Book Review: The Lonely Hearts Hotel

Book Review: The Lonely Hearts Hotel

//TLDR//

In a word: Meh.



The book felt long and contrived in many ways (ie. if slapstick similes are a thing…you can find them here). No warm fuzzies and 33% mildly entertaining. However, as someone who’s guilty pleasure is binge-reading trashy books, there are better bad books out there.

 

//READ THIS INSTEAD OF THE BOOK//

Alrighty, to start I picked this book because there were a lot of really great reviews online. It was reviewed well by newspapers (here and here) and my vast majority of reviewers on Amazon and on Chapters/Indigo’s website.

 

I definitely wouldn’t call it “stunningly good”. I like to research my books before I read them, so that the ones I pick, I usually enjoy. A disappointing book leaves you not wanting to read anymore, you know? Like the opposite feeling of finishing a Harry Potter and not having access to the next one.

Most of the poor reviews seem to take criticism with the blunt, crude, and explicit writing. I found I had other bones to pick with this book. Let me break it down.

Beginning

Strong start! Go team go! The book starts off by introducing us to the characters. The author paints the stark, cold, mean orphanage in a way that really makes you feel the atmosphere of the institution. What the author does particularly well is be able to depict that atmosphere but through the lens of the main characters, bringing to life a rare sort of ceaseless optimism in these two children who are determined to be not be broken by their horrific childhoods. This contradiction of being able to maintain hope for the characters while they are mercilessly abused on each page is quite a feat. Well done.

There were a few lines that were written that sounded anachronistic for the book. For me it made me stop and think, “would someone from that time say that?”

Middle

Okay, so this is where I found the similes become contrived. I started to feel that the writing wasn’t subtle and so far from the eloquence of the books I normally read. Take this for example: “The heaviest of burdens crushes us, we sink beneath it, it pins us to the ground…the heavier the burden, the closer our lives come to the earth”. Now that’s just lovely! (The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Kundera).  To me the similes, in Lonely Hearts, are almost comical? As if it was an English class exercise where you have to try and make up similes, but then you took the similes and forced them into a book. They didn’t help elevate the writing, but rather jerked me out of the story to ask whhyyyyyy. The writing starts falling into a very predictable pattern:

Simile = Regular description + “is like” + wtf how’d you come up with this/why is this necessary. 

Here are some highlights:

  • “It was hailing outside, as if a bottle of lozenges had fallen on the shelf.”
  • “There were still some drops on their petals from having been watered. They were like tears.”
  • “He lay on his back, floating in the large bath, his penis like a lily pad.”
  • “…they would put the palms of their hands together and make silent claps – like two pieces of bread put together.”
  • “There were black spots on the thighs of the white horse that looked like the footprint of children in the snow.”
  • “On the window ledge was a robin that looked like a fat man who had been shot in the chest by his business partner.”

Whereas the chapters of the characters in their childhood were described with the whimsy of a fairytale, albeit a depressive whimsy, maintaining the same tone didn’t suit the parts where the main characters fall into a life of poor circumstances and sad sex. The author seems to be trying to illustrate that both characters still had their qualities from childhood, but it was hard to see any true character development.

Spoiler! They reunite! Finally! Because I was getting really tired of every chapter ending with scenes like:

  • Rose is at a circus famous for animals. Pierrot is at a zoo.
  • Rose lights a cigarette at the end of the street. Pierrot extinguishes his cigarette at the other end of the street.

Back and forth like this show that Rose/Pierrot is the yin to the other’s yang. My eyes started rolling because the author doesn’t put it any more eloquently than I did right there. It worked in the first third of the book where they were meeting each other for the first time. This author’s style has been called poetic, but for me it reads more like poetry that comes with a neon arrow that says “POETRY HERE”.

I realized at this point I wasn’t emotionally attached to any of the characters. Rose goes on this ridiculous search for Pierrot by visiting various circuses. Each one of these chapters felt unnecessary. The circus is described, skip right to the important highlights of the dialogue, next circus. It felt like a highlights reel, aka lazy writing. Then again, if these chapters went on any longer I would have skipped them entirely.

The absolute pinnacle of bad was the anti-climatic reunion. First of all, I realized at this point that the author has an on-off switch for describing things in detail. This seems like a poor choice to turn that switch off! This scene is where the book really started to drift off into what I would call script mode.

Set scene: Characters standing in bedroom. 

Rose: Lorem ipsum

Pierrot: Ipsum lorem

Rose: Ipsum ipsum

Pierrot: Lorem lorem

Rose: Morel muspi

Just pages of just straight dialogue with no more detail than a script would provide. Actually, there’s less detail than a script would provide because a script would tell me who’s talking. As for the dialogue itself, it’s boring, mundane and not nearly as interesting as the dialogue between the two characters as children.

End

By this point I’m just reading it because it’s just so comical. This book suddenly tries to become so many different kinds of books in this last third. It’s a mobster world, it’s a circus, it’s a love story! They go from rags to riches to rags…to riches again. Even though the book took off in this direction, I did find this third of the book mildly more tolerable.

Disappointingly, Rose and Pierrot never have any of the kind of deep conversation they did when they were children. Even when they were in matrimonial distress, no one said anything. As the characters they were so expressive as children, and because they sustained so many qualities from their childhood, I felt this void of communication between them. I’m positive this wasn’t intentional to show them growing apart because the book’s priority became moving the plot along.

What irked me was Rose’s 21st century feminism. It feels so anachronistic because she is 100% a girl who just walked out of her first year women’s studies class. It would have felt a little more in sync if she held onto one or two “non-feminist” ideas or at least focused on the women’s issues of that time. Women in Quebec didn’t have voting rights until 1940 so that would have been interesting to bring up. Also, women just became persons under the law in the rest of Canada. The author could have thrown a historical reference in there.

The vocabulary used throughout the book was too limited for me. I often thought of words that would more aptly describe the situation. There were also a lack of varied sentences. There were so many three word sentences that the flow was frequently choppy, like a sushi chef making spicy tuna rolls. And a whole paragraph of sentences would start the sentences with “she”. She did this. She then did this. She saw this. She felt this.

Another strange thing the author did that confused the heck out of me was when she randomly broke the forth wall. It can be a powerful story telling device, but it was just so random. It was like she was suddenly went, HEY HERE I AM! THE INVISIBLE NARRATOR! “If you have trouble believing that Pierrot hadn’t thought about the apple, trust me when I tell you that no one was as surprised as him.” I’m not sure why so many people in the editing process left this in.

 

If anyone has read this book and feels the same way (or differently!) please let me know what you thought.

 

x.

kl



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