A disturbing book that was at the same time a pleasure to read. We begin when Edith Hope commences her stay at the Hotel du Lac, a luxury hotel, prideful of the fact that it is the place people go when they need a deep rest. Brookner's prose perfectly encapsulates the mood as Edith stands before her window looking out on a grey day:
"Edith Hope, a writer of romantic fiction under a more thrusting name, remained standing at the window, as if an access of good will could pierce the mysterious opacity with which she had been presented, although she had been promised a tonic cheerfulness, a climate devoid of illusions, an utterly commonsensical, not to say pragmatic, set of circumstances--quiet hotel, excellent cuisine, long walks, lack of excitement, early nights--in which she could be counted upon to retrieve her serious and hard-working personality and to forget the unfortunate lapse which had led to this brief exile, in this apparently unpopulated place, at this slowly darkening time of the year, when she should have been at home."
Guests come to rest, often sent by their families because their families don't know what else to do with them. In a way, it feels like a sanitorium, though at the same time it is like a nice pension in Switzerland. Edith herself is attempting to recover from something, and her friends are glad to be rid of her. When Edith gets there, the season is beginning to end. There is a feeling of both of loneliness and security.
I expected this to be a type of romance novel. The description on the back of my book is a bit misleading in this regard. However, I found a great exploration of love and its role in relationships. For years before coming to the hotel, Edith was involved with a married man. She knows that to him she is a diversion, someone to visit for relaxation. But since he has never said as much himself, she cannot bring herself to fully accept the fact either. She is honest with herself, but her philosophies have prevented her from changing. She sees herself on the periphery, and she knows that's where people expect her to be. At the hotel, she meets a cast of characters who are mostly out-of-season women who, like her, feel but fail to comprehend or accept their situation. The one man staying at the hotel approaches Edith with a different philosophy that Edith both wants and does not want.
"Since I freed myself from all that I have discovered the secret of contentment. . . . It is simply this. Without a huge emotional investment, one can do whatever one pleases. One can take decisions, change one's mind, alter one's plans. There is none of the anxiety of waiting to see if that one other person has everything she desires, if she is discontented, upset restless, bored. One can be as pleasant or as ruthless as one wants. 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."
Edith recognizes the logic of this theory. She wants to free herself from what others see her as. But she recognizes contradictions. But the man has grown an interest in her. She wants what his philosophy offers but she knows she cannot have what she wants if he too espouses this philosophy. The book has many paradoxes and contradictions--one of its strengths.
I enjoyed the book from the beginning to end. Brookner's structure is excellent, and she can go backwards and forwards in time smoothly. She can also present the contradictions and their connections to feminism and post-modern theories. However, the book is not itself an exercise in these theories. It's a fairly straight-forward story that offers a lot of food about what's wrong and right with relationships.
3 stars out of 5.