1980s Booker Prize

Hotel du Lac – Anita Brookner

 Winner of the Booker Prize 1984

In my quest to read all the Booker prize winners I was convinced that this tiny book would be one of the quickest, easiest reads. It is only 184 pages, long, but the type and size of the book make it appear even smaller. Unfortunately, the content of the book made it feel as though it would never end. I was bored from page one, and it took enormous effort and determination for me to complete it.

The central character, Edith Hope, is sent to recuperate in a quiet Swiss hotel after becoming involved in a scandal. Whilst staying in the hotel Edith works on her new romance novel and observes the people around her. There is no real plot – this is one of those quiet, reflective books that I don’t enjoy reading.

I found Edith’s character to be slightly odd and I didn’t seem to find the same things amusing as her. The humor was lost on me and I became increasingly irritated by her passive nature. There was far too much thought and hardly anything happened in the entire book.

The pianist, sitting down to play, gave her a brief nod. She nodded back, and thought how limited her means of expression had become: nodding to the pianist or to Mme de Bonneuil, listening to Mrs Pusey, using a disguised voice in the novel she was writing and, with all of this, waiting for a voice that remained silent, hearing very little that meant anything to her at all.

This book reminded me of Home by Marilynne Robinson and I am sure that if you like one, then you will enjoy the other.

I’m afraid this just wasn’t for me.


I know that a lot of people love the quiet beauty of this book.

Did you enjoy reading it?

Do any of her other books have more plot?

56 replies on “Hotel du Lac – Anita Brookner”

That’s a shame Jackie.I picked this one up from the library last year and like you thought it would be a quick read. I got about half way through and abandoned it. It didn’t hold my interest unfortunately.

The only other book of Anita Brookner’s I have read is Strangers which I found to be beautifully written but quite depressing – more character than plot.

Tracey, I agree that she writes beautifully, but I do need a plot to carry things forward. I’m not sure I’m going to attempt any more of her books, but it is interesting to know that Strangers at least gives a feeling of depression instead of boredom!

I felt much the same about this. I bought it to read on holiday near the Hotel du Lac itself (I’m nothing if not imaginative!) but gave up halfway through. I just found it such a *struggle*. Not for me, either, I’m afraid.

Kirsty, Thank you for commenting on my blog for the first time!

It is great to know that even reading it in the context of Switzerland you still lost interest.

I haven’t read this book but I know the type of book, quiet, reflective, no real plot to speak of, you describe. I tend to like them bus I take my time reading them and usually read one or two other books simultaneously. I like books like this late at night when it’s quiet and I hope to soon be sleeping.

Anyway, I’m sorry you didn’t have a good experience with this book. I appreciate your honest review. It has made me curious about the book! I love your quest to read the Booker Prize winners, it’s a great idea. A few years ago I set out to try reading the Pulitzer winners and read quite a few but then you know I’m not sure what happened. I should resurrect that plan!

I hope your next book is more enjoyable for you.
~ Amy

Amy, I’m trying to read the Pulitzers too! I’m not as successful at that yet, but I have only been reading them for a year, whereas I’ve been doing the Bookers for a while.

I have a few amazing books coming up, but I’m afraid the next few reviews won’t be glowing either…I might mix them up though – I don’t like having bad reviews together.

Reading back over my own review from July I was surprised to see that I thought more highly of it that I do now… perhaps because I’ve read so many good books since then and have read this year’s Booker contenders and seen the quality and -in some instances- wonderful plots. I like Brookner’s writing style but with hindsight I felt distanced from the barely discernible plot and I wasn’t engaged with the characters; funnily enough I am reading The Children’s Book at the moment and feel similarly towards that. Beautiful writing can be achieved at the same time as a good storyline.

Claire, I think a great book should work on all levels – it should have beautiful writing, but also an engaing plot and fantastic characters. The Glass Room is the only one of the Booker list 2009 to do this, so I am hoping it wins (I know you do too!)

I felt a similar way about the Children’s Book too, but in many ways CB was better – I actually made it to the end of all 600+ pages. I would never have made it to the end of a 600 page Hotel du Lac! CB had engaging, likable characters and a tiny thread of a plot. I didn’t love it, but it was far better than this one.

This was quite an “eh” book for me as well. When I read it, I was thinking that it must have been a poor year for literature. I apparently liked the ending, but it was just TOO quiet, and I’m one that normally enjoys quiet books.

Meghan, I don’t normally enjoy quiet books, so I wasn’t surprised that I didn’t enjoy it. I was surprised that it took forever to read and bored me so much! I wasn’t very impressed with the ending either, so you at least managed to find more positives than me!

I think this is the first non-glowing review I’ve seen of Hotel du Lac! The other book you mentioned, Home, has never sounded at all appealing to me (and I hope I never have to even get near Gilead), so that’s quite the comparison.

I hate it when short books take forever! I read A Death in Venice in high school, back when I always finished every book I started, and I remember it taking soooo loooooong. I don’t know how I’d feel about Thomas Mann now. 🙂

Eva, From the comments above it sounds as though there should be a lot more non – glowing reviews for this book. Everyone must have read it pre-blogging!

I didn’t enjoy Home or Gilead, so I think Marilynne Robinson is another author of quiet books that I think I need to avoid in the future. I haven’t read any Thomas Mann – perhaps he is another one I should avoid?!

Diane, I can see why people might like it, but Edith just wasn’t for me – I think I’d avoid her in real life too!

Well, drat. I have had this on my list for a while – I like books where there are lots of interesting characters – but I get bored quickly when there isn’t much happening. Also, I get Anita Brookner mixed up with Anita Shreve and can never remember which one of them I want to read books by.

Jenny, I listened to Testimony by Anita Shreve recently and loved it! Anita Shreve’s books are much more modern and contain a lot more plot, but I think they can be hit or miss too.

Oh am sorry this didnt do anything for you. For some reason this book completely had me from the first few pages. I thought it was great, not one of my very favourites but not at all awful.

I didn’t like home at all but I really was charmed by this and by Edith.

Simon, I know that you love these character driven novels, hopefully we’ll be able to find a Booker we both love soon!

I hate when it’s the short books that give us all the trouble! I think they can be all the more frustrating because their size seems to mock us, telling us we should be finished with them by now, which only makes it worse!

I’ve never read any Brookner before, and while I have Gilead on my shelf, I haven’t read that either. I’m not sure if this is a book I would enjoy or not, but I probably won’t rush out to read it any time soon!

Steph, It works the other way though – sometimes a really long book sits on the shelf for ages, intimidating me, then eventually I get round to reading it and it is amazing – the reading time flying by. I have a few like that staring at me now. I hope they all turn out to be good!

I’m sorry this didn’t work for you. I tend to find Brookner to be a bit of a slog unless I am in the perfect frame of mind to read her stuff. Unfortunately that frame of mind is quite rare. 😛

Sandy, don’t worry about the timing of your comments – I love to read them whenver they arrive! I hope tomorrow is a better day for you.

Oh, I absolutely loved the book (and I really don’t like Marilynne Robinson’s writing). There was just something about it, that drew me to it. It’s quiet, it’s reflective, but, just the coming-together of the characters, and Edith’s introspection really spoke to me.

Sorry you didn’t like it though 🙁

anothercookiecrumbles, Your disproving my theory about Home/Hotel du Lac! Nevermind, I never understand your taste in books – it seems very random to me!

I absolutely loved Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead, but Hotel du Lac not so much. While I wouldn’t give it two stars like you (probably 3.5), I didn’t connect with it so much, although I found the writing elegant. My review wasn’t very glowing either. I read it earlier this year.

Claire, Another one disproving my theory! It looks as though I was wrong on that one! It is good to hear that Strangers is better, but I think I’ll avoid it for now – I need a bit more action in my books.

Care, I’m pleased that you’re not put off by my review. I’ll keep an eye out for Hotel du Lac reviews on your blog!

I read Incidents in the Rue Laugier over 2 years ago. I looked up my post and this is what I wrote:

“The small blurb on the cover claims Brookner is “funny, vivid and devastating in her observations.” Hmmm. Vivid, yes. But funny? Maybe they read a different book, because I was at no time amused. Depressed is more like it. This was a grim book, focused on the perceived proper behavior of an earlier time, as well as duty and unrequited love. It was a quick read, but I can’t say that I enjoyed it.”

Sounds a bit like your reaction!

I had mixed feelings when I was reading that book, but after I’d finished, I really appriciated it. But I understand that some people may find it not to their taste.
Maybe because I’m Polish and I’ve been exposed to these subjects for many years, I have a different perspective?

Sylwia, Thank you for commenting on my blog for the first time! I’m sorry your comment didn’t get published straight away, but all comments have to be approved when you are a new visitor.Don’t worry about the mix up! It is good to know about The White Hotel too!

I haven’t read this but read her latest one Strangers and loved it. Incidentally, a lot of people think it was a travesty that Hotel du Lac won the Booker and that it should have gone to J.G. Ballard’s Empire of the Sun, which was also shortlisted (personally I couldn’t finish that book so I can’t say I agree).

I must admit Jackie that I get a feeling a little like fingernails down a blackboard when you say

a great book should work on all levels – it should have beautiful writing, but also an engaging plot and fantastic characters

There are lots of great books that don’t have engaging plots and fantastic characters – Ulysses is an obvious choice, but you could also take your pick from Woolf, Melville, Philip Roth, Saul Bellow, W.G. Sebald or many others. Of course, equally, lots of great books do have those things: it’s just that I don’t think plot, characters, setting or subject are the deciding factors because each book is different. I go with Oscar Wilde: “a book is either well written, or badly written. That is all.”

John, I think a great book will be loved by everyone. A well written book will be enjoyed by people who appreciate good writing. There is a big difference and Ulysses is an excellent example. Ulysses is a very hard book to read. Very few people will enjoy reading it – it is more like a chore to most people. I’d describe it as an important book, but great wouldn’t come close!

I know we’re never going to agree on this – I enjoy very different books to you, but I do at least agree with Oscar Wilde!

No I couldn’t read Ulysses either, I tried once and got about two-thirds through before giving up.

I suppose I’m using the phrase ‘great books’ in the sense of books which have been widely respected and (usually) have stood the test of time.

What I mean by that is that I can recognise that Ulysses is a great book (or a Great Book) without enjoying it myself. Same with Saul Bellow: I can see the qualities but they’re not for me. But what this means is that because these books are so widely (and, er, longly) respected, I will keep trying. Philip Roth for example is an author I hated to begin with but kept trying because his books were so acclaimed – now I consider him one of my favourite authors.

Oh, you did better than me with this one. At least you finished it! It bored me senseless ad I gave up fairly early on. I don’t mind quiet books, but this was just a bit too quiet

This is the first Booker winner I remember being aware of at the time (I feel old). The only other ones I remember from that era are Remains of the Day and Oscar and Lucinda. Of them all, Oscar and Lucinda is the only one I lapped up.

Brookner and Ishiguro are both examples of the fact that a short book needn’t be a tightly written one. The example you cite isn’t so much introspective as plain “telling”, of the kind any newbie writer on a critiquing site would be slated for.

Brookner can be an acquired taste, and I love her. But I will say that if Hotel du Lac had been my first Brookner I might not have thought so. Once one is bitten by the Brookner bug, it is hard to get enough of her “quiet” world.

Interestingly enough, I hated Home and probably wouldn’t have ever made the connection between Brookner and Robinson.

Well, I completely agree with you on Marilyn Robinson…but I actually was quite captivated by Hotel du Lac *laughs* I think I was in the mood for a quiet read when I picked it up…

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