Sunday, 11 March 2018

Review: 'The Lonely Hearts Hotel' by Heather O'Neill


Every once in a while you read a book that surprises you at every corner. I wanted to read The Lonely Hearts Hotel from the moment I read the blurb with its promises of fairytales, a circus, love, loss and the Depression, all mixed together. I wondered how Heather O'Neill would bring it all together into one coherent novel, if that was even possible, but I can tell you now that she succeeded! Thanks to Quercus Books and Netgalley for providing a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 23/02/2018
Publisher: Quercus Books
'A fairytale laced with gunpowder' Kelly Link  
The Lonely Hearts Hotel is a love story with a difference. Set throughout the roaring twenties, it is a wicked fairytale of circus tricks and child prodigies, radical chorus girls, drug-addicted musicians and brooding clowns, set in an underworld whose economy hinges on the price of a kiss.  
It is the tale of two dreamers, abandoned in an orphanage where they were fated to meet. Here, in the face of cold, hunger and unpredictable beatings, Rose and Pierrot create a world of their own, shielding the spark of their curiosity from those whose jealousy will eventually tear them apart.  
When they meet again, each will have changed, having struggled through the Depression, through what they have done to fill the absence of the other. But their childhood vision remains - a dream to storm the world, a spectacle, an extravaganza that will lift them out of the gutter and onto a glittering stage.  
Heather O'Neill's pyrotechnical imagination and language are like no other. In this she has crafted a dazzling circus of a novel that takes us from the underbellies of war-time Montreal and Prohibition New York, to a theatre of magic where anything is possible - where an orphan girl can rule the world, and a ruined innocence can be redeemed.

Aaah Magical Realism. Nothing is more fantastical and true than Magical Realism in my mind. Real life is full of of little, magical moments that seem to come straight from a novel. And the beauty of Magical Realism is that the genre's novels celebrate those small moments, it allows the outrageous to be normal and the normal to be magical. Think of  a movie like Pan's Labyrinth, which doesn't hide the horror of this world, but also doesn't let its darkness overshadow the beauty and innocence of childhood and the world. In The Lonely Hearts Hotel O'Neill lets that beauty shine, while also writing about the Depression, depression itself, heartache, abuse, drugs and violence. Although all these things are addressed, The Lonely Hearts Hotel never feels entirely sad or hopeless. Rather O'Neill manages to celebrate the perseverance and beauty of humanity exactly by showing us its lows as well as its highs. Above all, however, the novel is an ode to the imagination and to love.

At the heart of The Lonely Hearts Hotel are Rose and Pierrot. two orphans who meet at an orphanage and brighten their fellow orphans' days with their tricks. Both seemed touched by a fantastical innocence that allows them to wholeheartedly believe in their dreams and hopes, no matter how cold and harsh the world outside themselves really is. Throughout their story there is a sense of fate and doom, as the two are constantly torn apart and almost brought back together as they try to survive in Depression-era Montreal. The novel moves effortlessly between their two narratives, showing us how both mature in the lifepaths set out for them. Whereas Pierrot moves violently from dazzling heights to harrowing lows, Rose lives with a steady, determined belief in her dream of a circus, of freedom, of love. At times O'Neill is very explicit, whether it's about her characters' sexual exploits or their descents into drug use. For some readers this might be a little off-putting, but I loved how honestly O'Neill describes her characters. She doesn't sugarcoat their actions, doesn't hide their madness or the depths to which they sink. But by showing us the lows, the highs are all the more spectacular.

Heather O'Neill's writing is brilliant. I hadn't read her previous books or heard of her, but the magic promised by The Lonely Hearts Hotel captivated me immediately. From the first page, O'Neill delivered on the promise made by the blurb. Not only were the characters she created incredibly interesting, but the way she described them was both loving and honest, which means the reader couldn't help but love them in return. One of the main things I adored about The Lonely Hearts Hotel was how O'Neill set her scenes. Whether it's the orphanage, a hotel, Montreal in winter, New York, a circus act, a casino. O'Neill describes it all in beautiful detail, to the point where I could close my eye at any point during the novel and picture exactly what was going on. The Lonely Hearts Hotel feels like a film noir, one of those classic movies that takes you away for a while, let's you escape and indulge yourself in beautiful language and outrageous characters. I can't wait to dig into Heather O'Neill's other books to get another dose of her writing!

I give this novel...
4 Universes!

The Lonely Hearts Hotel is an outrageously, dangerously beautiful book! Stunningly written by Heather O'Neill, this novel will take you to the most unexpected places and the most dizzying heights. At times the novel's themes are very dark and that may not be for everyone, yet I would encourage all readers to give The Lonely Hearts Hotel a try. You won't regret it!


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