HOTEL DU LAC | ANITA BROOKNER [Review]

A Summary (No Spoilers)…

Hotel Du Lac is the quaint and quiet estabishment to which we follow our disgraced heroine. A writer of romance novels, Edith is at a crossroads, and the musty, veal-coloured halls of the hotel aren’t having the restorative effect she needs. She meets a cast of peculiar women, all trapped and slowly drowning in the stagnant waters of the Hotel Du Lac.

There is a quiet confidence to Brookner’s writing which I loved. Her descriptions, while lengthy, are not overdone, and her characters, while idiosyncratic, never cross the line into caricatures.

In particular, the characterisation of the Puseys was delightful. Iris Pusey and her daughter, Jennifer, are the inseparable duo with deep pockets and shallow stories, around whom the world rightfully revolves. As the book progresses, layers are peeled back to reveal their great faults and their toxic dynamic. As Edith’s attitude towards them shift from fascination, to amusement, to exhaustion, Brookner’s descriptions of them change accordingly. It is subtle and playful and perfectly executed.

Warning: Don’t be misled into believing this is a love story! Yes, there is an enigmatic Mr Neville who magically appears with promises of a new and comfortable life, but he is hardly a knight in shining armour — in fact, he is condescending and entirely unconvincing as a suitor. Despite this, there are elements of romance —I had the sense that Edith dreams of a high romance and is disappointed but not too surprised that she never got an epic love story.

I loved this book, so I was interested to find out that this Booker winner was received with great hostility. Many believed that JG Ballard’s Empire of the Sun should have won the Booker in 1984, and the backlash Brookner received prompted her to concede that her books were ‘quite nice but unimportant’.

Untrue! Writers who can capture the essence of a place as Brookner can are few and far between. Brookner’s quiet and ambient storytelling is just as important and rewarding to read as grand large-scale epics.

This book was a joy to read. I will be on the lookout for more by Anita Brookner. Even though this was the first book I read by her, I believe she has made it onto my list of ‘auto-buy authors’.

You’ll also love…

LES MISERABLES | VICTOR HUGO → yes, the lengths of the two books are wildly different, but both authors take you deep into the souls of the places and characters with their very descriptive writing.

THE HOUSE OF MIRTH | EDITH WHARTON → for another story of a disgraced heroine who is inexplicably dissatisfied with her life and craves a perfect romance. Both explore the cruel realities of womanhood, money, and independence.

THE INSEPARABLES | SIMONE DE BEAUVOIR → for another short but immersive read by a celebrated female author. Both revolve around an introspective and creative protagonist experiencing growing pains against the backdrop of a judgmental society.

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