I 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!