Edith Hope writes romance novel under the pen name Vanessa Wilde who secretly believes in the happy endings they offer. She is a 39-year-old involved with a married man, David Simmons, who only sees her whenever he likes.
After Edith embarrasses her London friends by a transgression which is so unforgivable that they ship her off to a quiet Swiss hotel, Hotel Du Lac, in the hope that she will become once again her familiar, respectable self. During her dreamlike sojourn at the Hotel du Lac, Edith encounters a strange cast of characters, including Monica, a cast-off wife with an eating disorder; Mrs. (Iris) Pusey, a narcissistic and affluent woman with her inscrutable daughter, Jennifer; and a fascinating but rather cynical gentleman called Philip Neville.
In this period of recluse from outside world, Edith begins for the first time to reflect on her own life with real insight and honesty. When she is offered the chance to make a radical change in her situation and escape from a life of humiliating spinsterhood, she responds decisively and with a new knowledge of herself.
My dearest David, After I did that dreadful thing which I won’t mention now because I want to maintain some kind of interest, Penelope told me I had to leave the country for a month to let things calm down, so I have come to the Hotel du Lac in Switzerland, a location every bit as dull as me.
The entire novel consists mainly of Edith reflection of her time in Hotel Du Lac. As was her custom, Edith was content to remain silent while Mrs Pusey droned on about how rich she was, how good her husband had been to her before his early death and how she loved shopping. Edith guess Mrs. Iris would have been in her 50s, she decided, which would make Jennifer in her late 20s, only to find out how wrong she is later on.
Anita Brookner’s prose is unusual and beautiful. However it gave me a feeling of a plot which are inconsequential, what happened to the cast of characters in Hotel Du Lac are not pertinent; the reading experience just gives one a feel of loneliness and ambience of Hotel Du Lac which I find very hard to like or feel invested in any of the characters in the novel.
I am also ambivalent about the ending. Whether Edith will marry Mr. Neville, the man who doesn’t love her and who only wants Edith to fill the vacuum that is left by his first wife left, i.e. to be a doormat, OR
Will Edith go back to David? A married man who will not leave his wife for Edith and will only see whenever he pleases?
Either way none of these decision is a good embodiment of an empowered women, the novel feels more suited to be read in the last century than this one, but since this novel is published and set in contemporary19th century it feels kind of odd.
I am not sure if I mentioned this before but I am not trained in literature nor creative writing, I read and review books as I deemed fit. This novel was given high praise for its literature value. Hotel Du Lac is interpreted by the expert as a book of self-analysis through the protagonist’s interaction with other female guests in the hotel (who are stereotypes of different women), Edith’s recollections of her past and letters written
to “Dearest David”, hoping while in recluse she will get to the resolution of how she wants to lead
her life presently and in the future. The novel ends up with Edith sending a telegram, crossing out the words “Coming Home” and writing “Returning” has a special significance. Edith’s final decision is seen not as a compromise, but a sign of flexibility.
I can’t help but to be disappointed with the end of the novel, Edith’s final decision left me cold.
Anita Brookner went on to write many novels after this Man Booker Prize winner. Have you read any of her novels? What do you think about it?
In 1984, on the same year Hotel Du Lac won the Man Booker Prize, theses books are shortlisted alongside:
- J G Ballard: Empire of the Sun
- Julian Barnes : Flaubert’s Parrot
- Anita Desai : In Custody
- Penelope Lively : According to Mark
- David Lodge : Small World
Paperback. Publisher: Penguin, 1984, 1993, Length: 184 pages. Setting: Switzerland, London. Source: Library Loot, Finished Reading at 21st September 2010.
About the Author:
Anita Brookner CBE (born 16 July 1928) is an English novelist and art historian who was born in Herne Hill, a suburb of London.
Brookner’s father, Newson Bruckner, was a Polish immigrant, and her mother, Maude Schiska, was a singer whose father had emigrated from Poland and founded a tobacco factory. Maude changed the family’s surname to Brookner owing to anti-German sentiment in England. Anita Brookner had a lonely childhood, although her grandmother and uncle lived with the family, and her parents, secular Jews, opened their house to Jewish refugees escaping Nazi persecution during the 1930s and World War II. Brookner, an only child, has never married and took care of her parents as they aged.
Brookner was educated at James Allen’s Girls’ School. She received a BA in History from King’s College London in 1949, and a doctorate in Art History from the Courtauld Institute of Art in 1953. In 1967 she became the first woman to hold the Slade professorship at Cambridge University. She was promoted to Reader at the Courtauld Institute of Art in 1977, where she worked until her retirement in 1988. Brookner was made a CBE (Commander of the British Empire) in 1990. She is a Fellow of King’s College London and of Murray Edwards College, Cambridge.