My latest read was a true revelation. I had put this book on my wishlist back when I’d culled all the “Best Of” lists and prize lists and 1001 Books lists and what have you, and this Booker Prize winner, while the storyline didn’t seem all that exciting to me, also intrigued me, being as it is a story about a woman around my age who is in the process of re-evaluating her life. Edith Hope is a reasonably successful writer of romantic fiction who has been exiled to Switzerland and the Hotel du Lac by her friends who expect her to sort out her life. The hotel “… was a stolid and dignified building, a house of repute, a traditional establishment, used to welcoming the prudent, the well-to-do, the retired, the self-effacing, the respected patrons of an earlier era of tourism. It had made little effort to smarten itself up for the passing trade which it had always despised. Its furnishings, although austere, were of excellent quality, its linen spotless, its service impeccable. As far as guests were concerned, it took a perverse pride in its very absence of attractions. There was no sauna, no hairdresser, and certainly no glass cases displaying items of jewellery; the bar was small and dark, and its austerity did not encourage people to linger. It was implied that prolonged drinking, whether for the 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.”
When she arrives the season has nearly ended, there are only a few guests remaining, and as she has been forewarned, the hotel offers no activities of any kind, so with few distractions ahead, Edith hopes to make progress on her latest novel Beneath the Visiting Moon. “I make no claims for my particular sort of writing” she says, “although I understand that it is doing quite well.” We find out that she has been having an affair with a married man with whom she maintains a one-sided correspondence, but on the whole we are given to understand that she has mostly led a quiet and unassuming existence. Edith thinks she looks like Virginia Woolf, and it’s obvious that Brookner has been influenced by that author in the best way, with stream of consciousness prose which is absolutely true to life and which is filled with the kinds of observations on people that are only arrived at after much time given over to mulling on such matters. The story relates the time Edith spends at the hotel, where she befriends other guests, including the widowed Mrs Pusey and her preternaturally youthful adoring daughter: “Reciprocity was a state unknown to Mrs Pusey, whose imperative need for social dominance, once assured by her beauty and the mute presence of an adoring husband, had now to be enforced by more brutal means.”
While the story itself is quite good, the quality of the writing is what makes this little novel truly exceptional and I absolutely loved this book. I’ve given this one five stars, a rating I only reserve for those books which have managed to become instant favourites and which I am very likely to read again in future. Wholeheartedly recommended.