Review: The Lonely Hearts Hotel by Heather O’Neill

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Photo credit: http://www.netgalley.com

The Lonely Hearts Hotel is the story of two children who grow up together in an orphanage in Montreal during the Great Depression. The book covers both of their lives after the leave the children’s home and how they make their way in the world. Both dreamers, with extraordinary imaginations and talents that border the magical, the now-grown-up children have the most wonderful adventures despite living in the poorest of circumstances.

I honestly think that this book is one of the most beautifully written tales that I’ve ever read. It really is unlike anything I’ve ever come across before. It invokes a whole string of emotions from heartwarming to heartbreaking, as the circumstances that the two main characters find themselves in are often dire. The book doesn’t shy away from the realism of two young adults leaving an orphanage during Depression era Montreal and covers a whole range of hard hitting elements, from prostitution, heroin addiction, poverty, child abuse, miscarriages, violence and murder. Despite being really tragic in places, the quality of the writing and the strength of the main characters kept the story from getting swallowed up into the darkness that was portrayed. Instead, Rose and Pierrot use these situations to motivate themselves to keep aiming for bigger and better things.

Bizarrely, the word that springs to mind when trying to describe the story is “magical” – but there’s no magic actually involved. There are bizzare circumstances, huge coincidences and plenty of circus tricks but the novel is firmly based in reality. It’s really hard to categorise the book – I guess it’s a romance – but it covers such a wide range of topics that it manages to completely stand alone. It’s like a combination of Requiem for a Dream and the Night Circus. I don’t even know how it works, but it just does.

I really loved the two main characters. In particular, I liked what a strong character Rose was and I loved her relationship with Pierrot – they really complemented each other well and showed how a strong woman can be married to a man without him being weak. Their marriage was imperfect and they are both portrayed as flawed characters but they made it work entirely through their love for each other and the courage of their convictions.

I really enjoyed how Rose and Pierrot made their dreams into reality despite being so poor and having such a difficult start in life. I think that the strong presence of clowns in the novel were a metaphor for using their knowledge of tragedy to create something beautiful and positive. I also loved how the names of the hotels that the couple stayed in were all based around the theme of love and seemed to be metaphors for their guests. I suspect that there are lots of layers and hidden meanings to this book that have completely passed me by but the story was so exciting that I didn’t fully digest what had happened before moving on to the next chapter!

The novel also had a fabulous ending – it’s one of those books where everything is tied up neatly and you’re left feeling really satisfied as a reader. Don’t get me wrong, there’s still heaps of tragedy but this just makes the ending all the more realistic.

Overall, I found this book incredibly engaging as despite being fairly long I finished it in a few days. I loved it’s pace – it spans 27 years and always keep you wanting to know what happens next. I thought that it was beautifully written, magical but woefully tragic and because of this completely stands alone as its own uncategorisable self. Highly recommended.

Rating: 9/10

Please note that I read this book for free via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thanks, Netgalley! I also read this book as part of the Popsugar Reading Challenge #35 Read a book set in a hotel.

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