Thursday 15 June 2017

Hotel du Lac, Chapter 5

Anita Brookner could never be accused of an over-slavish adherence to the notion of the classical unities. She plays fast and loose with her time-schemes, she sends her characters on vacation at a moment's notice, and not a few of her novels contain several disparate plots. None of which need be considered criticisms.

Chapter 5 of Hotel du Lac is an exception, as well as being a rather satisfying and exceptional chapter in its own right (at least in an 'early Brookner' sort of way - and I'm really trying to get over my mild prejudice against her early work).

The chapter takes place in the hotel over the course of a day, and it centres solely on Edith's viewpoint. Edith wakes from a series of dreams, a typical Brooknerian device (see an earlier post on the topic of dreams), though here the dreams are 'disjointed' and 'half dream, half memory'. As such they have a narrative function, introducing us further to the hotel guests, especially the 'man in grey' who will soon be known as Mr Neville.

A migraine follows, which confines Edith to the hotel for the day. Migraines and other such eclipses have their place in the Brookner repertoire. The speed of the novel, never exactly breakneck, slows, allowing for some passages of fine writing. We see the view in its late-summer glory and the scene on the hotel terrace in its Sunday somnolence.

We also get to watch the hotel guests in greater detail. The woman with the dog is named - Monica - and Mme de Bonneuil's history is sketched in. There's a degree of class-based comedy at the expense of the Puseys ('Ma Pusey', as Monica calls her). Mr Neville and Edith have one of their combative conversations. And the sound of a door shutting in the night - a plot point, as I recall - begins and ends the chapter.

But Brookner isn't a naturally dramatic writer. Here she observes the dramatic unities, but she is perhaps writing against the grain. She much prefers narrative that is interiorised, psychological, and, if the world must be shown, painterly. Not for nothing does Edith describe herself as a 'lay figure ... useful to a painter'.

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