I have long been a fan of Anita Brookner‘s writing. There is a quiet fierceness to her prose that greatly appeals to me. I think I relate to the sense of reserve with undercurrents that she often portrays.
The book is short, a snapshot of lives in one place, yet not until the end was I sure of where the story line would go. Based in a small hotel in Switzerland, the story follows a writer who is in a type of exile from her life as she knows it. While there we slowly learn why exactly the exile happened (not what was expected) and we watch as the character learns about herself and her needs through both her own introspection and through the interaction with other guests at the hotel.
The main character is an observer but shuns that description. She simply lives mostly inside her head, never certain how to allow herself to project the true person she is.
“I too have a past, she thought, with an uncharacteristic spurt if indignation. I too have had my deaths and departures, some of them quite recent. But I have learned to shield them, to hide them from sight, to keep them at bay. To exhibit my wounds, would, for me, denote an emotional incontinence of which I might later be ashamed.”
The book is an examination of women, of relationships, of identity and of self-discovery. The people staying at the hotel provide wonderful character studies, each created with depth and subtlety, even the ones which seem over-the-top. Things are never quite as they seem at first glance, at the Hotel du Lac.
Hotel du Lac won the Booker Prize back in the 80s, for good reason. It is clever, with an expansive vocabulary, yet not too clever. It is relate-able, readable, and enjoyable.