Hotel Du Lac
Anita Brookner is the master of the quiet moment, of the invisible psychological turning-points upon which the course of entire lives depend and change forever. Outwardly, nothing, or, at most, very little, ever happens in her novels. This is the key to her realism. In real life, the revolutions are interior; often what changes us most radically happens in the private moments that no one ever witnesses, a result of the thoughts, reflections, and dreams that occur by necessity when we are most alone, closest to our true selves.
It is in describing the life of the solitary that Brookner most excels. In "Hotel Du Lac" she does this through the character of Edith Hope. Edith is an English writer of old-fashioned romance novels who, having committed an all-too-non-fictional romantic gaffe, has agreed to a period of semi-voluntary exile at a fashionably unfashionable lakeside hotel in Switzerland. Here she hopes to recover her equilibrium and her dignity after an unsettling love affair with a married man and a broken wedding date with another that she accepted as consolation.
Ironically, Edith is not ironic about the romance in the novels that she pens. As a woman, she is something of an anachronism in a modern world turned cynical in its attitudes towards romantic love. At the hotel, among its largely female guests, she meets a man who singles her out as a prime candidate for what he considers an ultra-modern, ultra-liberated, ultra-practical "arrangement" of mutual benefit. It is, Edith realizes, a tempting offer; perhaps the best and last that will come her way. Whether she accepts or not will determine not only the course of her future but define her character. Does she amend the errors of her romantic illusions and take the offer, which would appeal to any truly modern woman? Or does Edith reaffirm her romantic convictions, even if a happy ending isn't in the plot for her?
It is the coming of Edith's personal, private apocalypse that gives "Hotel Du Lac" its tension and its drama and that makes it a riveting read. Its climax isn't so much explosive, as it is detonative. It shakes one at the deepest, albeit quietest levels. One reads Brookner and realizes only belatedly how much one has been shaken up and rearranged. She affects one without showy spectacle, but at one's very foundations.
"It is my contention that Aesop was writing for the tortoise market. Hares have no time to read. They are too busy winning the game. The propaganda goes all the other way, but only because it is the tortoise who is in need of consolation. Like the meek who are going to inherit the earth."
"If one is prepared to do the one thing one is drilled out of doing from earliest childhood--simply please oneself--there is no reason why one should ever be unhappy again."
"With some people, the shadow of their death precedes them; they lose hope, appetite, viability. They feel the meaning of their lives draining away, and they recognize that they have lost, or never attained, their heart's desire, and they give up. In the eyes of such people one reads dreadful recognition, the ultimate self-knowledge: I have not lived enough and it is too late to redeem myself. "
"It occurs to me that some women close ranks because they hate men and fear them. I'm not talking about the feminists. I can understand their position, although I'm not all that sympathetic to it. I'm talking about the ultra-feminine. I'm talking about the complacent consumers of men with their complicated but unwritten rules of what is due to them. Treats. Indulgences. Privileges. The right to make illogical fusses. The cult of themselves. Such women strike me as dishonorable. And terrifying. I think perhaps that men are an easier target. I think perhaps the feminists should take a fresh look at the situation."