From: the public library
In a nutshell:
The book opens as Edith Hope, a British romance writer in her late thirties, contemplates her room in the Hotel du Lac, a quiet establishment in Switzerland. She has gone there – one might say, she has been sent there – because of a recent scandal that she caused. During her stay, she meets the assortment of guests who are staying at the hotel at the end of the season. These guests are: stone-deaf, elderly Frenchwoman, Mme Bonneuil; well-dressed, acerbic Monica with her little lap-dog; Mrs. Pusey and her adult daughter Jennifer who seem inseparable, and the enigmatic Mr. Neville.
I liked this book; Brookner has a precise and aware way of writing. It makes me think of laying out silverware and place settings somehow.
The female guests at Hotel du Lac are well-off women but are on the margins of society for various reasons. Mrs. Pusey is a widow, who clings to her unmarried daughter. Monica, who has an eating disorder, has been sent by her husband to the Hotel in hopes that she might be restored “to working order” and be able to produce an heir. Mme de Bonneuil is shuttled from summer to winter quarters by the son whom she loves but who rarely visits her.
Edith has never been married. In her reflections on past events and in her interactions at the Hotel du Lac, the reader sees that her unmarried status is something her friends and even new acquaintances regard as something to be fixed if possible. It’s not a new theme, but I like that Brookner doesn’t make Edith a stock unmarried character with broadly painted desperation or defiance. Edith is well-drawn, a complex person who sees the appeal of marriage, who has known love, but finds herself without the romantic ending she gives to the characters of her books.
I like Hotel du Lac especially for its ending. So much can hang on an ending. Edith is a sad, quiet figure but it’s not because she is weak or pathetic. Her decisiveness in the end was a triumphant moment for her character, but it’s not a triumph that anyone else in her life would notice. And that resonates with me: there’s so much that happens in one’s head – resolutions, a struggle overcome – that are hard to convey to other people.
Other reviews (culled from the International Anita Brookner Day blog):
The Boston Bibliophile – ” . . . a novel that resembles Jane Austen written in a contemporary style, but with an emphasis on the pathos. [Brookner] uses the very Austenian theme of women’s economic vulnerability but instead of marriage solving life’s problems, she asks if the material rewards of dependence engender a kind of complacency or even rot.”
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?)”
Stuck in a Book – ” . . . nothing felt vital or vivid to me. Edith is quite a boring person, but that wouldn’t matter if she had not also been a boring character.”