Posted by: Lisa Hill | August 19, 2020

Hotel du Lac, by Anita Brookner, winner of the Booker Prize in 1984

Reviews From the Archive

An occasional series, cross-posting my reviews from The Complete Booker.
To see my progress with completing the Complete Booker Challenge, see here.

Hotel du Lac, by Anita Brookner, won the Booker Prize in 1984.

January 1st, 2004

Hotel du Lac won the 1984 Booker and it is superb. Its central question is: what kind of woman should one be? In 1984 we were exploring feminism, but this is not quite what Brookner is on about; her female characters are always circumscribed by their lives and are never able to exercise much in the way of choices…

Edith Hope, in her late thirties, is a very respectable writer of romantic fiction, but she has scandalised her friends. Having drifted into accepting a widower’s proposal, she has jilted him at the altar. Geoffrey was a nice man, a good catch and her ‘last chance’. She meekly agrees to a ‘holiday’ at a small hotel in Switzerland while the scandal dies down…

What seems not to be acknowledged by her friend Penelope, is that Edith has a career and an independent income. She doesn’t need a ‘good catch’. She has a pleasant home and a settled life which brings quiet satisfactions: sunshine, gardens, lunch with her publisher and her agent. She also has, unknown to anyone, a lover, David, who is the light of her life although she sees him only once or twice a month. He is married and has a family that he does not intend to leave.

What she does not have, not in 1984, is social position. She is invisible, adapting herself to others, and pitied by them for apparently being ‘unwanted by a man’. Marriage to Geoffrey would have ameliorated that, but there was too much to lose. She realises, as she rides around the block in a taxi to the Registry Office, that she would not be able to write, and she would lose her treasured routines. Her small pleasures and the identity she has suddenly seem more valuable. Were she to become a wife, she would have a different role to play, a house to keep and a social position to manage. At this crucial point, she decides to remain herself, as she is, with her life unchanged.

But the proposal and abortive marriage means that her life cannot remain unchanged. At the Hotel du Lac, she meets Mr Neville. He points out these things to her, that she is too self-effacing and that she should try behaving badly. More selfishly, less romantically. Unexpectedly, he proposes. He wants companionship, without demands. He expects, since they are not in love, to have affairs, and so should she.

She almost accepts him. She writes a farewell letter to her beloved David, from which we learn from mild traces of bitterness, that she knows that she really means very little to him. On her way to post it, she sees Mr Neville exit from Jennifer Pusey’s room – poor, pathetic and very rich Jennifer, indulged by her suffocating mother, and for whom life is passing by. In this she is like Edith, except that Jennifer doesn’t have the dignity of a profession or worthwhile pursuits. Edith is quietly outraged that Mr Neville uses women like Jennifer; she does not want to marry a man like that.

What kind of woman should she be? She will go back to England, but her life will not be quite the same. People are very cross with her, and although she tore up her letter to David, she may continue with him – if he offers. He may not, since he has not bothered to write to her. Does she want him? Like Mr Neville she wants companionship, but on her terms. She likes her house, her way of doing things. It would seem that she cannot have what she would really like, not in her social situation, because marriage brings social obligations that would interfere with the parts of her life that she likes.

Perhaps today she would be able to resolve the dilemma. She would be seen as a successful single woman, with no need of a man to place her. But her self-effacing personality, her shapeless cardiagsn and her inconspicuous dresses? Do they represent the real Edith, or do they symbolise the times when marriage was a woman’s only destiny?

I finished reading this book and journalled it on 21.1.2004.

Author: Anita Brookner
Title: Hotel du Lac
Publisher: Jonathan Cape, 1984
ISBN: 0224022385, hbk., 184 pages (First Edition)
Source: Personal library, purchased from Klanhorn Booksellers, $37.00

 


Responses

  1. What fun to read your review and remember the book as I went along. I have no idea what 40-year old single women in 2020 do but I although it was a Booker lister in 2004, I didn’t think it was set in that time. Maybe it was set more like in the 1960s, when free love was coming along but marital status was still super-important. Today a childless and unmarried woman of a certain age is more likely thought to be lesbian or something.

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    • Oops – I meant 1984 – not 2004. But, too, old ideas hang on for a long time and I wondered about a friend of mine (who was certainly NOT gay) why she wasn’t married with children by age 35. Well. she didn’t want children so there was no rush. That was about 1984 or ’85. She did get married eventually – in her time, to the man of her choice.

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      • Good for her! I have a friend, a bit older than me, unmarried, no children, who has had the most *amazing* life. She’s was a model, (and still looks like one) and she sailed into the French atomic bomb protests in the Pacific. I see her today and she looks like a glamorous version of an older woman doing the gardening, but hey, she just shows us all that appearances can be deceptive.

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    • It was published (and won the Booker) in 1984, which #TryingToRemember was after that glorious wave of feminism (Friedan, Greer et al) but still unsettled. That is, there were women of my age who grew into adulthood as fledgling feminists, guided by older women who had grown into adulthood before that. By 1984 our mothers were proud of us but sometimes jealous and slightly alarmed (worrying about whether they would have grandchildren, would we be happy in our careers), but women of their age who were neither ‘liberated’ like us nor part of the domestic scenery were questioning the way *they’d* lived their lives. This is what Brookner is showing… that status for a woman still depended on assumptions that needed to change.
      #Musing Maybe what you say about childless unmarried women of a certain age is true in some cultures (or sub-cultures) but not in mine. My role model was my music teacher, who (as I discovered when I wrote a memoir about her) was fiercely independent and like Edith in the novel, just didn’t want a bloke messing up her life!

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  2. I also loved this book. It was nice to revisit it here.

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    • I like revisiting books through reviews too…it’s something we didn’t often get to do before blogs:)
      (Unless you were studying of course, but that was a different thing altogether).

      Liked by 1 person

  3. JacquiWine just posted on this, too- I must reread the novel, it was so long ago that I read it.

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    • Yes, I read that too.
      It’s just coincidence… I set up all these ‘reviews from the archive’ weeks ago, and then scheduled them all for a week apart until they’re done.
      Which is why I stupidly had two posts going out today instead of just one!

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  4. Good to remember that older single women are becoming the biggest cohort of homeless people in Australia – generally in lower paid jobs, without a second income coming in from a partner, often having taken time out to care for ageing parents – and facing ageism in employment prospects.

    I remember talking to just such a woman who had moved to a new town to be closer to her ageing mother in a care home and found herself unemployed and unhoused. It’s devastating. She was sobbing with fright.

    Friends of mine who run a caravan park see a constant stream of older single women living in cars, desperate to find somewhere safe to stay overnight so they can do their laundry/shower and use a toilet safely.

    Brookner was writing a novel about a fairly privileged woman, but I’m beginning to think we need a really good novel about older single women living in poverty! The challenge is how to make it something people want to read. I rather wish Astley had written one!

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    • I agree entirely… I think Philip Salom is the one to write that novel. He is an author with great heart *and* he writes superbly.

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      • I haven’t heard of him Lisa, I just Googled him quickly. What should I read by him would you suggest? I’ll see if our library has anything by him.

        I’m just reading Howard Jacobson’s wonderful essay about the laughter of women. Have you read it? It’s only short but inspiring!

        It’s sleeting here with a howling wind – really unpleasant. We’re in for several days of this apparently. I wonder what it’s like where you are! I think it’s cold all up the eastern side of Australia…

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        • The laughter of women? I’ll have to hunt around and see if I can find it…

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          • You can read it online if you Google So Long As There Are Women Laughing Civilisation is Safe. I’ve heard that theory about The Fall in my Uni days. A nice little article!

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  5. Our library has The Returns and Waiting. I’ve put a reserve on The Returns as it’s out on loan, Waiting is available. Any opinions on these two Lisa?

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    • I went to bed early last night (another headache, #Self-indulgentMoaning I’m getting so tired of these post-eye surgery problems) so I missed your query, sorry.
      If ever you want to know there’s anything on the blog about an author, you can select the category by using the ‘search by author, country, genre’ box: and under WRITERS you’ll find ’em all in alphabetical order by surname. This is Salom’s entry: https://anzlitlovers.com/category/writers-aust-nz-in-capitals/salom-philip/.and you can click the links through to reviews of both those novels, which were both nominated for the Miles Franklin.

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      • Thanks Lisa I did do that after I posted you last night! Sorry about the headache…

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  6. Lovely to see this mentioned. I nabbed my Mum’s copy in the early ’90s and loved this book so much. Must read more Brookner

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  7. I read this when it was a new novel, and loved it! I can’t think why I don’t recall reading anything else by her.

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    • I know exactly what you mean, I don’t understand why it took me so long to get round to reading Thea Astley…

      Liked by 1 person

  8. A wonderful novel though I see from one of the Goodreads groups that not everyone agrees that it was the right book to win the prize that year.

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    • It was an interesting year… I’ve just looked it up and the shortlist was Empire of the Sun by JG Ballard; Flaubert’s Parrot by Julian Barnes; In Custody by Anita Desai; According to Mark by Penelope Lively; and Small World by David Lodge. I’ve read three of these (Ballard, Barnes and Lodge) and though I liked them I would still have given it to Brookner. (I’ve read something else by Desai and didn’t think enough of it ever to read her again, but the Lively interests me, I’ll have to see if I can find a copy. She won it three years later for Moon Tiger, which I really liked).

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      • The Ballard was a good read but not prize winning material IMHO . Small world didn’t leave much of an impression on me at all. I don’t know the Lively but based on Moon Tiger, she could have been a strong contender

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        • I know what you mean about Small World, but still, it was nice to have a comic book in the spotlight. I was thinking about this just the other day when someone commented about wanting to read something less gloomy… I felt the same way. I don’t want the pap of so-called comfort reading, but a witty commentary on some foolish aspect of our lives would be just the ticket.

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