Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Hotel du Lac, by Anita Brookner

Hotel du Lac won the Man Booker Prize in 1984. Hmmm. The other novels on the short list that year included J. G. Ballard's Empire of the Sun and Peter Carey's Flaubert's Parrot (both of which I'd have chosen over Hotel du Lac), as well as novels that I've not yet read by Anita Desai, David Lodge and Penelope Lively. I didn't dislike this book, but I'd be fascinated to hear why the judges loved it so.  

The protagonist, Edith Hope, is the British author of romance novels, which she pens under a pseudonym. Early on, we get the sense that she has retreated to the classic Swiss hotel to escape some sort of scandal.  Not long after that, she begins a letter to her married lover. (As it turns out, these two things are not connected.)  Meanwhile, her intention to spend her days writing is disrupted by the attentions of her fellow guests, most of whom have their own tortuous romantic histories.  The writing, however, suits the tone of the hotel---"stolid and dignified".
The Hotel du Lac (Famille Huber) was a stolid and dignified building, a house of repute, a traditional establishment. used to welcoming the prudent, the well-to-do, the retired, the self-effacing, the respected patrons of an earlier era of tourism...
...And of course it was an excellent hotel. And its situation on the lake was agreeable. The climate was not brilliant, but in comparison with other, similar, resorts, it was equable.
Yes, that's it -- I would describe this novel as agreeable, not brilliant, equable. I don't normally seek out reviews of books on Goodreads, much less quote them here, but this one was too good to pass up. Its author, Paul Bryant, gave Hotel du Lac two stars out of five. His synopsis is a gem.
A very slow, mournful novel set in an end-of-season hotel which may -- just may -- be a metaphor or sumpin. Everything happens in slowmo -- walks, meals, coffee, tea, cakes, clothes (pages of those), more walks, mothers, daughters, gloomy memories, walks, talks, a small dog, gauntness, autumnal colours, pallor, crepuscularity, more damned walks, more wretched meals, the god damned dog again, more clothes, and on p 143 this:
"my patience with this little comedy is wearing a bit thin".

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