Hotel du Lac

After  a cliched brainwave (which might be an oxymoron) of reading books set in the places I am visiting, I managed to get my hands on and read Hotel du Lac by Anita Brookner. It was quite a pleasant sensation to recognize names of places like Ouchy which were casually slipped in. [Note to self : must read more books in-situ]

The book hits a little close to home because the heroine’s character seems to be one of these sensible, slightly weak and meek women who are constantly rebelling against these traits. They are almost always dominated by any other person they meet and they resent it most fiercely, though it is not clear that they have anything interesting to say for themselves.

Edith Hope is a writer, of romantic fiction for the tortoises of this world, always assuring her readers that they will in the end triumph over the hares. She has been sent to Switzerland, ostensibly to finish her book, but in reality, really exiled temporarily by her circle of shocked acquaintances to a recuperating therapeutic holiday to get back her lost senses. Because of the classiest not showing up to her own to be wedding. But there are deeper tangles underneath the surface than those visible to others.

The whole book seems to be about Edith trying to make up her mind one way or the other and the author takes great pains to shew us how ill-formed her judgements are on even superficial things like estimating the age of a person or identifying what they do for a living. And it makes for a very satisfying  read but without a satisfying conclusion. [Maybe the latter makes it even more realistic]

A few (well, actually many!) excerpts of Edith’s thoughts which stuck with me afterwards.

“I am a serious woman who should know better and am judged by my friends to be past the age of indiscretion; several people have remarked upon my physical resemblance to Virginia Woolf; I am a householder, a ratepayer, a good plain cook, and a deliverer of typescripts well before the deadline; I sign anything that is put in front of me; I
never telephone my publisher; and I make no claims for my particular sort of writing, although I understand that it is doing quite well. I have held this rather dim and trusting personality together for a considerable length of time, and although I have certainly bored others I was not to be allowed to bore myself. My profile was deemed to be low and it was agreed by those who thought they knew me that it should stay that way.”

“She was already aware of powerful and undiagnosed feelings toward these two: curiosity, envy, delight, attraction, and fear, the fear she always felt in the presence of strong personalities.”

“Edith reflected how enormously one-sided conversations with the Puseys were always likely to be. They imposed their past as deliberately as they did their present, and to both of these one was expected, in some curious way, to
pay homage: They required no information at all; once they had assured themselves that Edith was alone, they had requisitioned her, and this was not only a kindness but a convenience, proof, to Edith’s mind, of sophisticated thinking. And as most of Mrs Pusey’s sentences began with the words ‘Of course’, they had a range of tranquil confidence which somehow occluded any attempt to introduce an opinion of her own. She found all this amusing and very restful; the last thing she wanted to do was to talk about herself.

Murmuring disclaimers, Edith sank into her wicker chair, and asked them what they had done that day. And was rewarded by happy expressions, and a great deal of delightfully inconsequential information.

‘Let me tell you what you need, Edith,’ he said. Not again, she thought. I have just told you what I need and I know what that is better than you do.

“For that is how he saw me, she thought, and out of love for him that is how I tried to be.”

“By this time their earlier intimacy had fragmented into a sort of disaffection; each was inwardly sighing at the wasted day. I should have stayed in, thought Edith; I should have spent the day writing. At least when I am writing I am gainfully employed. This strolling about is pointless. Functionless. Yet it is only a day, and I have no real duties, and I am not letting anybody down. In a way it is quite pleasant, really, she thought, heavy-hearted.”

“You thought, perhaps, like my publisher, and my agent, who are always trying to get me to bring my books up to date and make them more exciting, that I wrote my stories with that mixture of satire and cynical detachment that is thought to become the modem writer in this field. You were wrong. I believed every word I wrote. And I still do, even though I realize now that none of it can ever come true for me.”

“Think again, Edith. You have made a false equation.”




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