The Hotel du Lac by Anita Brookner is deceptively simple. An author is vacationing in a Swiss hotel. She observes her fellow guests. She contemplates her own life.
The novel doesn’t sound very interesting based on the above description, but actually it is. I found I could not put it down. It is slowly revealed as the plot moves along just exactly why Edith Hope is staying in a remote Swiss hotel at nearly the end of the season, and why she feels as if she has been exiled. But more importantly her brief respite from her daily life allows Edith to view both recent events and her life as a whole with fresh eyes.
Edith thought that she was content- she was a successful novelist of romance novels, had her own home, and a circle of friends. Yes, her daily routine was a bit fixed and dull. Yes, her friends (especially her neighbor) did fuss over her “lonely” state and try to fix her up. We find out she is having an affair with a married man, but both seem content with their situation.
Edith (determining that she is just fine, thank you very much) chooses to focus her energies on the other hotel guests. Her observations of the wealthy widow, her vacant daughter, a lonely old woman, and an exiled wife are sharp, perceptive, and cast with an eye searching for characters. It is only gradually that Edith’s own character emerges.
The theme of the Hotel du Lac is love. How important is love in your life- can you live with a lesser love, or perhaps none at all? How much is love worth to you? This ties into a secondary question that Edith begins to ask herself- after you have reached a certain age, should you settle? If the whole passionate love thing doesn’t work out should you just take the lesser/loveless relationship? Edith questions her legitimacy as a “woman of a certain age” that has not found love- is she complete without it? Society says “no” (even in this day and age). But Edith reflects on her own life, and the lives of the other women at the hotel- all “refugees” of one love or another- and decides that she doesn’t have to acquiesce to the demands of arbitrary society rules- she will forge her own path through the mess of love.
Hotel du Lac is sad, uplifting, quiet, brilliant. Whether a woman is single, in a relationship, or an “its complicated” thing, all have asked themselves, at one time or another, the same questions that Edith asks herself. Love is universal and questioning it, and ourselves living in its wake, is inevitable.