Friday 23 June 2017

Hotel du Lac, Chapter 11

One of the several things this chapter-by-chapter survey has shown me is the extent to which Brookner elegantly varies her narrative methods. The interleaving of group scenes, two-handers, passages of individual introspection, letters and flashbacks gives an agreeable sense of structure and substance to an otherwise fairly slight novel.

Chapter 11, in which Mr Neville and Edith take a trip on a pleasure steamer, reads like a novelisation of a well-made play by Noel Coward, or even Oscar Wilde. The tone and the treatment are oddly superficial and at odds with the content. Brookner never quite gets to grips with Mr Neville. He's a 'curiously mythological personage'. The terms of his debate are satisfyingly and reassuringly antique, but his patriarchal condescension perhaps demands greater scrutiny than the novel is prepared to offer. Edith unpicks his argument to an extent, but her critique is weakened by her weakened mood. Brookner herself is all but silent, almost ambivalent.

'Please don't cry,' says Mr Neville at one point. 'I cannot bear to see a woman cry; it makes me want to hit her.' But there is no challenge, and the narrative glides opaquely on.

'And I have a rather well-known
collection of famille rose dishes.
I am sure you love beautiful things.'

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