Monthly Archives: December 2022

A solitary life

Book cover of Hotel du Lac showing a woman walking along by a lake

Hotel du Lac by Anita Brookner

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

In Hotel du Lac, Edith Hope has retreated from her life in London to a luxury hotel in Switzerland for reasons we aren’t told at first. A writer struggling with her new book, she spends her time observing the follies of the other guests and serving as an audience to the wealthy patrons there while slowly reassessing her own life and trying to decide her next steps.

I find Anita Brookner‘s wistful, introspective novels oddly comforting. In my review of Brookner’s Visitors, I mentioned that I saw that novel as a descendant of the thoughtful, observant work of Virginia Woolf. Here, Edith is told by more than one person that she looks like Virginia Woolf. As in that novel, Brookner deftly depicts the shifts in her character’s thinking as she comes to realizations about herself and the life she’s chosen, and questions whether she should radically change it.

Hotel du Lac is a novel about life choices, regret, and the passing of time. Each character is carefully tuned to resonate with the decisions the main character faces. Brookner is a master of depicting the subtle problems we face as we age, and this a graceful, insightful, and wonderful novel.

A work unfinished

Cover of Kafka Library edition of The Castle by Frank Kafka

The Castle by Franz Kafka

My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

I very much liked both The Metamorphosis and The Trial, both of which I read years ago. Franz Kafka sadly died of tuberculosis before The Castle was complete, and it reads very much like a first draft. While my edition and other sources cite Kafka’s explanation for how the book would end, that’s only one part of what it takes to complete a novel. This book is unfinished on numerous accounts.

The Castle concerns a man known only as K. who arrives in a remote village claiming to have been hired as a land surveyor, which may or may not be true. Stubborn and abrasive, K. is an unlikable protagonist, and it’s hard to feel for him and his ever more difficult predicament. It’s little wonder that the townspeople are, for the most part, completely turned off by his inane efforts to accomplish a goal that’s never defined.

Will and Edwin Muir, the translators for the edition I read, attempted to imbue the work with some religious meaning, hinting at a sort of parable about faith and the hope for salvation, but it came across to me more as a satire of an entrenched bureaucracy and the fool who inexplicably chooses to go head to head with it. Frieda, the barmaid whose heart he improbably wins for a time, urges K. to flee with her to make a life elsewhere, but he refuses, insisting on staying to fight the Castle for a reward that remains unclear.

The Castle does has a creative setup and interesting elements to it, but it frequently drifts without any seeming aim. Many of the conversations include circular, incoherent rambling and pointless arguments that go on for pages. It reads largely like a writer pouring out all his ideas with the intention of going back later to shape it. In the end, The Castle doesn’t come close to the other Kafka works I’ve read. If he hadn’t died at the young age of 40, he might have crafted a much finer, more focused novel, but as it is, The Castle is strictly for fans that want to see how he began to put together his brilliant work.