“Hotel du Lac”, by Anita Brookner

20160325_171600I have had this book on my list for some time. I read Brookner´s short novel “At the Hairdressers” last September, and liked her tone. Two weeks ago, she died, and I decided to get her Booker-prize winning novel “Hotel du Lac” from 1984 and have enjoyed it over the last few days. It is truly beautifully written, not tiringly long, and has quite a bit of humour in it, too.

The protagonist of this story, Edith, is being whisked off to the airport by an angry friend, told to keep away for some time, to atone for what I thought for more than half the book was being “the other woman” to a respectably married man. But no, she has actually run away from a wedding to another respectable man, whom she did not love. This seemed like her last chance at marriage, being more than a bit plain (everyone says to Edith she looks like Virginia Woolf, and I never heard Woolf being considered a great beauty) and fast approaching the age of 40.

Also like Woolf, Edith is an author, but of romance literature, and she really believes in true love. As she makes herself at home at the Swiss hotel of her exile, she befriends a group of women there, all representing different ways to relate to men and themselves. The whole novel is a kind of disputation on the matter of true love, and what seems to be Brookner´s conclusion is that only the truly self-absorbed, brutal, and greedy can live out the romantic dream, as exemplified by Mrs Pusey, who performs her life on a self-erected pedistal. Edith is again offered a marriage of convenience, by a man who urges her to become more selfish, because, he argues, only selfishness and a refusal to be touched by anyone can lead to any lasting happiness. Any deep emotion for another can only lead to disappointment and grief, not to mention public shame. So she get´s another chance at marriage to a wealthy and respectable man she does not love, but without the illusion of love being offered.

‘You are a lady, Edith. They are rather out of fashion these days, as you may have noticed. As my wife, you will do very well. Unmarried, I’m afraid you will soon look a bit of a fool.’

Charming proposal, don´t you think? I will not tell you what she does, but I´m not sure I sympathise entirely. Brookner really cuts a two-sided sword through Edith´s dilemma: she can either marry for comfort, respectability, and any selfish happiness she can buy, or she can go on leading a ridiculous life, waiting for her lover to call whenever he pleases.

As someone who has been more or less married (we did it the usual European way: moved in together for the love and married to protect the money when it was clear that it was lasting) for 25 years, I can say that every good and long-lasting, love-based marriage has elements of what Brookner scorns. Sometimes one has to look out for number one, as they say. You don´t want to change someone you love, even if that would make them suit you better, but suffering is not the answer, because who wants to be married to someone who suffers? In Edith´s case, her tragedy is that she can´t stop loving a man who does not love her.

Brookner never married herself, and what I read of her seems to indicate that she lived a lonely life that she wished had been different. Perhaps Edith´s choice is very much her own. It´s an odd world-view, though, for a mature woman to have, a kind of take-it-or-leave-it attitude that I might have sympathised with more as a dramatic teenager, when you think you will neeever love again after every breakup (no, I actually never believed that; I was always level-headed about love). In a way, Edith is a 39-year old teenager, and she paints herself into a corner where she actually does look a fool, as her suitor points out.

This novel has been filmed, and after seeing a few clips on youtube, I have managed to find a copy in Germany. I am really looking forward to this!

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8 thoughts on ““Hotel du Lac”, by Anita Brookner”

  1. I was delighted to see you posting again. I really enjoyed the drawing and the review of an author and book I’d never heard of before.

    As someone who has never been married, I don’t believe I’m a fool, nor have I led a ridiculous or even lonely life. Education has always been more important to me than anything, and I often made more money than the men who were attracted to me. As a result, I had no time for long term relationships (other than with my cat).

    The story sound interesting, although a bit outdated by my way of thinking. I’m certainly glad you reviewed it, and introduced me to a new author, though.

    1. Thanks, yes, I am struggling with both energy and time to blog at the speed I did. I don´t plan on going away, though.

      Brookner is a very gifted writer, and she does make you think. She is one of those authors that makes me argue with her, and that is a very good quality, I find.

  2. She does write beautifully, doesn’t she!

    I remember when my now-husband proposed to me, my first thought was “do I want to get married at all?” I somehow knew my life would be just as good in an entirely different way if I never married. For people who have that idealized view of love and relationships, though, they seem to feel like outsiders looking in. I guess it’s different if you want something you can’t have.

    I enjoy the way Brookner describes relationships and women’s feelings.

    1. Yes, it´s really wonderful prose, and a good insight into a kind of womanly way that I find it hard to relate to. I had a similarly reluctant attitude to marriage, and so did the husband. Still, we moved in together after having spent about a week together physically (we were in opposite parts of the country when we met and courted long-distance, aka real letters, for about six months), so in a way it was fast, and no hesitation. I sometimes think of us as two old bachelors that live together, since we hardly seem to do anything that other couples invest in so much, or have the typical conflicts. I think it would be boring to be alone now that I know there is at least one person who fits me well, but without that knowledge I think I might have done well on my own. But having the feeling that no one wants you and longing for companionship, that would be heartbreaking. 🙁

      1. Yes, I think I know just what you mean. I’ve been told that it’s hell to be married to someone unsuitable no matter what, and that it’s heaven to be married to the right person, but only if marriage itself suits you lol. I know a few people who never married, and they do well. I think it’s similar with kids in that some people long for it so but can’t have it, while some people don’t have it and get along just fine without. I think maybe it’s that wanting a life that you can’t have can makes you blind to the value in the life that’s yours.

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