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Review: Hotel du Lac, Anita Brookner

As punishment, Edith Hope has been sent to Switzerland to stay in a quiet hotel near the end of the season.  She is to recuperate, write another romance novel under her pseudonym Vanessa Wilde, and escape the scandal she has caused.  Edith gets acquainted with her fellow guests, learning their lives up to this point, and examines the difference from her own life, a generally quiet one.  Interspersed with her memory and narrative are her letters to her lover David, who appears to be the catalyst for the scandal.  The hotel and its guests teach Edith a few powerful lessons about love and trust before she can return to London and normality.

This book has quite a number of quirky characters.  There are the Puseys, Edith’s first friends, who are thoroughly obsessed with themselves and their money; proof if any was ever needed that apples sometimes don’t fall far from trees.  There is the old deaf Comtesse, living for brief visits with her son.  There is Edith’s friend Monica, sneakily avoiding meals even though she’s been sent to the hotel to fix that problem.  Finally, there is the man in the gray suit, an intriguing but also alarming figure who asks Edith daring questions and seems a little too interested in her.

It’s hard not to spoil anything, since it’s less than 200 pages long and nothing was really starting until page 50 or so.  Moreover, I don’t know how much I have to say about this book.  It was one that quietly snuck up on me.  The ending was magnificent, though.  At its length, the book needed something to make it stand out.  This is a quiet, quaint little story.  Edith’s reason for essentially being sent away is a little old-fashioned in more or less every respect, but that doesn’t make her feelings any less relevant.

Overall, I can’t say this novel thrilled me.  I didn’t know what was so extraordinary about it that merited a Booker Prize.  It is a quiet story with a bit of a suckerpunch ending, which I have loved before, but it seemed a bit too quiet.  While the residents are interesting, Edith’s interactions with them are not the stuff of excitement, nor revealing enough to justify much attention.  I’d be interested in reading something else by this author, but I wouldn’t be too excited to do so.

Check out Hotel Du Lac on Amazon.

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11 comments to Review: Hotel du Lac, Anita Brookner

  • That’s pretty much how I felt about it. I have enjoyed quiet books of this kind before, but I don’t know, nothing really stood out in this case.

    Nymeth’s last blog post..The 13 Clocks by James Thurber

  • Sorry it wasn’t any better. I was thinking that I wish someone would punish me by sending me to a quiet hotel in Switzerland.

  • Like Nymeth, I felt exactly the same about this book. There really isn’t anything remarkable about it. It’s very forgettable. However, I recently read Brookner’s newest book, Strangers, and surprisingly I liked it a lot. Same perfectly-rendered prose, same quietude, but relatable insights abound, which I loved.

  • I generally really like Booker Prize winners but I’ve heard enough things about this one that I don’t think I’ll be picking it up anytime soon. It’s interesting because sometimes quiet books (like Remains of the Day) really strike me, but I guess it takes a crafty author to pull them off successfully. I’ve heard that Strangers, like Claire mentioned, is much better.

  • What genre would you say this novel falls under? What made you pick it up to read? Also, how do you feel the author did descriptively with the setting of Switzerland?

    • Meghan

      I think I’d file it under literary fiction. It’s not a mystery like heidenkind suggests below, although I can see how it would be set up as one. I picked it up mostly because others liked it and because I’ve been reading Booker winners in a search for a gem like The Remains of the Day.

      I did like the setting of Switzerland, it sounded quite lovely. I have never been there but she certainly made me want to.

  • I’m wondering the same thing as Steven. Is it a mystery? This sounds like a great set-up for a mystery plot (very Miss Marple), but I’m not sure I’d be interested in reading it if it wasn’t a genre novel.

  • The quirky characters definitely sound interesting, but I usually don’t like quiet literary reads.

    Belle’s last blog post..What’s Up Sunday – June 14

  • Something about the quaint and quietness of this story really appeals to me. I am going to put it on my wish list and give it a try. I will let you know how it goes when I finally get around to it. Glad you featured this one!

    Zibilee’s last blog post..Don’t Call Me a Crook: A Scotsman’s Tale of World Travel, Whiskey and Crime by Bob Moore – 256 pgs

  • Chris Conlon

    Hotel du Lac has been one of my favorite novels for over twenty years, just as Brookner has been one of my favorite writers (I’ve read all 24 of her novels, several multiple times). There is a wonderful film of Hotel du Lac starring Anna Massey; it was done by the BBC in 1986 or thereabouts. It’s only available on a Region 2 DVD right now, as far as I know, but it’s well worth searching out. Denholm Elliot plays Mr. Neville to slightly-seedy perfection.

  • D Jacobson

    I loved the book in great measure because of Anita Brookner’s writing. However, I have a question. Her character finds a man attractive because of “his well-turned ankles,” revealed only while seated, of course, because he always wears impeccably tailored suits. Do you find that odd? Jane Austen could go on and on about someone’s forehead, so perhaps it’s uniquely English or rooted in the period.

    But no, not in the period. In Marrying the Mistress by Joanna Trollope, a man takes a seat in a train compartment opposite a young woman: “Round the cover of her book, held up close to her face, she examined his hair and his skin and his clothes and his hands and his shoes. It looked, as far as she could see, as if he had good ankles.”

    What is it with English women and ankles across several generations?