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.