Hotel du Lac is a character study of Edith Hope, a single woman facing her future on the brink of middle age. Brookner generally employs the point of view of limited omniscience; that is, she tells the story in the third person, but the reader is in Edith’s mind most of the time. In spite of the impression that she makes, Edith Hope is a more accomplished and forceful woman than many other Brookner heroines. She is a success, owns her own home, and has a circle of friends. She is intelligent, well read, and witty. Although Edith divides people into hares and tortoises and identifies with the tortoises, she is not really so slow. She leads her life not safely but impulsively, so as to open possibilities of a fulfilling romance. She launches into an affair without a minute’s hesitation and throws Geoffrey over in the most dramatic and public way possible. Nevertheless, she is prone to anxieties and feels the gnawing loneliness of most Brookner heroines. She is often so detached that she seems in a waking dream. Her character is so mixed that readers wonder what she will do with difficult choices.
Although Hotel du Lac is a superb character study, it also suggests much about fiction and writers of fiction. Edith’s profession and her personal life are intertwined. She knows that a novelist must entertain and so must women in this less-than-romantic world; one suspects that her letters to David are edited to amuse. She also approaches the other women as a covert professional. She receives their confidences as a novelist who is storing up ideas. When she meets new people, she thinks that it is a novelist’s duty to make up stories about them. One of the novel’s most engaging ironies, however, is that her stories are never remotely true; Edith confesses that, though she can create characters in books, she cannot understand real life.
Edith is also conscious of the contrast between her romance novels and real life. (Edith learned about real life from the terrible complaints of her mother and aunt.) She knows that, in reality, the hares win and the tortoises lose. Her novels sell because her readers are tortoises,...
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