Tag Archives: Booker Prize

Reading Brookner’s Hotel du Lac, for International Anita Brookner Day

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.

Anita Brookner found at petamayer.blogspot.com

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

4.5 stars4.5/5

Romantic novelist Edith Hope arrives at the Hotel du Lac following some act of shame which is undisclosed at the outset of the novel.

Hotel du Lac by Anita Brookner

Penguin, 1999 paperback edition, 192 pages - library loan

“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?

THE Hotel du Lac of Brookner's novel

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.

Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel

Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel

Fourth Estate, 2010, 650 pages.

After reading quite a few novellas I fancied reading a big book that I could really get my teeth into. I bought a copy of Wolf Hall in the new year, curious to find out why it had won the Man Booker and spurred on by several great reviews. I also studied Tudor History at sixth form college so was interested to hear a new perspective on the period. So it was, that I settled down with my first Hilary Mantel novel with anticipation.

I’m not going to keep you in suspense – I can say straight away that I was seriously impressed with Wolf Hall! From the first chapter I was hooked by Mantel’s style. The personality of a young Thomas Cromwell exploded into life on the pages – a scruffy, roguish butcher’s boy beaten black and blue by his seemingly unhinged father he picks himself up and leaves his home town on a ship to France. His character is tough through necessity but smart – the boy and the man Cromwell learns from the mistakes of those around him. He is a Jack of all trades (lawyer, soldier, diplomat) and manages to master them all, able to make even the most difficult to persuade people to keep them near him for his usefulness, if not his odd kind of charm. His honest yet tactful approach and cleverness is what makes him first the companion of Cardinal Wolsey and later of course Henry VIII’s right hand man.

Mantel’s portrait of Cromwell is fascinating and believable because of the depth of which she explores his character. I really felt that she had completely imbued herself in the period. It was clear that she must have read so much source material in order to create the vision on the page. It seemed as if she was interlacing and descriptions of characters and words that they had used from letters and other documents that she had researched. However, this never felt laboured to me – she seamlessly pulled those images and words from source into the dialogue of characters or their descriptions.

The scope of the book is Thomas Cromwell’s early life through to when Anne Boleyn is crowned Queen of England and a few months after. The way that it is split into chapters is that the reader gets a very detailed focus on one point in time in which you feel almost as if the story is ‘realtime’ and you are right there watching events unfold and the interplays between characters vying for power. Whether it be because of court politics or illness, one of the key things that Wolf Hall conveyed to me was the transience of human life in the 16th Century and how brutal a world it was. If you were clever or brave enough (or stupid enough) to enter into court games, you had to be prepared for the consequences. And, even if you were rich, powerful and successful, your own life or that of someone you loved could be snatched away so easily.

I found the style in which the book is written unusual. It is not written in the first person, but at times it feels as if it is Cromwell’s voice and observations that you are hearing, or perhaps another close onlooker. This has the effect of giving the reader two perspectives. One is a birds’ eye view as the story unfolds, however more often than not the reader is dragged right into the thick of characters’ motives and conversations.

I found Wolf Hall a fascinating and absorbing novel. Mantel retells a familiar story from a completely different angle and creates something entirely new. It may not be a book for everyone. I don’t want anyone to say that I didn’t warn them that this is a detailed book with a multitude of characters to follow. This is, however, what also makes Wolf Hall incredibly involving and satisfying to read. The character of Thomas Cromwell is utterly brilliant – ridiculously smart and resilient. Morally grey at times but somehow admirable. Mantel has done an amazing job of bringing him to life and creating a hypercolour version of the Tudor era. She gives the reader a front row seat to one of History’s greatest dramas.

My rating:

9 out of 10

Have you read Wolf Hall? What do you think makes a great work of historical fiction?

Disgrace by J.M.Coetzee

Disgrace is a 1999 Booker Prize winning novel by J.M. Coetzee. Oddly despite having notched up two Booker prizes (Disgrace and Life and Times of Michael K in 1983) and the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2003 amongst other accolades, Coetzee hadn’t featured on my radar before recently when I picked up my copy of Disgrace in a charity shop. I’m now really pleased that I happened upon this novel as I found it to be a bit of a gem.

The protagonist of Disgrace is 52 year old Professor David Lurie, a complicated character who whilst being a learned teacher of Romantic poetry at a Cape Town university is also consumed by an almost uncontrollable desire for women. An affair with a student gets him into hot water and he moves to the country to stay with his daughter Lucy with the purpose of finding some kind of refuge from the repercussions of his dalliance. David and Lucy’s relationship is put under pressure after a violent incident occurs and the novel explores their emotional conflicts against the backdrop of South African countryside where there is a constant undercurrent of violence and cultural differences become starkly highlighted.

For me, Disgrace definitely earned it’s Booker Prize-winning status. It’s a novel that marries complex emotional issues with a skilful writing style which gets you right into the head of David and keeps you turning the pages. It’s descriptive but not flowery, poignant but not sentimental and addresses the societal issues in South Africa as a fluid part of the storyline. The character of David reminded me a little bit of Humbert Humbert in Lolita in his sort of blind pursuance of the university student Melanie. At the outset he was both distasteful and pitiably human and as the book continues and he and Lucy’s lives are disrupted I found myself empathizing with his frustration and confusion. I actually found it hard to associate with his daughter Lucy, but I think that this is for a reason – after the event that happens she is changed indelibly and even before that her mindset is markedly different as a result of living out in the sticks by a set of unsaid rules that she in part makes for herself and has imposed on her. I didn’t like her, but she was a very real person in my mind when I read the book and an effective character.

Disgrace is a short novel at just over 200 pages and I think that Coetzee got the length just right. I found it a quick read, but with what was covered almost felt as if I’d read something much longer. A sort of Tardis of a book that packs in so much in just a few pages. This is quite a hard-hitting book with some shocking scenes, but not gratuitously so. Coetzee wastes no words and everything is appropriate to the story he tells. Don’t read this if you want something light-hearted but equally don’t be put off. I felt it was a novel that opened my eyes but also kept me gripped. I’ll definitely read more Coetzee and although it might not be everyone’s cup of tea, I highly recommend Disgrace.

Have you read any Coetzee novels or plan to? If you have, what did you think?