Friday, 26 May 2017

Swiss Exile

Brookner's repetitiveness - inevitable, perhaps, in a writer writing so copiously and at such speed - is, for some, a weakness; for the more committed reader it's a source of comfort, even of a certain perverse pleasure. Reading Altered States, chapter 12 - like chapter 10, another tour de force - one cannot but recall Edith Hope's Swiss exile in Hotel du Lac.

Alan Sherwood's exile is to a town on the Swiss/French border:
The name of the small town to which [my father-in-law] had consigned me ... seemed appropriate, since my nerves were à vif, that is to say, flayed.
He must, again like Edith, absent himself for decency's sake:
...somewhere, at some level, there may have been a hope that Aubrey's reasoning was sufficient, that all I needed was fresh air and exercise, and that if I absented myself I would expiate my fault ... and would go some way to being forgiven.
His arrival, and indeed the subsequent details of the vacation, including observations of fellow guests, are comprehensively described. It's as satisfying as poetry. It's as satisfying as similar such scenes in Hotel du Lac, or in The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann, the archetypal novel of Swiss exile.

Alan's wife, and his unborn daughter, have both left the stage; it's as if Brookner were back on home turf. Solitude, she told John Haffenden, takes a lot of getting used to; one has to nerve oneself every day. Alan has a similar reflection:
A solitary life is not for the faint-hearted...
But would he or his creator want it any other way?

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