It is one of life’s minor misfortunes, somewhat major for the avid reader, when you pick up a book and you expect it to blow you away but it produces a slight gust at the very best. Strange Hotel was one of these books; it sounds fascinating when we read the blurb but the book itself, although discussing important and interesting topics, fails to deliver a full literary punch.
Eimear McBride’s third novel focuses on a women in her mid 30s and later in her 40s travelling from hotel to hotel in a search of reconciliation, meaning, a cure for her grief, we never learn exactly what. We firstly meet the unnamed woman in Avignon checking in a hotel room the likes of which we will encounter again in Prague, Okla, Auckland and Austin. The destinations change but the feelings and the rooms stay the same. We observe our protagonist having a drink, meeting random men, but mostly we observe her having a constant struggle with herself and her past. The majority of the book revolves around the woman having inner monologues with herself in an attempt to escape from the past that haunts her. She is constantly analysing herself, the way she speaks, the way she thinks, second guessing every move and thought that she has in an obsessive way that emphasises exactly how much her past has traumatised her. Little by little we learn that she has lost her lover, the man of her life, and she goes from hotel room to hotel room because she cannot fully face this loss.
Her inner monologues are a way to deal with the trauma by caging her emotions and instead focusing on the inner workings of her mind and body. Unfortunately we never learn exactly what happened in the past as the woman never fully immerses herself thus allowing us a glimpse into the action that has led us to this moment in the present. The book ends as it begins in yet another hotel room with the main characters standing unable to decide if she should move on, if she should let it go leaving us, the readers, hanging there waiting for a climax, a fulfillment of the story that we never really receive.
And this is the word that best describes Strange Hotel: unfulfilled. The story in its core is very interesting but we never get enough pieces of it to be able to fully construct it in our minds. The never-ending ruminations of the main character, although shedding some light and at times providing brilliant examination of life and grief, can be tedious. I am not saying that every book needs an action, not at all, for we have so many books that are simply a stream of consciousness that really stand out from the crowd. However, Strange Hotel was not one of them. The writing itself, very literary, was truly beautiful at times. However, at other times it was just difficult to read with its constant aim to be as literary as it could possibly be creating sentences after sentences that simply feel unnatural.
However, with all of this said, I always encourage everyone to grab a copy of the book and decide for themselves. There is a lot that is good about Strange Hotel; its obsessiveness is as disturbing as it is interesting, the enigma of the woman’s past although unsolved keeps us turning the page and the language, although I find some of it clumsy, also shines at times on the page. So, I would urge you all to go and read McBride’s book before you make up your mind.
Strange Hotel by Eimear McBride is available now, published by Faber Books