Hotel du Lac – Anita Brookner

I picked this up at the library last week and since it was a modest 184 pages I was looking forward to a short read of one of my Booklitzer 200s.   This is the 1984 Booker winner by Anita Brookner.

The protagonist is Edith Hope, a writer of romance fiction who is bundled off to exile at the Hotel du Lac in Switzerland after a misdemeanour she perpetrated in London.

By the time I was a third of the way through the novel I felt as though I was reading an Agatha Christie mystery.  The setting is a foreign hotel full of English patrons with their own deep and dark stories to tell.  Alongside them is Edith, exiled from London for an indiscretion – what horror could she have perpetrated to be in exile?  A mystery that takes another third of the book to disclose.
Amongst the female filled hotel are the mother and daughter pairing of Iris and Jennifer Pusey.  Their story is one of avarice, self-centredness and self-absorption.  Then there is Monica, beautiful but self-destructive, a snob and stubborn to boot.  The only Swiss, Mme Bonneuil, adds loneliness and exclusion to the range of experiences.
And the sole male, Phillip Neville, an agent of change and provocative thinking  for Edith’s self-imposed reflection upon her life.

The very first page generated a 119 word sentence and the introduction of Edith generated a 120 word sentence.  I became rather worried about what else was to come.  I was more than a little concerned that the entire book was going to be full of monster prose.  Fortunately it was not.  The writing style, for the most part, was very easy and flowed very well.  I enjoyed the process and read the entire book in three sittings.

The central theme of the book is Edith’s reflection on her life choices both past and future.  The women at the hotel reflect different choices and different perspectives as well as life experiences and each provoke assessments and more reflections by Edith.  I liked Brookner’s (and Edith’s) use of the Tortoise and the Hare analogy for women and their relationship generating capacity, but on the whole I found the musing on the ways of women behaving in relationships only vaguely interesting and then the ending less than satisfactory.
I didn’t think that Edith’s misdemeanour required exile to a foreign country, and although she is a reasonably sympathetic character, her greater misdemeanour* seems to go largely unmentioned and left out of the discussion altogether.
Perhaps I have just missed the point.

I didn’t get the deeper meaning of Edith’s final telegram message either.  And in the end I felt unsure about what changes, if any, Edith had concluded she would make in her life when she returned to London.  Her musing and exile did not seem to draw any conclusions at the end.  Was I sleeping through most of the story?  Did I miss the important clues to her character changing or remaining unchanged?  I don’t think so, but I am willing to be corrected and informed of any key pointers that would make the conclusion more understandable and satisfying.

So, my final word on Hotel du Lac?  A good read, well written, but I found it to have a very unsatisfactory and unclear ending.

* in my moral and ethical view. ^
^ sorry for being vague, but I didn’t want to add spoilers in case you decide to read it yourself.

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