Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Review: Hotel du Lac

This review of Hotel du Lac was originally posted by Julia at Pages of Julia Blog on April 30, 2011.

This is a book about a woman named Edith Hope, who at the start of the novel, arrives at the titular hotel for a medium-length stay on the coast of Lake Geneva in Switzerland. She seems to have been sent away from her home in some disgrace by friends and cohorts, but it’s not altogether clear why. She also seems to have a very passive role in her own indefinite exile. It’s odd.

Edith’s new life at the hotel is quiet and slow, which is not unlike her home life; she works on writing a romance novel (her umpteenth) and socializes by listening to women with larger and not entirely attractive personalities who are also ensconced. She writes letters home to a married man who was or is her lover – it seems to be past-tense – but it’s not clear that she mails them. She’s generally a passive and quiet person. I felt it was so descriptive of her that
…the action startled her, as if her plans had been made final without her having reached any conscious decision.
It’s a generally quiet book. There’s very little action, just musing. And it is depressed, if not depressing. But it is insightful and very funny, too. Brookner’s choice of words is extremely cutting, articulate, and rare. I point you towards a recent post in which I marvel at the line, “not drowning, but waving.” Indulge me with one or two more:
[The schoolchildren] were not given to excess or noise, and once the ship had left the shore they were summoned into the glassed-off observation lounge by their teacher for some sort of lesson. Obediently, they turned like swallows and left Edith and Mr Neville alone on deck.
Only one of many instances in which silence is discussed. It’s a theme. Or, how curious is it that such a coldly civilized man as Mr Neville would say,
Please don’t cry. I cannot bear to see a woman cry; it makes me want to hit her. Please, Edith.
It’s a strange, calm, quiet, leisurely, literary novel in which not much happens, but it’s such a luxurious joy to read it slowly, and go back and re-read. I failed to note where Brookner wrote that
The company of their own sex, Edith reflected, was what drove many women into marriage
and had to go back looking for it; and re-reading 50 pages was pleasurable, not at all a chore. The book might be read as a statement on love or marriage, but I feel like this subject matter is incidental; to me, it’s more of a book of tone, of language, and of character sketches. (How fascinating is Mrs. Pusey as a creature?) It could be about anything.

This book is beautiful. I want to read more Brookner. Will I do so before IAB Day? Who knows; there’s lots to read in my world. But I will definitely read more, eventually. She’s a real treasure.

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