Sunday, October 14, 2012

Penguin, how could you?

This Anita Brookner novella is only available in e-format and that e-format isn't available in the United States. (At least according to iBooks, and Penguin's website.)


Another reason to hate e-readers. If this was a real book only available in the UK, I could at least have a friend buy it and mail it to me.

Anyone know a way around this?

Friday, October 12, 2012

Brookner Review Central

I am grateful that people are still finding this blog and sending me emails of encouragement and thanks. Some people email and let me know that they have reviewed a Brookner novel, and other reviews I find on my own among the blogs I frequent. I suppose if I did some Googling I would come across more blog reviews of Brookner novels, but I will save that project for a rainy day.

In the meantime, you will note that I posted two more reviews of Hotel du Lac today. Having won the Booker Prize, it is no surprise that HdL is the most read and reviewed Brookner on this site. In fact, 12 of the 42 reviews posted here are for HdL. The remaining 30 reviews are spread out among 15 other Brookner novels. (If you click on the review index button above you can see all of the reviews listed with links to the actual review.)

One might ask: "Don't you have enough reviews of HdL?" Although it would be nice to fill in the list with reviews of other Brookner novels, I am still more than happy to take whatever HdL reviews come my way.  My goal is to be a one stop shop for blogger reviews of AB's 24 (and counting?) novels.

I think I may create another tab above that lists all of the non-review posts on the site so that one can check out other aspects of AB without having to scroll through every review. But that might also be saved for the aforementioned rainy day.

And for those of you who like London or urban geography make sure you check out my still small but growing compendium of London place names that appear in Brookner's fiction which can also be found on one of the buttons at the top of the page.

This weekend I am going to figure out how to download AB's e-novella At the Hairdresser's.

Review: Hotel du Lac

This review of Hotel du Lac was originally posted at Desperate Reader.
'Hotel Du Lac' is the latest read from a postal book group I belong to (it's a brilliant idea - not mine - there are 15 of us in the current round, you send a book out along with a notebook, and get it back a couple of years later with everybody's comments attached, it'a a remarkably pressure free set up and I've discovered some great books this way) it's also the first Anita Brookner I've tried.

Reading through the comments that others left in the notebook has in this instance proved an exceptionally helpful way of clarifying my own thoughts on the book - curiously, because this is by no means common, most of us seem to have had similar reactions to it. 'Hotel Du Lac' won the booker in 1984, but in many ways it feels like a much earlier sort of book. The central character, Edith, works for a living - but as a lady novelist writing harmless romances which feels very 1930's. Her need to escape a scandal she's caused, and the method she chooses to escape is positively Edwardian - discreet retirement to a Swiss hotel to see out the end of the season. Did people really behave like this in the 1980's? Especially people living in mildly intellectual and literary circles in London - it seems somehow unlikely.

Edith, who has a certain measure of success as a novelist hankers after the comfort and companionship of married life, unfortunately she has chosen a married lover instead - one who obviously won't leave his wife. Along comes another man who seems to think she'll fill his mothers shoes, in this case the allure of marriage is all in the status it will confer; instead of being a troubling single woman Edith will be safely married off and far more welcome at dinner parties. She changes her mind at the last possible moment - hence the exile, and whilst in Switzerland she meets another wealthy, presentable, man who puts forward a case for marriage in even starker terms - it's all about position, and a woman without a husband apparently has a very precarious one.

Edith's ability to attract men, despite her habit for long cardigans, and albeit men with some fairly serious shortcomings gives the book the feel of a standard romance - dowdy woman gets the men over her glossier, blonder, sisters because they see through to her innate qualities beneath - but Edith is both too passive and too well off for this reader to care much about.

I know people rate Anita Brookner's books - I'm inclined to think with this one that it's reached a difficult age where to many things about it feel awkward and contrived. Despite that feeling the writing is often beautiful, and occasionally strikes a real chord, as when Edith feels she may have had enough of having to earn her own living; that writing is no longer a creative pursuit, but is instead likely to become a never ending chore that must be done to make ends meet. 

Review: Hotel du Lac

This review of Hotel du Lac was posted recently by Emily at EmilyBooks.

I knew I was going to enjoy Hotel du Lac when I reached the third page, on which Anita Brookner described Edith’s hotel room as ‘the colour of over-cooked veal’. It sounds so perfectly disgusting – the insipid colour, the dryness, the foul tough chewy taste and also curiously old-fashioned, as veal is one of those things rarely eaten these days.

The book is peppered with moments like this, these little phrases which are spot on – imaginative, evocative and also drily funny. To my mind, Penelope Fitzgerald (see here) and Elizabeth Taylor (see here) are the real mistresses of them, but Anita Brookner is not far behind.

In Hotel du Lac, these pert phrases sparkle against what some might find to be rather a quiet, dull background of a Swiss hotel with its dotty residents who sit around not doing very much. But I liked the quietness of the novel, the feeling of the hotel’s slow crumbling decline, while clinging on to its delusions of grandeur – an attitude not unlike that shared by many of its ageing, fading residents.

The hotel is the setting for a short episode in the life of Edith Hope. A romantic novelist, Edith has been bundled off to the Hotel du Lac in the wake of a mysterious ‘event’ in order to escape the scandal and – it is hoped – reflect on her bad behaviour. Her story gradually unfolds as she observes the peculiar residents of the hotel, who have their own rather idiosyncratic tales to tell.

In many ways Hotel du Lac feels like an older novel. I suppose, as it was written in the eighties, it is reasonably old now. But it feels more like a novel of the thirties – which was probably the heyday of the Hotel du Lac. People still dress for dinner, ask people to join them for coffee, and enjoy other dated forms of behaviour – it is as though the hotel exists in something of a time warp. Some of my favourite moments are when this old-fashioned feel clashes with something terribly eighties, such as one of the guests dressing for dinner in:
pink harem pants, teamed, as they say in the fashion mags, with an off the shoulder blouse.
Not the elegant silk gown one was expecting!
Anita Brookner is revisiting this old-fashioned scenario of a grand Swiss hotel and re-examining it in a modern light. Not only in terms of fashion, but as a background to re-asses ideas about love and about women.
It becomes clear pretty early on that Edith has been having an affair with a married man. David and her have an affair that seems to consist of visits to private views at art galleries, lots of sex and then her cooking him tremendous fry ups in the middle of the night. Actually that sounds quite fun. But we are often reminded that David has a wife and children; Edith is the other woman. And yet, as Edith is the narrator, and is timid and a bit hopeless, the reader can’t help but sympathise with her. She is not the scheming ‘baddie’ one would automatically expect the other woman to be.

In thinking about the age-old issue of affairs, Anita Brookner calls up an older literary exploration of it, Elizabeth Jenkins’s 1954 novel The Tortoise and the Hare, which is one of my favourite books – terribly sad, too brilliant and I wrote about it here. Edith has a conversation with her agent about the tortoise and the hare, which she terms ‘the most potent myth of all’:
In my books it is the mouse-like unassuming girl who gets the hero, while the scornful temptress with whom he has had a stormy affair retreats baffled from the fray, never to return. The tortoise wins every time. This is a lie, of course … In real life, of course, it is the hare who wins. Every time. Look around you. And in any case it is my contention that Aesop was writing for the tortoise market … Hares don’t have time to read.
In The Tortoise and the Hare, Jenkins deploys Aesop’s fable as an extended metaphor for a failing marriage and an adulterous other woman. What is so clever about Elizabeth Jenkins’s book, as Carmen Calil points out in her Afterword, is that while you read it you are endlessly reassessing who you think is the tortoise and who the hare. From this conversation, it would seem that Edith thinks the slow unassuming wife is the tortoise, the swift scornful hare the adulteress. She bemoans the fact that in the novels she writes the tortoise always wins, when that isn’t true to life.
But hang on a minute, Edith is herself a character in a novel, and she is the adulteress. Does that mean that she is the swift scornful hare? Does that mean that, because she is encased within a novel, she will lose? Or, in terms of her ‘real life’, as opposed to the novels she writes, will she win?
Perhaps Anita Brookner is just as clever as Elizabeth Jenkins here, because Edith is as much a tortoise – timid, miserable, reading lots of books – as a husband-stealing hare. And the little we see of David’s wife does not make her seem particularly tortoise-like:
Highly coloured, drinking rather a lot, argumentative. Sexy, she thought painfully. But discontented, nevertheless.
The metaphor of the tortoise and the hare, so brilliantly employed by Elizabeth Jenkins, rather falls apart in this context, where the women in question are shown to possess qualities of both. That was the fifties, this is the eighties, says Anita Brookner, and things have changed.
I suppose what feels rather depressing about Hotel du Lac – aside from the grey light and veal-coloured rooms and somewhat lost, rejected-by-society cast of characters – is that Brookner gives such a negative portrayal of love affairs. Things haven’t changed for the better, in terms of relationships.
Edith has to choose whether to marry and live the life of a tortoise or to continue with her affair and live the life of the hare. Neither seems particularly appealing or fulfilling. Really what makes Edith happy is writing and sitting in her garden – man-free activities. Could Brookner be suggesting that the race to win a man simply isn’t worth running anymore? By exploding these roles of tortoise and hare, Brookner suggests that rather than trying to squeeze into such ill-fitting moulds, women should run in a different race altogether, a race in which men don’t feature.
This pulling apart of the tortoise and the hare myth is part of Brookner’s wider assessment of women. Here is Edith’s scathing description of women who are ‘ultra-feminine’:
the complacent consumers of men with their complicated but unwritten rules of what is due to them. Treats. Indulgences. Privileges. The right to make illogical fusses. The cult of themselves. Such women strike me as dishonourable. And terrifying.
Terrifying indeed!

Ladies, I suppose the lesson here is to tend to your garden, as Voltaire instructed, and live as a self-sufficient individual without needing to ‘consume’ men in such a hideous way. Rather than choosing between being a tortoise or a hare, Brookner suggests that a woman can be a different creature altogether.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Anita Brookner pulls me into the 21st Century

It has been too long since I looked at Peta Mayer's Anita Brookner blog.  I popped over there this weekend and discovered that Anita Brookner published a novella with Penguin in 2011, but it is only available in electronic format. I hate e-readers. Is Anita Brookner going to be the one to finally get me to read something on an e-reader. The answer is "hell yeah". But, that is where it will end.

Peta notes that Brookner has never written a novella before. I think that some would argue that many of her novels, being around the 200 page mark, qualify as novellas.

A new Brookner. How cool.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Review: Hotel du Lac

Just finished the 4th of AB's 24 novels as I re-read them all in chronological order. This reveiw originally appeared on My Porch in honor of the first anniversary of International Anita Brookner Day on July 16, 2011.
…it is my contention that Aesop was writing for the tortoise market…Hares have no time to read. They are too busy winning the game.
There is no denying that Anita Brookner found her fach and stuck to it. On my first read through all of her 24 novels, I often noted that I had a hard time telling one novel from another. But for some reason over the 14 years that it took me to read all of her novels, it always stuck in my head that the Booker Prize-winning Hotel du Lac was one of my least favorite Brookners. Having now re-read it, I am at a loss to understand why I felt that way. Granted, plenty of you haven’t liked it, but I think that may have had more to do with a general dislike for Brookner rather than anything specific to Hotel du Lac. Although I class myself as a rabid Brookner fan, something intensifying as I re-read her catalogue, I can understand why she is not everyone’s cup of tea.
But for those of us who do like her…

Brookner sets Hotel du Lac is in an unnamed Swiss town along Lac Leman/Lake Geneva in the waning days of the fall shoulder season as the town and the hotel look to close up for the winter. Edith Hope is a romance novelist who has done something scandalous that forces her to escape London until the furor dies down. Being a woman of means, one has to wonder why Edith installs herself in a rather lackluster, grey location with “unemphatic” scenery and poor weather, instead of travelling to some other more pleasant, dynamic location. Perhaps it is because a more interesting destination wouldn’t have provided the proper penance and reflection her acquaintances in England felt she needed. And frankly it also wouldn’t have suited a Brookner character very well. They tend to thrive, if it can be called that, on quiet and gray. True, Edith isn’t a typical Brookner character in some respects. Indeed she takes several decisions, including the one that caused the scandal and the one that ends the book, that belie the usual inertia of a Brookner heroine. Still, in Hotel du Lac we have plenty of compulsive walking: “…she carried on [walking] until she thought it time to be allowed to stop.”

In many ways Hotel du Lac is a treatise on the roles of women in society—at least as Brookner saw them in the early 1980s. It may not cleave to the tenets of traditional feminism, but it most definitely can be read as a gentle, quietly satirical screed against those social conventions that keep women playing to type and being defined solely by their relationships with men. We’ve all met Mrs. Pusey:
On those rare occasions when Mrs. Pusey was sitting alone, Edith had observed her in all sorts of attention-catching ploys, creating a small locus of busyness that inevitably invited someone to come to her aid.
Then there is Mrs. Pusey’s daughter Jennifer, outfitted like a queen (pink harem pants and an off the shoulder blouse—oh the 1980s) who serves as a kind of lady-in-waiting to her mother, while they both wait for the day when a suitable gentleman—someone interested in being the third in their mother/daughter sandwich—comes along to marry Jennifer. And then there is Monica, an eating-disordered woman about to be abandoned by a husband desirious of an heir that she is unable to produce. And Edith’s friend Penelope back in London who insists that a man is needed to legitimize Edith's existence. Even Edith’s romance novel readers, the tortoises, all waiting for the world to turn upside down and reward the slow and the meek.
Many times I reduce Brookner’s characters to caricatures of people who find it impossible to do anything about their lives. I don’t think Edith is that same kind of character. But I do think that the decision she makes at the end of the book--the right decision no doubt--may put her on a trajectory to be one of those people. I think that few of us are truly victims of circumstance. Instead we are victims of our own decisions. As I approached 40 I made some decisions that I thought would keep me from a certain kind of professional future. Now, five years later, I realize that despite having a bit of an enjoyable whirl and liking what I do at the moment, I am back on the professional trajectory that I thought I left for good at 38. The difference is my place on the trajectory is much less secure than it was back then. I could blame it on the bad economy and the short sidedness of the Tea Party, but in the end I made the decisions that led me to this place. I think Edith is rightly changing her trajectory, but I wouldn’t be surprised if she ended up where she started.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Review: Hotel du Lac

The latest review of Hotel du Lac come from Rachel at Book Snob. HdL isn't my favorite Brookner, but I think I liked it more than Rachel did. Still, I am up for any intelligent review, whether positive or negative. I will be re-reading HdL soon in my quest to re-read all her novels in chron order. I am curious to see what I think of it about 12 years after reading it the first time.  In the meantime, take it away Rachel....

Last summer, while I was still living in New York, Thomas hosted International Anita Brookner Day on his blog. I didn’t take part, but I was intrigued by the reviews I read and made a mental note to look out for her titles in future. A couple of weeks later, on a stiflingly muggy, thunderous evening, I was walking from Union Square over to 1st Avenue to catch my bus back to Harlem when I stumbled across a thrift store on a side street. The books were all $1, so I quickly scanned the shelves, looking for treasure. I spotted a pretty hardcover; Hotel du Lac, by Anita Brookner. How timely! I checked my purse; yes, there was a crumpled dollar bill inside. A sign! I dusted it off and took it to the desk, handing over my dollar just as the heavens opened outside. I shoved Anita into my bag, leapt out into the street, and ran with my friend, laughing to the bus stop as the rain poured down, bouncing off the pavement and soaking us to the skin. Typically, as soon as we got to the bus stop, the rain storm passed. I never ceased to be amazed at how sudden and violent New York rain storms were; and also, how they never ‘cleared the air’, but made it even hotter, causing the sizzling sidewalks to emit steam and increasing the already unbearable humidity. Needless to say, even after all that trouble to get hold of a copy, I never managed to get around to reading Hotel du Lac in New York. When I opened it up on a Greek beach a couple of weeks ago, I smiled at the slight damp stains at the corners and at the thrift store bookmark I had left inside. I’m glad I waited to read it; it was lovely to be reminded about that rainstorm, that night, that magical summer. It’s hard to believe that it was a year ago already.

Anyway, I digress. To the book! It’s probably telling that I found it more pleasurable for the memories it invoked of where I bought it than for the actual story, but that’s not to say that I thought it a bad book. Far from it, actually. Edith Hope is a mildly successful author of romance novels. In her mid thirties, she has a passing resemblance to a dowdy Virginia Woolf and lives a seemingly colourless existence that revolves around her cats and her courtyard garden. However, this is far from the truth; Edith has secretly been up to no good, for quite some time. After committing a terrible faux pas- left unexplained until the middle of the novel – her friend has sent her packing to a luxurious yet old fashioned hotel on a Swiss lake for a month while she ‘comes to her senses’. Edith arrives at the hotel just as it is about to close for the season. It is unostentatiously palatial; a relic of a former age, the owners refuse to acknowledge that its heyday has passed and only accept guests ‘on recommendation’. As the summer is almost over, the clientele has reduced to a small band of discerning regulars; the rich and glamorous widow Iris Pusey and her devoted daughter Jennifer, the painfully thin, beautiful Lady Monica and her dog, and Madame de Bonneuil, an aged countess who has been kicked out of her home by her selfish son’s wife. Edith gradually gets drawn into all of their lives, finding herself surprised at what she discovers under their respectable exteriors. The self absorbed Puseys are not as young as they look, and the love they have for one another is not quite as sweet as it initially appears. Lady Monica’s disdain hides a desperate unhappiness, and the crumpled remnants of Madame de Bonneuil hide a broken heart.

All of these women teach Edith something about what it is to be a woman, and make her reflect on her own life, the mistakes she has made, and what she wants for the future. They are all trapped in the hotel, pinned there, in a way, by their state as dependant women. Their lives are dictated by the men that are or were their partners, and they have no real independent existence. The atmosphere is stifling; the boredom and frustration palpable. There is nothing to do, nothing to see – the holidaymakers have gone, the shops are shut; normal life has resumed for the locals, leaving the remaining guests at the hotel stuck in a strange limbo. When Mr Neville appears on the scene, there is a flurry of activity, of excitement; he cuts through the sickly sweet feminine atmosphere of the hotel, and soon sets about ingratiating himself with his fellow guests. However, he is not what he seems either, and he will unexpectedly force Edith into becoming the active rather than passive agent of her own life.

Not a lot happens in this novel; it is character rather than plot led. Brookner’s powers of observation are excellent, and her prose is intelligent, insightful, well crafted and stylish. It was somewhat reminiscent of Elizabeth Taylor’s Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont, with its elegiac, rather depressing undertone, and claustrophobic setting. I loved the characters, especially the Puseys; their somewhat sinister relationship was absolutely fascinating to watch unfold on the pages. However, overall, it left a bit of an odd taste in my mouth. The novel felt a little bit off centre, somehow. It was like reading a second rate Barbara Pym novel, but one set thirty years too late. Like Hotel du Lac itself, everything about the characters and plot feels out dated, old fashioned, tired. The characters don’t ring true to their time period, and there was a mean spirited undertone that I found disconcerting. It is certainly not a pleasant novel, and the limited and reductive portrayal of women’s lives left me feeling cold. However, Brookner’s writing is brilliant, and there are many passages and sentences I re-read with delight, in awe of how she had chosen just the most perfect blend of exquisite words to bring a character or scene to life. Hotel du Lac might not have quite come together for me, but I certainly haven’t been put off Brookner as a novelist. I’m keen to try something else; any suggestions?

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Review: Look at Me

I didn't mean to post two reviews of Look at Me back-to-back, but the earlier one was already posted, and this happened to be the next Brookner for me to re-read. You can find this review posted at My Porch.

I haven't read any Anita Brookner since last year's rather successful International Anita Brookner Day. Having finished all of Brookner's 24 novels, my intention is to re-read all of them in chronological order. Last year for IABD, I knocked off her first two novels The Debut (A Start in Life) and Providence. As much as I have liked all of Brookner's novels on the first go, I found last year when I re-read those first two, that I liked them even more on a second read. Now with her third novel, Look at Me, I find myself of the same disposition. In fact, I think that Brookner's novels which can seem superficially similar, have a depth that really makes them worth a second read--and frankly, I can imagine going back to them again and again for the rest of my life. This is especially comforting since, the once prolific Brookner (at one point a novel a year for about 20 years) seems to have slowed down considerably.

Frances Hinton, who hates being called Fanny, is always called Fanny. She works in a medical research library and like many other Brookner heroines, is miserably comfortable with her routine. That is until Dr. Nick Fraser and his wife Alix decide to make her a part of their social life.
If I moved in with them I would be delivered from the silence of Sundays, and all those terrible public holidays - Christmas, Easter - when I could never, ever, find an adequate means of using up all the available time.
Unlike many other Brookner heroines, Fanny comes to life as a result of this friendship and even starts seeing a doctor, James, who makes her happy.
Although I am naturally pale, I could feel the blood warm in my cheeks. I drew no conclusion from this, and my instinct was correct. I was not falling in love. Nor was there any likelihood that I might. But I was being protected, and that was something that I had not experienced for as long as I could remember. I was coming first with someone, as I had not done for some sad months past, and in my heart of hearts for longer, much longer.
Fanny's benign desire for someone to finally pay attention to her is ultimately overtaken by Alix's much less benign, somewhat pathological need to have everyone looking at her instead. Alix uses Fanny for her own amusement and doesn't seem to mind the results. Fanny reflects on her relationship with Alix:
I was an audience and an admirer; I relieved some of her frustration; I shared her esteem for her own superiority; and I was loyal and well-behaved and totally uncritical. Yet she found me dull, intrinsically dull, simply because I was loyal and well-behaved and uncritical.
And it is Alix's need to be at the center of attention that makes her more of a taker than a giver. Alix may have introduced Fanny to James, and enjoyed watching their relationship develop. But when she thinks she is being denied all the details of the results of her matchmaking, or worse, when she realizes that Fanny isn't letting the relationship with James go where Alix thinks it should go, she begins to drive a wedge between Fanny and James. In many ways there is nothing unusual about this story, I think we have all been subjected to the cruel selfishness of so-called friends, and we have all been jilted in romantic relationships. But for Fanny the situation is life changing in a way that she struggles against. She sees her life going in a direction that seems inevitable despite her efforts to alter course.
I could have been different, I think. Once I had great confidence, great cheerfulness; I did not question my purpose or the purpose of others. All that had gone, and I had done my best to replace it. I had become diligent instead of spontaneous; I had become an observer when I saw that I was not allowed to participate. I had refused to be pitiable. I had never once said, Look at me. Now, it seemed I must make one more effort, one more attempt to prove myself viable. And if I succeeded, I might be granted one more opportunity to do it all over again. I did not dare to think what would happen if I failed.
Does she fail? If you have every read Brookner, you probably know the answer to that.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Review: Look At Me

It only took me a month to get this review from Geranium Cat's Bookshelf posted.

This is a painful little book. Appropriately so, since its theme is melancholia. Frances Hinton is a reference librarian who catalogues images of psychological disturbance while working extremely hard to maintain her own detachment from the complications of living. She lives in a block of flats in Maida Vale that is almost entirely populated by the elderly, walks to work and visits art galleries on long, oppressive Sunday afternoons. She would like to have friends but makes no effort to cultivate them, until she is taken up by the glamorous Nick and Alix, who are the kind of golden couple who are always surrounded by noise and vitality. Frances, who manages to be one of the world's over-thinkers while remaining essentially blind to what is going on around her, questions her own motives in allowing herself to be captivated by them, but utterly fails to interrogate theirs until too late. At the start of the novel she wields her detachment with a good deal of pride, turning sharp little vignettes of her acquaintances into witty short stories, and a novel is planned (it would be very Barbara Pym, I think):

When I feel swamped in my solitude and hidden by it, physically obscured by it, rendered invisible, in fact, writing is my way of piping up. Of reminding people that I am here. And when I have ordered my characters, plundered my store of images, removed from them all the sadness that I might feel in myself, then I can switch on that current that allows me to write so easily, once I get started, and to make people laugh. That, it seems, is what they like to do. And if I manage this well enough and beguile all the dons and the critics, they will fail to register my real message, which is a simple one. 'Look at me,' I would say. 'Look at me.'
I like Brookner, but I think I would like her better if she were more Pym herself. There are some delicious acid touches, especially in the exchanges between Olivia, the other librarian, and the regulars, but this is a serious book and, though brief,  it is at times quite slow. I did rather want to tell Frances ("I do not like to be called Fanny" she tells us and then almost everyone does) to stop thinking and join a film society or something, but at the same time I could understand why she was so guarded, and I didn't want her to be humiliated.

Look At Me shares a theme familiar from many mid-twentieth-century books, the fear of lonely old age. Frances makes monthly duty visits to Miss Morpeth, a retired librarian, and these are difficult occasions. There is little dignity about poverty in the elderly and Frances is afraid that her own future looks bleak. Her memories of her most recent Christmas, alone in her over-large flat with her late mother's housekeeper, lend urgency to her need for company and affection, for disruption to her ordered days.

I don't find Brookner easy to talk about - her writing is elegant and stylish, her wit sparse but dry, yet you wonder if she chooses to write about the alienated because she doesn't like excessive emotion herself. That's something I can understand, even approve of, but it doesn't leave a lot to enthuse about. Indeed, it would be rather ridiculous to try... So her novels are an occasional, if muted, pleasure. It must be some twenty years since I read Hotel du Lac. That's about the right interval, I should think.