WHEN I Discovered This Classic
I first spotted Hotel du Lac as Waterstone’s Rediscovered Classic of the Month earlier this year. I didn’t know much about it and while I’d heard of Anita Brookner, it was only a name with no context. I had a closer look at the book, read about it on the Waterstones Blog and decided to give it a go.
WHY I Chose to Read It
I liked the concept of the book, and I was interested to read something that I had essentially no preconceptions of.
WHAT Makes It A Classic
Winner of the 1984 Booker Prize, and for the rare exploration and acknowledgement it offers of feminine loneliness.
WHAT I Thought of This Classic
Anita Brookner writes gently and humorously about the experiences of women in a society trying to shuffle itself away from misogyny, and not doing very well. The Hotel du Lac features many female characters of minorly differing situations – I say minorly because while they are living in different contexts and are all at different stages of life, they remain women of a certain social class, a certain education and upbringing. White women who have lived a particular way – which generally, is under the control of men. Mrs Pusey and Jennifer live on the memory and money of her late husband, Monica is in exile but dependent on a husband, the Comtesse de Bonneuil is a burden to her adult son and his wife. The architects of Edith’s own experience, however, are not only the men in her life – lover, suitor or editor – but the women who force Edith to a performance of conscious around those relationships, most notably her friend Penelope who sends her away in disgrace.
I loved Brookner’s exploration of loneliness, and her acknowledgement of the social pressures exerted on people who are uncoupled and lonely. At times, she almost makes the reader complicit in the voices egging Edith on, a part of the world which will blame a woman for being alone. This works fantastically as a vehicle to underline and tease out the rights and wrongs of the situation, and the beautifully fuzzy parts where right and wrong don’t seem to apply.
WILL It Stay A Classic
I think this is tricky, because Hotel du Lac very particularly – to me, anyway – seems to describe such a specific time and space in Western culture and society, that it depends how keen readers are to recall that time. Brookner’s writing is strong enough though, that I certainly think this novel deserves to be read far into the future. The way Brookner captures the dilemma of loneliness – the option of companionship with someone, though not the first person you would choose, versus the decision to remain independent – is something I think people will always be experiencing, and as current generations wait longer to settle down and start families, I think this expression of the choice will be sought out.
WHO I’d Recommend It To
If you like a fast-paced, plot driven story, then this novel probably isn’t for you. But anyone looking for a slower narrative and character centred story, still with enough plotline that you end in a distinctly different place to where you began, this is a delightful capsule which leaves you with plenty to ruminate on long after you turn the last page.