Hotel Du Lac - Anita Brookner I’m noncommittal about this book, which is kind of funny if you’ve read it. If you haven’t, let’s just say a lot of decisions never get made in this very short, well-written novella.

I picked this book up on a whim, both when I bought it and when I finally decided to read it several months later. I just realized a few days ago that I haven’t read any fiction in six months, and felt it was about time to dive back in. I wanted something short, perhaps frivolous and essentially simple. While it met these criteria on a basic level, the description is also a bit unfair so I hope to clarify a bit.

Our heroine, Edith, is a quiet, unassuming romance writer who publishes her tortoise-always-wins love stories under a pseudonym. After a mysterious social faux pas, Edith is sent away (if you can really“send away” an independent, 30-something adult) to the Hotel du Lac in Switzerland in the vacation off-season, to disappear while everyone forgets whatever horrible thing she supposedly did, under the guise of simply working on her newest novel.

Sending a naughty single woman away to Switzerland seems a very odd thing to do in 1984, if that is in fact when the story takes place. The book was published in 1984, but there is something strangely timeless about it; it feels like a story that could have taken place anywhere in the early to mid-20th century and there are very few elements to date it accurately. The only mention of technology is the brief allusion to a color TV and several mentions of nondescript cars, but then again there are also references to telegrams, which I find odd. Hotel Du Lac is a place where people still dress for dinner, and everyone eats at the same appointed time, which may be dated or may simply be continental, I’m not quite sure which. I constantly felt like this was happening in the 1930’s or 40’s, but that damn television reference makes it impossible. But timelessness is not really a complaint; there is a universality to Edith and her situation as a woman scorned for breaking the rules, and a romanticism to the “cure” that heightens the mystery of what she may or may not have done to deserve her socially-sanctioned vacation.

While at the hotel, Edith meets several interesting characters with their own reasons for remaining at the empty resort in the off-season, and slowly becomes entwined in their lives in differing degrees. Their stories are all somewhat pathetic, from a glamorous mother-daughter pair with a seemingly unbreakable bond riddled with invisible cracks, to a young wife with an eating disorder, to an elderly woman banished from her own home and family by a selfish son and his new wife. Strangest of all is an older gentleman who takes a liking to Edith, but who sees their relationship in unusual terms. As Edith learns the secrets of her fellow inmates, we begin to piece together the events that led to her exile and wonder what she will do to reclaim her life.

Hotel Du Lac is a quiet book with a rich, simple language that allows the reader to drift along, much like Edith as she wanders the lonely Swiss streets and speculates about the people around her. It’s not an earth-shattering story, but it still manages to raise the hackles a little when you sit back and think about the characters- most of them women, and most of them living rather small, sad lives. We hope, by the end of the story that Edith will be the one to break away from the possible futures set out for her and claim some sort of happiness and autonomy. There is no ultimate moment, no grand conclusion to say whether this happens or not, but then again, this trip to Hotel Du Lac is just a stopover in a longer life, so we end the brief sojourn and hope for the best.