Hotel du Lac, Anita Brookner


April 2023

I read Hotel du Lac in the Alps, French not Swiss but it seemed a fitting tribute to the short novel’s location.This was a re-read, technically, though it is many years since my first read of Anita Brookner’s Booker-winning (1984) story about the wise and modest romance novelist Edith Hope, who has done something so dreadfully embarrassing at home in the UK that her deeply bourgeois friends have forced her to retreat to Lake Geneva as penance.

It is here, at the elegant but staid Hotel du Lac, that Edith reflects on her decision to do things her own way. But we have to wait to find out what terrible shame she has inflicted upon her crowd, and Brookner is as good at suspense as any thriller writer, her every phrase as polished as the Hotel du Lac’s silverware, and as dense with meaning as the mannered cast of characters she meets during her stay.

Brookner teases the romance genre, Edith does not even write under her own name, but she also celebrates it by giving her heroine the liberty of independence, freedom of thought, and - ultimately - clarity while she muddles through what she might have done or should have done. In the end, she is her own woman, and Hotel du Lac is a powerful testament to the bravery and value of turning one’s back on expectations.

I think Anita Brookner may have terrified me in real life. I imagine her as strong, decisive, quick to judge, little sympathy for people-pleasing ditherers like me. I have got all this from this one novel and her author photo. And we wouldn’t have seen eye to eye on food. For all her page-long descriptions of minutely-detailed hotel rooms and fashion, she barely spares a word for what anyone eats throughout, even though they usually meet in the dining room and in cafés (we do get the occasional cake). Is this because it wasn’t polite then to talk about what you were eating, or looking forward to eating?

I read what feels like an ancient paperback belonging to my mother, and have Family and Friends on my shelves, too, and Look At Me will be next. When I looked Anita Brookner up I see she has written a proper stack of novels, so I have a long way to go with her yet.