Pretty ambivalent about this one, to be honest. One the one hand, the prose is nice. On the other hand, nothing happens. At all. Now, I don’t need every book to be a rip-roaring page turner, but a little bit of plot wouldn’t hurt. I’ve read books with little or no plot before, books that are more like disconnected reflections on the human condition or whatever, and I’ve enjoyed them, but Hotel du Lac was a little difficult to like, mostly because its insights into said human condition are relatively bland. By the end I was as bored and jaded as the characters.
Edith, a writer of middle-brow romantic fiction, is banished to the eponymous hotel because of an initially unrevealed transgression that is, apparently, so awful and shaming that her friends have packed her off into foreign exile. What can this quiet, almost timid novelist have done, we wonder, that necessitated this drastic step? When we finally find out, it’s so underwhelming and anti-climactic that it’s almost the perfect summation of the entire novel. It’s not that Edith hasn’t transgressed, she has, but in a way that is so average and normal that the reaction, banishment, seems completely disproportionate. Now, I know I sound like I’m arguing in favour of the spectacular (if a character in a novel is going to transgress, it should be in a big, exciting way) but I’m not. I’m just pointing out that for a book written in 1984 the crime and the punishment seem more fitting to 1934. And really, that’s the problem with this book, for me. It seems to be shaped by a moral discourse and a sexual politics of a much, much earlier age. It just seems so incredibly old-fashioned. It's impossible for me to picture people like this actually existing in the mid 1980s.
As an aside, it’s going to be interesting to go back through all these Booker winners and see how many of them use a hotel as a central plot device, the perfect location to bring a disparate bunch of characters together and let them bounce off each other in a kind of human Brownian motion. So far, a hotel has been a featured site in Banville’s The Sea, parts of Naipaul’s In a Free State, Farrell’s Troubles, and now Brookner’s Hotel du Lac. Characters in literary fiction seem to spend a lot of time in hotels!