It’s the 83rd birthday of Booker Prize-winning author Anita Brookner today. In honor of this and of course her work, Thomas of My Porch created International Anita Brookner Day, along with Simon of Savidge Reads. It has it’s own IABD blog and the lovely hosts have thrown down the gauntlet to us readers to try a sample of her work and let them know our thoughts.
Despite being torn between Hotel du Lac and Strangers when I made my trip to the library to get a Brookner, I remembered Savidge Reads avocating Hotel du Lac as being an excellent read in this review. With it being the Man Booker winner and everything and the synopsis taking my fancy I checked it out and here are my thoughts:
Hotel du Lac, by Anita Brookner
Romantic novelist Edith Hope arrives at the Hotel du Lac following some act of shame which is undisclosed at the outset of the novel.
“What it had to offer was a mild form of sanctuary, an assurance of privacy, and the protection and the discretion that attach themselves to blamelessness.”
She believes that the hotel will be a place of safe-harbour where she can continue with her writing and take a break from the people who resulted in her exile there. The other hotel guests become a source of interest for ‘bloomsburian’ Edith. Mrs Pusey (an ‘enchantress’) and her daughter (‘odalisque’) Jennifer draw Edith into their superficial confidence and is a source of fascination for the writer. Their curious intimacy, their ability to find contentment in pretty purchases and strange kind of power draw Edith in.
“…there was something soothing in the very existence of Mrs Pusey, a woman so gentle, so greedy, so tranquil, so utterly fulfilled in her desires that she encouraged daring thoughts of possession, of accumulation, in others.”
She also meets “Lady X” owner of neurotic Kiki the lapdog. She has an ethereal quality as a result of her sinewy frame and way of moving and later her name is revealed – Monica. An elegant woman with a sharp tongue, she seems faintly disparaging of the Puseys and their simple extravagance.
Midway through the novel, it becomes apparent that a certain Mr Neville has turned his attentions to Edith and with his candid tongue he courts her in his own uniquely practical way. Can this man save Edith from her self and the life of spinsterhood that everyone else seems to be foretelling for her? What did Edith do that was so shameful?
Hotel du Lac is a curious novel. It didn’t completely grab me at initially. I was drawn in by the first couple of chapters and the wonderful descriptions of the hotel and its residents on Edith’s arrival, however with my distracted mind I kept finding that I had read a page and not absorbed the content – (which is curious as this happens to the protagonist in the book itself!). A small warning that this is a slow book despite its short length. You need to marinade in it – stop and read the sentences with care absorbing the atmosphere and looking through Edith’s lens.
About halfway through Hotel du Lac, really began to click with me and I began to feel as if I was really getting under Edith’s skin. I curled up with a blanket safe from the patter of rain-drops outside and gave it my undivided attention. I began to really feel Edith’s sorrow, her need for re-assurance and really enjoyed her observations – sometimes admiring, sometimes sharply critical as a pin. I began to warm to this woman exiled by her friends, crippled by her own self-doubt and the weight of others’ opinions. I loved the idea of Edith’s stay at the hotel being a sojourn, a place where she finds out who she is and who she doesn’t want to be. The ending was dryer than a gin and tonic and just as refreshing, leaving a smile on my face and a feeling of pride for Edith.
Have you read anything by Brookner? Were you enchanted or distracted?
To read reviews of other Brookner novels head over to the IABD blog reviews page here.