Hotel Du Lac – Book Review

Edith Hope, a writer of romantic fiction under a more thrusting name, remained standing at the window, as if an access of good will could pierce the mysterious opacity with which she had been presented, although she had been promised a tonic cheerfulness, a climate devoid of illusions, an utterly commonsensical, not to say pragmatic, set of circumstances – quiet hotel, excellent cuisine, long walks, lack of excitement, early nights – in which she could be counted upon to retrieve her serious and hard-working personality and to forget the unfortunate lapse which had led to this brief exile, in this apparently unpopulated place, at this slowly darkening time of the year, when she should have been at home… -From Hotel Du Lac, page 8-

And so begins Anita Brookner’s Booker Award winning novel. Edith Hope finds herself banished to a hotel in Switzerland to ponder her life and recover from a romantic stumble. Once there, she meets the other hotel visitors – a cast of characters with their own secrets, desires, and weaknesses.

Iris and Jennifer Pusey are a mother-daughter ensemble who fill their lives with the superficial glee of material gain. Edith observes their lives with a wry humor.

Behind their extreme pleasantness there lies something entrenched, non-negotiable, as if they can really take no one seriously but themselves. As if they feel sorry for anyone who is denied the possibility of being a Pusey. And this, of course, is, by definition, everyone. -From Hotel Du Lac, page 109-

Also residing in the hotel is the elderly Mme de Bonneuil who has been abandoned by her son and selfish daughter-in-law; Monica who suffers an eating disorder and dotes on her spoiled dog; and Mr. Neville – a blunt man convinced that self-centeredness is the key to happiness.

Anita Brookner weaves a story which is introspective and beautifully developed about a woman searching for herself while struggling to find love and acceptance. Despite its serious undertones, Hotel Du Lac is surprisingly funny. Edith embodies the idea of feminism, liberation and romantic ideals – a woman who is torn between her fantasies of being swept away by romance, while at the same time desiring her independence.

[…] if she’s all that liberated, why doesn’t she go down to the bar and pick someone up? I’m sure it’s entirely possible. It’s just that most women don’t do it. And why don’t they do it?’ she asked, with a sudden return of assurance. ‘It’s because they prefer the old myths, when it comes to the crunch. They want to believe that they are going to be discovered, looking their best, behind closed doors, just when they thought that all was lost, by a man who has battled across continents, abandoning whatever he may have had in his in-tray, to reclaim them. -From Hotel Du Lac, page 27-

The tension in the novel comes from the characters’ releationships to each other which ultimately help Edith to make a momentous decision.

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. Brookner writes with elegant, passionate prose and leaves the reader feeling deeply satisfied.

Highly recommended.

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    • Kate on July 26, 2008 at 11:57

    This sounds great! Thanks for the recommendation.

    • Wendy on July 27, 2008 at 11:14

    Kate: You’re welcome!

    • Teddy on July 27, 2008 at 19:21

    Awesome review Wendy! I actually own a copy of this book and plan to read it for The Book Awards II Challenge.

    • Wendy on July 27, 2008 at 19:40

    Thanks Teddy – you are such a faithful reader!!! I think you’ll enjoy this one – and it is a really quick read too.

    • Myrthe on July 28, 2008 at 07:13

    I read this book about fifteen years ago in highschool and I remember being utterly bored by it. I think that would be the age-difference between me and Edith Hope. This is one of the books that I’d love to reread and see what I make of it now, with fifteen more years of life behind me. Thanks for reminding me, Wendy!

    • Lori L on July 28, 2008 at 09:01

    While I can certainly appreciate your positive reaction to the book, as you know I don’t share your sentiments. I think part of my response is that I didn’t actually like Edith or any of the other characters.

    • Wendy on July 29, 2008 at 10:09

    Myrthe: I think “older” women would probably enjoy this one more…

    Lori: Fair enough 🙂

  1. I don’t think I’d have enjoyed this book when I was in my late teens or 20’s, but I read it last month and enjoyed it. Mainly for Brookner’s AMAZING writing style, one of the best I’ve ever come across. And, as you say, it was surprisingly funny in parts, too. But I do agree with Lori that none of the characters, even Edith, were terribly likeable. Edith was the best of the bunch and I still found myself not too sure about her at times.

    • Wendy on September 22, 2008 at 10:39

    TL: I agree that this book is probably a book for a more mature reader…Brookner’s “voice” is wonderful. It’s funny, normally if I don’t love the characters, I don’t love the book – but for some reason I just really relaxed into this book and found the characters, if not likable, at least quite fascinating.

    • Anne on April 4, 2011 at 08:42

    My book club read this book and we loved it but we disagreed on the era it is supposed to be set in. What do you think? 1960’s is my guess

    • Wendy on April 11, 2011 at 07:14

    Anne: Thanks for stopping by. I actually thought the book was probably set in the 50s because of the attitudes towards women which were still a little restrictive, but beginning to be challenged.

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