Sunday, March 1, 2009

Anita Brookner: Hotel du Lac

I have a friend that loves wine. He holidays in vineyard regions of France and attends tastings before returning with crates of wine. When he serves wine, he is careful to tell you the story of each bottle; he explains about the holiday, the tasting and describes the wine producer.

I don't love wine, but I do love books. Often a particular book will hold a resonance for me outside of the story in it, and this book particularly so.

I first read Hotel du Lac when visiting my Granny in her little cottage near Chichester. I remember returning it expressing my enjoyment of it politely but dishonestly. Granny was sharp though, I doubt she was fooled, and I still feel stirrings of guilt that I did not honestly state my feelings about the book with her.

Hotel du Lac is the story of a woman who has jilted her fiance at the altar, and who is essentially sent away to do penance for the shame.

My Granny had an affair with a married man when she was herself married. In the 1930's both her lover and herself left their spouses and after protracted divorces, married each other, the culmination of which was the birth of my father. I was rather shocked by what I saw as the wanton behaviour of Edith, but knew enough about my Granny's past to know it might not be a good idea to express that.

I have since read the book again, and being more worldly I enjoyed it more. I don't really sympathise with Edith. I still felt that she was rather wanton, and do not understand someone who jump from one man to another without knowning any of them well (it speaks to me of either desperation, or an extremely romantic view of relationships). But Brookner is brilliant at describing the atmosphere of the out of season hotel, the broken, unfulfilling exchanges that hotel guests have with each other. And she describes being alone, and loneliness perfectly.

I found this a moving and thought provoking book.

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