The Hotel du Lac (Famille Huber) 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 respect patrons of an earlier era of tourism.Our protagonist, Edith Hope, is an English romance author who has come to Switzerland, to the silent, out of fashion, and nearly empty Hotel du Lac to hide away from her life for a while. At first, we don't know what made Edith decide to disappear for some time – or even who exactly decided that she should. We only know that whatever happened seems to have to do with David, a lover or ex-lover to whom she composes letters she never sends.
During her time at the Hotel du Lac, Edith learns the stories of her fellow guests: Mrs Pusey and her daughter Jennifer, Monica, Mme de Bonneuil, and Mr Phillip Neville. Edith’s observations, as well as her insights about her own life, are what is at the heart of Hotel du Lac.
I’m not quite sure why, but I in my head I've always linked Anita Brookner and Anne Tyler. You might recalls that recently I read Tyler’s Breathing Lessons, and confessed that I had been hesitant about picking it up for a while. I was hesitant about Hotel du Lac for similar reasons. But while Breathing Lessons won me over, unfortunately Hotel du Lac never quite clicked with me.
I’m really not sure why. It shouldn't be because I couldn’t quite identify with any of the characters, as one of my favourite things about literature is that it lets me inhabit the skin or see through the eyes of people who are completely different from myself. And i’s not because it’s slow-paced and quiet and subtle either, because a lot of books I love are slow and quiet and subtle. I can’t tell you what was missing, what kept me from loving it, but something did.
There were things I liked: I liked Edith’s quiet irony, I liked the beautiful writing, I liked that there were surprisingly funny moments. There were moments I found moving too. The book portrays the kind of loneliness, disappointment and restrained despair that normally go unremarked.
Edith makes some uncomfortable observations about gender which I know are not to be taken at face value, and which are probably part of the ways in which she has changed by the end of the story. But all of this, like everything else in this book, happens very subtly. And the truth is that I’m not quite sure what to make of what Edith goes through, of what she wants, of what ultimately becomes of her distrust of other women. Perhaps I’ll return to Hotel du Lac some day, and perhaps then it will click. In the meantime, I invite you to read the reviews below, some of which are from readers who loved this book.
A Guy’s Moleskine Notebook
In Spring it is the Dawn
Kiss a Cloud
An Adventure in Reading
(Let me know if I missed yours.)