Saturday 24 June 2017

Hotel du Lac, Chapter 12

So I come to the end of my trek through Brookner's most famous novel. I accorded it this treatment in acknowledgement of its undoubted preeminence, and not because I have any particular fannish zeal for it. But it is special to me insofar as it was the first Brookner I read. Rereading it now, nearly thirty years later, I tried to be objective. But I found recent memories of the BBC film of the novel intrusive. And I found the novel's tone a little too ironic, too almost whimsical at times.

Surely among the unlikeliest things ever to have
appeared on a TV screen

It's certainly a comic novel overall, perhaps a reaction against the darkness of its immediate predecessor, Look at Me. The resolution of the Mr Neville plot does have similarities with events in the previous novel, but the effect on Edith is infinitely less devastating than what is suffered by Frances Hinton. The two books also draw similar conclusions on the subject of writing, the first markedly more serious and defeatist:
It was then that I saw the business of writing for what it truly was and is for me. It is your penance for not being lucky. (Look at Me, ch. 6)
Why does the recipe no longer work? Is it because the whole process now seems too much like the hair shirt of the penitent, angling to get back into God's good graces? (Hotel du Lac, ch. 12)
But Hotel du Lac finishes in a sombre key - perhaps a more characteristically Brooknerian key. Even before the truth about Mr Neville is revealed, Edith is contemplating the change:
Looking back, she saw that [on her first evening here] she had been braver, younger, more determined ... It had seemed, at the time, almost a joke ... Since then she felt as if she had acquired an adult's seriousness...
I find the transformation in the novel's tone one of its saving graces, even one of its triumphs. It makes us feel we've come a long way. It is something of a surprise to discover in this final chapter that Edith has been at the hotel for only two weeks.


The Brooknerian will now be taking a short break. I look forward to returning with thoughts on other hotel-set works of literature and preparations for my own visit to Vevey. Thanks for reading!

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