Hotel du Lac by Anita Brookner


Announcing International Anita Brookner Day! Coming up on July 16, which this year will be her 83rd birthday, and co-hosted by Thomas at My Porch and Simon at Savidge Reads. The idea is to read at least one novel by Brookner before IAB Day, and then go check out Thomas’s blog to link to your blog post or comment there on his page.

I am grateful to these gents for suggesting that I check her out. I was not familiar before, and am now absolutely a big, big fan, after reading Hotel du Lac. Thomas called her books each “brilliant in its own quiet, often depressing way” and also says that they are all “so similar in theme and tone that it is a little hard for me to keep them straight” but also “each of her novels, regardless of plot, is a perfectly wrought gem of introspective genius.” These comments seem somewhat mixed; depressing and all running together? not quite so complimentary; but then again, he’s organizing a whole Day around Brookner, and uses words like “brilliant,” “perfect(ly),” and “genius.” I was intrigued. And, they’re short books. 🙂 So I found this one and gave it a go.

I will use Thomas’s word and say brilliant, indeed. This is a book about a woman named Edith Hope, who at the start of the novel, arrives at the titular hotel for a medium-length stay on the coast of Lake Geneva in Switzerland. She seems to have been sent away from her home in some disgrace by friends and cohorts, but it’s not altogether clear why. She also seems to have a very passive role in her own indefinite exile. It’s odd.

Edith’s new life at the hotel is quiet and slow, which is not unlike her home life; she works on writing a romance novel (her umpteenth) and socializes by listening to women with larger and not entirely attractive personalities who are also ensconced. She writes letters home to a married man who was or is her lover – it seems to be past-tense – but it’s not clear that she mails them. She’s generally a passive and quiet person. I felt it was so descriptive of her that

…the action startled her, as if her plans had been made final without her having reached any conscious decision.

It’s a generally quiet book. There’s very little action, just musing. And it is depressed, if not depressing. But it is insightful and very funny, too. Brookner’s choice of words is extremely cutting, articulate, and rare. I point you towards a recent post in which I marvel at the line, “not drowning, but waving.” Indulge me with one or two more:

[The schoolchildren] were not given to excess or noise, and once the ship had left the shore they were summoned into the glassed-off observation lounge by their teacher for some sort of lesson. Obediently, they turned like swallows and left Edith and Mr Neville alone on deck.

Only one of many instances in which silence is discussed. It’s a theme. Or, how curious is it that such a coldly civilized man as Mr Neville would say,

Please don’t cry. I cannot bear to see a woman cry; it makes me want to hit her. Please, Edith.

It’s a strange, calm, quiet, leisurely, literary novel in which not much happens, but it’s such a luxurious joy to read it slowly, and go back and re-read. I failed to note where Brookner wrote that

The company of their own sex, Edith reflected, was what drove many women into marriage

and had to go back looking for it; and re-reading 50 pages was pleasurable, not at all a chore. The book might be read as a statement on love or marriage, but I feel like this subject matter is incidental; to me, it’s more of a book of tone, of language, and of character sketches. (How fascinating is Mrs. Pusey as a creature?) It could be about anything.

This book is beautiful. I want to read more Brookner. Will I do so before IAB Day? Who knows; there’s lots to read in my world. But I will definitely read more, eventually. She’s a real treasure. Thanks for the into, Thomas.

4 Responses

  1. Yay! I love that you gave Brookner a go and ended up liking her. And the best part is you still have 23 more of hers you could read.

  2. That’s always the best part! There are SO MANY great books out there. Thanks for introducing me to new things. I appreciated Brookner a great deal and now have that much more to read. 🙂

  3. […] having read first Thomas’s initial argument in favor of Brookner, and then her novel Hotel du Lac which I found lovely (as you can read). So I present to you the IABD […]

  4. […] Pages of Julia – “The book might be read as a statement on love or marriage, but I feel like this subject matter is incidental; to me, it’s more of a book of tone, of language, and of character sketches. (How fascinating is Mrs. Pusey as a creature?)” […]

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