Review: Hotel du Lac by Anita Brookner

The winner of the Booker Prize in 1984 Hotel du Lac stands up just as well now as it did when it was first released. Set during the 1950s Edith Hope is a disgraced romance novelist who is forced to exile herself from England following a scandal. She finds herself in a hotel in Europe where each of the guests has their own reasons for wanting to retreat from the world. When the charismatic Mr Neville offers Edith the chance to escape from the humiliation of her recent scandal, however, it forces her to ask some important questions--chiefly are there worse things that being unmarried and, perhaps, lonely.

Short and beautifully written, the author captures the tensions of the era and raises questions about a woman's role in 1950s England, her lack of agency and the double standards for wealthy men. Not only is wealthy Mr Neville allowed to behave badly, but the same behaviour from an employee at the hotel raises alarm bells through the supposedly genteel community. Everyone in the group is concerned with appearances and how they are perceived and at the end of the month when they are all due to return to their homes, each of the guests has learned precisely nothing, except perhaps for Edith.

Overall, I found this to be an insightful read and as I turned the pages I found myself feeling increasingly thankful that I was not an upper middle class woman in England in the 1950s. The questions of personal freedom remain entirely relevant in an era when lives can be so heavily scrutinised on social media and there is social pressure to look and behave in a certain way online. Brookner's prose is calm and quietly allows the reader to make up their own minds about Edith and to speculate on her future.



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