The Pink Hotel by Anna Stothard
Longlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction 2012
|The Pink Hotel by Anna Stothard|
|Category: Literary Fiction|
|Reviewer: Ani Johnson|
|Summary: In this intriguing, engaging novel, a London teenager flies to Los Angeles to attend her mother's funeral. Arriving just too late, she walks into the drug and drink-fuelled wake. Impulsively, she steals a suitcase of letters in order to track down the men who sent them. Perhaps in this way she can discover the mother she never knew.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 300||Date: February 2012|
|Publisher: Alma Books|
|External links: Author's website|
The phone call came when she was 17. Her mother had died; the mother who had just been a flimsy memory of a touch, an impression and a faded photograph. Not satisfied with her father and grandma's biased recollections of 'the slut', she steals her step-mother's credit card and catches a flight to the funeral in Los Angeles. Unfortunately she arrives too late for the funeral, but finding the pink hotel her mother owned, she walks in on the wake. Rooms full of drunken, drug-sodden eyes stare at her whilst she makes her way through the building to what must have been her mother's bedroom. It's then she decides, as her step-father lies, semi-consciousness, on the bed. She takes some of her mother's clothes, shoes and letters. Once she has a chance to read them, she realises they're cards and love letters from men who may be able to build her a picture of the woman who gave her life but not a lot else.
Eight years after Anna Stothard's first novel, Isabel and Rocco, written whilst she was still at school, comes The Pink Hotel. Like her debut, the central character is a teenager from London but the intervening time between novels has not been wasted. This book is a more confident, self-assured work. The language shifts effortlessly between mellifluous similes and metaphors to every day chatter, painting a rich background on which to scatter her varied characters.
The author also displays a fair amount of courage, for she has created a central character with no name. I stopped myself describing the heroine as 'anonymous' because she's far from that. As the reader travels with her, they learn more and more about her as she takes us into her confidence but we never know her name. There isn't even a clue from those around her; she's referred to by third parties via nicknames and endearments. However, this doesn't get in the way, in fact it adds to the intimacy. She doesn't have to tell us her name because it's almost as if we know her already. Also a name equates to an identity and that's something that, in her view, is still undefined.
The story is, indeed, totally from our 17-year-old travel companion's viewpoint. The current action is interspersed with chapters acquainting us with her background in random order rather than chronologically systematic. Again this heightens the reality; she retells episodes from her past as they come to mind, not in the order they happened. And what episodes! There are moments of humour and great poignancy as it becomes apparent that, whilst looking through her mother's life, she is also searching for something of herself. The landscape in which she's searching is populated by people who are perhaps even more loveless than she feels, filling their lives with diversions to distract them from the void.
There are readers who will run a mile from any book that hints of being based on emotional relationships. If they even break into a canter in the opposite direction from this one, they'll be missing a treat. The Pink Hotel isn't just about a search and the examination of a short life, there's also the undercurrent of a thriller as she tries to shake off those who would steal back the little she's discovered. Reading The Pink Hotel and sharing this girl's journey was a lot of things – sad, funny, exciting, wistful, addictive, but, most of all, it was satisfying. It would be a shame to miss out on a journey like that.
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You can read more book reviews or buy The Pink Hotel by Anna Stothard at Amazon.com.
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