Saturday 10 June 2017

Hotel du Lac, Chapter 1

I'll admit at the start that I find myself resistant to Hotel du Lac. This may be a result of having watched the BBC film fairly recently. I keep hearing Anna Massey's arch tones.

The tone of chapter 1 is of interest. At times it's whimsical, clever-clever. 'A cold coming I had of it,' writes Edith to her lover. And later in the letter, 'Not drowning, but waving' and 'all these sad cypresses'. Brookner describes the hotel's austere amenities with similar jaunty irony:
It was implied that prolonged drinking, whether for purposes of business or as a personal indulgence, was not comme il faut, and if thought absolutely necessary should be conducted either in the privacy of one's suite or in the more popular establishments where such leanings were not unknown.
The Augustan expansiveness of that sentence seems typical of the novel. One recalls Philip Larkin's comments on Anthony Powell's style:
A formal, slightly absurd view of life requires a matching style: Mr Powell's is Comic Mandarin, a descendant of Polysyllabic Facetiousness. ('Mr Powell's Mural', Required Writing)
Contrast chapter 1 of Hotel du Lac with the opening of Brookner's A Private View, written ten years later. In that novel we're presented with a comparable set-up: a character abroad. But George Bland's circumstances are considered with much greater sombreness, and, what's more, we're inside his head from the start - whereas Edith Hope comes gradually into view, and disappears at the end of the chapter. This focusing and defocusing perhaps gives the chapter a neat arc. At the start it's achieved by use of the passive voice - 'all that could be seen', 'It was to be supposed': we're aware through the long opening paragraph of an observing consciousness, but we don't see her, and we don't quite see with her eyes. Brookner's omniscience is confirmed at the end of the chapter when we view Edith through the eyes of old Monsieur Huber. I'm not sure about the success of these shifts of perspectives.

Chapter 1 of Hotel du Lac presents us with an interesting situation, a few puzzles, and some engaging characters. There is little sense of jeopardy. But should there be? There's jeopardy aplenty in, for example, A Private View, but A Private View isn't a comedy. That's what Hotel du Lac, at this early stage, seems to promise to be.

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