This is my third, and favorite, Brookner. Although an extremely quiet read, where the action takes place in a hotel during the off-season, I enjoyed the surprises (to me, anyway) in the plot. I also enjoyed the writing, at times witty, at times wry. While I can’t imagine the color of “over-cooked veal,” (how Edith describes the furnishings her friend encouraged her to purchase for her bedroom) I thoroughly enjoyed the description. Another example of the writing was, after witnessing an unpleasant encounter between two of the female hotels guests, Edith thinks, “The company of their own sex… was what drove many women into marriage.” I don’t share the sentiment, but I was amused by the thought.
While the women in this novel are mostly wealthy, except for Edith, who is not poor, but doesn’t have a husband to support her, they are all living in metaphorical cages. Edith has settled for a limited life because she doesn’t believe herself worthy of anything more. Monica, exiled to Hotel Du Lac to heal, so that she can bear an heir to a husband she loathes, is caged by loneliness and anger at her circumstances. Jennifer’s cage is her mother, Mrs. Pusey, who probably fares the best among the women, narcissist that she is. I can only assume that the tone of the novel is at least one accurate depiction of society in male-dominated England of the mid-1980’s.
One of the characters, Mr. Neville, bragged about owning a complete set of famille rose dishes. Research revealed that famille (family) are groups of colors used in the palettes of painted Chinese porcelain starting in the late 18th century. Rose is pink, although there was also black, green, yellow. As a lover and collector of dinnerware, I appreciate the beauty of this porcelain. It’s pricy, though, so I won’t be owning a set anytime soon. Maybe one plate? Like this one! Maybe a different color.
There is a wedding in the novel and of the foods mentioned, asparagus rolls were the only appealing things that I hadn’t made before. Since no description was given, and since the novel is set in England, this recipe came up, among others, when I googled “British recipe for asparagus rolls.”
Asparagus and Puff Pastry Cigars
5oz ready-made puff pastry
flour, for dusting
1oz cream cheese
10 asparagus spears
1 free-range egg, beaten
2 T freshly grated parmesan (or a similar vegetarian hard cheese)
Preheat the oven to 400º F.
Roll the puff pastry out on a floured surface into a 6 in x10 in rectangle and spread all over with the cream cheese. Using a sharp knife, cut the pastry into 10 long, thin strips. Wrap one pastry strip in a spiral around each asparagus spear and place onto a baking tray. Lightly brush each with beaten egg then scatter over the parmesan.
Bake the cigars in the oven for 15-20 minutes, or until the pastry has risen and is golden-brown.
I loved the way these looked and crunched. The outside needed more salt, or more parmesan. The cream cheese was just bland. I will make these again because I love wrapped asparagus, but I’m going to try Boursin instead of cream cheese, or make an herbed cream cheese and use that. This is a keeper appetizer.