when I think of Brookner's Booker Prize winning Hotel Du Lac. It was nice. I remember a likable woman moving amongst mostly likable folk in Geneva. I enjoyed the niceness of the experience, and then it was forgotten.

Hotel Du Lac was nice. I'll never read it again, though, because nice doesn't keep me coming back.

Something that has won a prestigious literary award should leave us with more than a feeling of niceness. But that's all Hotel Du Lac has to offer.

Nice. Just nice. Only nice.

But then maybe it wasn't nice at all. Maybe it was the antithesis of nice. But if it was, and if there was an element of the not nice that I missed...well, Brookner didn't do a very good job then did she? I shouldn't be remembering nice all these years later, should I? I think not. Now isn't that nice?
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03/06/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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message 1: by Miriam (new)

Miriam I would like to go to Geneva and have a fancy dinner with some nice people. That sounds better than reading this book.


message 2: by Robert (new)

Robert Ferrieux Nice? There's nothing nice about this book! Hopeless Edith needs a kick you-know-where. Mrs. Pusey &co are most certainly not nice.The setting is dreary (grey). Mme de Bonneuil , a bourgeoise woman with innate manners, has been cast out of
her home , which is certainly not nice. Monca;;;hm.. obviously a charicature of Princess Diana! (Eating disorders. Behave eccentrically and wants to humiliate and take revenge on her husband. Needs a confidant to whom she can complain about her heartless spouse…) Yes, nothing nice here!


Brad A bourgeoisie woman getting kicked out of her house seems nice to me.

In reality, though, it is so long since I read this that I can't remember enough details to really respond, Robert. It just hasn't stuck with me at all, so I will take your word for it.


message 4: by Helen (last edited Mar 07, 2016 08:44AM) (new)

Helen Ferrieux The novel is written in the third person, which implies the presence of a narrator. This narrator is neither named nor described; whether it is a man or a woman is not known: it is only a eye and a voice. This means that he or she describes what is recounted from the outside. However, as he seems to know everything, it may be assumed that what is told is over, belongs to the past, some time ago. If the narrative is ageless and can be told nowadays, it might as well have been told fifty years ago, and indeed, from the description of the decor and the characters, it may be assumed that what is recounted happened in the late twenties or the early thirties, but there is no certainty about the dating of it all.

The narrator is omnisicent, knowing everything, what happened before, what is happening now and what will happen in the future. He or she is also ubiquitous, being here and there at the same time, in England or in Switzerland or wherever it is necessary that he or she should be for the development of the story.

Apart from describing a few elements of the decor – for instance, the prevailing greyness of the sky, the dullness of the atmosphere, etc., its main function is to focalise on the major character, Edith, who monopolises his attention to such a point that most of the time the world is perceived through the filter of her own consciousness, but relayed by the prism of his own.
Thus, endowed as he is with the power of entering her consciousness, he reports what is going on there, sometimes keeping the third person, sometimes using free indirect speech, that is indirectly reporting Edith's thoughts, although most of the time, he lets her express her own feelings freely, substituting the first person to the third. Owing to this technique, the reader is often under the illusion that the real narrator is the protagonist, but it is only an illusion: in fact, as the story develops, there begings to emerge a slight distancing posture between the narrator and the main character, so that Edith appears to be judged, either favourably or not – mostly favourably – by the voice telling her story.

The time sequence is not chronological. The novel opens in mid-course, when Edith has arrived in a hotel, presumably in Switzerland. Why she is there, what were the events which took her there is not yet known, but will soon be revealed. At this stage, what counts is the overall atmosphere, the greyness of the surroundings, the sudden opening through the window onto a paradisical vision of mellow fruifulness, soon to be closed again, no doubt so many symbols of her inner hopes and feelings.
Right from the start, the reader feels that this woman has known some sort of happiness, but that circumstances have immersed her in a world of grey morosity from which she had to break away. The people she encounters all appear as grotesques, walled up in the prison of their own selves, caricatures who do their act on the stage, then disappear one their role is over. They appear so typically marked by their respective idiosyncrasies that they become allegories of snobbishness or mechanical thinking, etc. More than the comic reliel which they afford, they seem to represent the inanity or the vacuity of the world which could be in store for her. There is something warped about them. The narrative is such that the reader soon feels that Edith's present situation is not really of her own choice, that somehow, she has been pushed into it.

By small touches, short flashbacks scatteresd piecemeal, the past begins to emerge. Edith has led life which was not in keeping with the social tenets of her time. Her friends in England were genuinely shocked and grieved by her lifestyle and by the way she refused to conform. Their dearest wish is to see her toe the line. Convinced as they are that they know better, they have acted on her behalf, for her own good, so they think. Her bosom-friend in particular was very insistant and literally took her away from her milieu to put her on the plane which has landed her in stolid Switzerland where she will be able to think things over and become like her, either a flirt or preferably a good wife and mother.
Such is the dilemna. The whole purpose of the novel is to show that Edith is not prepared to conform, that her friends are imposing upon her and that she will have to break away from them to return to her own views: if a moral there is in the book, it is that the happiness you choose, be it a compromise, be is half-fulfilled, be it in disaccordance with the prevalent social rules, is better than no happiness at all and that is exactly what the grey world of loneliness among people who look like puppets represents.

The plot is simple enough : Edith Hope, a fiction writer, arrives at the Hotel du Lac at the urging of friends after a failed marriage attempt. The first people she meets are Iris and Jennifer Pusey, a wealthy mother and daughter who are staying at the hotel solely to shop for luxuries in the nearby towns. Edith is slightly in awe of the Puseys, especially the mother, Iris, who possesses an air of confidence about her at all times. Edith is also jealous of the close, loving relationship the two share because this is something that Edith herself never experienced. Jennifer is close in age to Edith but she does not attempt to befriend Edith; she is entirely devoted to her mother and the two are inseparable.

Edith also becomes acquainted with Monica, a tall, thin, attractive woman who is at the hotel to recuperate from an eating disorder (although she seems to be making little effort to do so).

Throughout her stay, Edith writes letters to David, a married man with whom she is having an affair. She seems to care for him very deeply and refers to him lovingly in her letters. During their relationship, Edith had accepted a marriage proposal from Geoffrey Long, a nice man to whom she was introduced by her close friend and neighbor, Penelope Milne.

On her wedding day, Edith dresses and enters the waiting car; but instead of going directly to the Registry Office, she instructs the driver to circle around the park first to give her a chance to clear her head. When the time for the ceremony arrives, Edith tells the driver to keep going, horrifying the members of the wedding party as the car passes by without stopping. Her friends are shocked at Edith's behavior and Geoffrey refuses to speak to her. Because of this event, Edith's friends urge her to get away and so she has arrived at the Hotel du Lac, where the bulk of the story takes place.

During her stay, Edith meets a man by the name of Mr. Neville. He takes a liking to her and they go on a few outings together. Just before Mr. Neville plans to leave the hotel, the two enjoy a boat ride and Mr. Neville asks Edith to marry him. Although he admits that he does not love Edith and Edith does not love him, Mr. Neville insists that his life and hers would fit perfectly together; she could stay at home and work on her novels while he is away. Since they are both unattached, it simply makes sense for them to wed. Edith is surprised by his proposal and takes some time to consider it.

By that evening, Edith decides to accept. That night she goes up to her room to write a letter to David to inform him that she will be marrying a man she met at the hotel and will no longer be seeing him. The following morning, Edith wakes early to mail the letter; as she exits her room, she sees Mr. Neville quietly slipping out of Jennifer Pusey's room. Edith realizes that they have been having an affair and is not surprised. Instead of mailing the letter, Edith goes back to her room, tears it up and throws it away. She then goes downstairs and sends a one-word telegram back home to England: "Returning."

Here is a good review by Glenda Burgess:

Hotel du Lac by Anita Brookner, published in 1984, won Great Britain's Booker Prize in 1986, nearly twenty years ago. Materialism, Feminism, careerism, explicit film and writing defined the 1980s - a tumultuous time of "-isms" and their vocal, adamant defenders. Yet Hotel du Lac, written in that period, is a novel of another era, a self-contained, wryly observed bridge between the defined roles and mannerisms of Austen's literary women and the depressed self-definition of Doris Lessing's heroines. In this "no woman's land" between independence of means and thinking and social expectation and the demands of good character, Brookner gives us a woman named Edith Hope, whose last name anchors the trenchant theme of the novel. Edith is a successful romance novelist writing under a pen name who is herself awkward and unsuccessful at love. She finds herself caught in a scandal of her own inept making and forced to seek refuge in a grand but out of the way old European hotel. A hotel occupied by those who in eccentric and unpredictable ways are also refugees from their lives. It is here, dwelling on her options, that Edith is forced to confront what she really feels about love.

Brookner's mannered language is what now might be deemed "overwritten." A contemporary critic might declaim such studied writing inserts itself between the reader and the narrative. Brookner's language colours and slows the narrative, deliberatively. Words such as inimical, penumbra, hitherto, veritable, estimable, propensity, etc., put us firmly in the thoughts of a woman of the nineteenth century, yet Edith Hope is very much living the life of an independent woman of the twentieth. Therein lies the root of the "wrong equation" Edith makes of love and what a woman is entitled to want, to hope for; her dawning awareness of the "sad precepts of a lost faith."

This novel is perhaps the perfect ironic anti-romance romantic novel. The observations and humor are fine; cutting, yet objectively drawn as Edith considers her situation and that of the (primarily) women around her, the elegant lost souls of the Hotel du Lac. Each guest in some way has made her or his own bittersweet pact with love - from the material and indulgent to the rebellious or marginalized. The novel's delicately observed truths about human relationships are centuries old. It is Edith who reminds us of this, even as she herself must decide what history she will choose.

Brookner adeptly lures the reader irrevocably into this novel of quiet desperation. A pattern occurs in the narrative, until it becomes obvious what the heroine thinks may not be true (Edith, you have made a wrong equation), or the predicted outcome is not the outcome at all. And so it with complete pleasure that Hotel du Lac ends on a gesture of rebellion. Edith may not know how to find what she seeks, but finally, she knows what is right for her. I found myself wondering at the novel's end how many of us like Edith live a century behind ourselves. Raised in our grandparents's or parents's value systems, influenced by the books and mythologies and manners of earlier times, perhaps like Edith it takes a turning point to force us forward. To leave behind a life inhabiting the expectations of others and define our own lives.


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