Anita Brookner won the Booker Prize in 1984, causing some outrage that Hotel du Lac was awarded the accolade rather than J. G. Ballard’s Empire of the Sun. Having read both, I agree that this shouldn’t have won the prize, but then, I could say the same of many years and many novels that have received the award.
In Hotel du Lac, romance writer Edith Hope has been forced into exile by her friends following some indiscretion which isn’t revealed until later in the novel. Booked into the Hotel du Lac, she is told that people are:
Prepared to forgive her only on condition that she disappeared for a decent length of time and came back older, wiser, and properly apologetic.
The Hotel du Lac sits on the edge of lake in Switzerland, and is host to a slightly strange cast of characters. There, Edith contemplates the choices she has made, and tries to decide what to do next.
One national newspaper said that Hotel du Lac was:
A smashing love story. It is very romantic.
I question whether they read it before making this statement. Edith herself is a romantic character, yet this novel is not a romance. I see Hotel du Lac as a feminist challenge to conservative attitudes which suggest that a woman is somehow incomplete without a husband and a family of her own. Edith has made her choices, and at 39 it certainly isn’t too late for her to find a partner should she choose to do so. Yet she is constantly battling the opinions of those around her:
unmarried, I’m afraid you will soon look a bit of a fool
Edith’s battle is not with the choices she has made – it is with those around her who believe she should have chosen otherwise.
I struggled to identify when Hotel du Lac was set. It was written in the early 80s, but the attitudes portrayed are far more conservative than I associate with that period. But there was no obvious point of reference to use to identify a year. Perhaps Brookner intended it to be timeless?
Hotel du Lac is less than 200 pages long, but did feel longer to me. There is a dry wit that runs throughout the novel, but this was not enough to redeem it from a three-star rating in my eyes.