According to The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch (the world’s only completely accurate book of prophecies), the world will end on a Saturday. Next Saturday, in fact. Just before dinner.
So the armies of Good and Evil are amassing, Atlantis is rising, tempers are flaring. Everything appears to be going according to Divine Plan. Except Aziraphale, a somewhat fussy angel, and Crowley, a fast-living demon – both of whom have lived among Earth’s mortals since The Beginning and have grown rather fond of the lifestyle – are not actually looking forward to the coming war.
And someone seems to have misplaced the Antichrist…
The novel takes place between April and October in a single year in the 1930s. The Mortmain family is genteel, poor, and eccentric. Cassandra’s father is a writer suffering from writer’s block who has not published anything since his first book, Jacob Wrestling (a reference to Jacob wrestling with the angel), an innovative and “difficult” modernist novel that sold well and made his name, including in the United States. Ten years before the novel begins he took out a forty-year lease on a dilapidated but beautiful castle, hoping to find either inspiration or isolation there. Now his family is selling off the furniture to buy food.
The widowed Mortmain’s second wife, Topaz, is a beautiful artist’s model who enjoys communing with nature, sometimes wearing nothing but hip boots. Rose, Mortmain’s elder daughter, is a classic English beauty pining away in the lonely castle, longing for a chance to meet eligible and preferably rich young men. She tells her sister Cassandra that she wants to live in a Jane Austen novel. Cassandra, the younger daughter and the first-person narrator of the novel, has literary ambitions and spends a lot of time developing her writing talent by “capturing” everything around her in her journal. Stephen, the handsome, loyal, live-in son of the Mortmain’s late maid, and Thomas, the youngest Mortmain child, round out the cast of household characters. Stephen, a “noble soul,” is in love with Cassandra, which she finds touching but a bit awkward. Thomas, a schoolboy, is, like Cassandra, considered “tolerably bright”. …more
In the present day, a teenage girl approaches a statue in a courtyard. In her arms is a memoir by “The Author.” She begins reading about a trip he made to the Grand Budapest Hotel in the late 1960s. He discovered that the nearly deserted hotel, located in the Republic of Zubrowka, a nation ravaged by war and poverty, had fallen on hard times and become dilapidated. The Author meets Zero Moustafa, the hotel’s owner, who tells him over dinner the tale of how he took ownership of the Grand Budapest and why he is unwilling to close it down.
Moustafa’s story begins in 1932 during the final years of the hotel’s glory days. Zubrowka is on the verge of war but this is of little concern to M. Gustave, the Grand Budapest’s devoted concierge. When he is not attending to the needs of the hotel’s wealthy clientele, managing its staff or training the new lobby boy, Zero (a younger Moustafa), Gustave courts a series of aging, blonde women who all flock to the hotel to enjoy his “exceptional service.” One of these, Madame D, spends the night with Gustave prior to her departure.
A month later, he is informed that Madame D has died under mysterious circumstances. He and Zero race to her wake where he learns that she bequeathed him a valuable painting, Boy with Apple, in her will. This enrages her family, all of whom hoped to inherit it, especially her son, Dmitri Desgoffe-und-Taxis. Gustave and Zero take the painting and hide it in a safe at the Grand Budapest. Gustave is then arrested and framed for the murder of Madame D.
In prison, Gustave befriends a group of hardened cons who include him in their escape plan. With the aid of Zero’s new fiancée Agatha, the group escape the maximum security prison. They part ways and Gustave enlists Zero to prove his innocence. Their adventure takes them to a mountaintop monastery where they meet with Madame D’s butler Serge X, the only person who can provide Gustave with an alibi for the night of Madame D’s murder. However, Serge is murdered by J.G. Jopling, a henchman hired by Dmitri. Zero and Gustave steal a sled and chase Jopling as he flees the monastery. During a clash on the edge of a cliff, Zero kills the assassin and rescues his mentor.
Zero and Gustave return to the Hotel, which the military has commandeered as war has just broken out. They find that Dmitri has also appeared, chasing Agatha, who was entrusted with the painting. A chase and a gunfight ensue, and a different version of Madame D’s will is discovered hidden in the painting by Serge X, in which she bequeaths her entire fortune, including the Grand Budapest, to Gustave in the event that she should be murdered.
During a train trip, soldiers search Gustave’s carriage and he is killed while trying to protect Zero. A heartbroken Zero vows to continue his legacy at the Grand Budapest, but the ongoing conflict and the ravages of time take their toll. Agatha succumbs to a disease and dies a few years later.
Moustafa confesses to the Author that he cannot bring himself to close the hotel because it is his last link to his dearly departed wife. The Author later departs for South America and never returns to the hotel. The hotel is eventually demolished, though Moustafa’s ultimate fate is left unknown. Back in the present, the girl continues reading the author’s story about the Grand Budapest.