The Lonely Hearts Hotel
captivates its audience
The latest novel by Heather O’Neill is a most interesting read
By Luc Archambault
Even at a relatively young age, Heather O’Neill is a respected and successful author. Her previous works include Lullabies for Little Criminals (2006), The Girl Who Was Saturday Night (2014), and the short story collection Daydreams of Angels (2015). She won loads of awards, has written articles for, among others, The New York Times Magazine, Elle, Chatelaine and The Globe and Mail. Every time she makes a public appearance, she draws crowds of fans. She is a major figure of contemporary Canadian fiction.
But how does this translate when it comes down to the meat of the matter: is her latest novel, The Lonely Hearts Hotel, a good read? Well, yes and no. Let me explain. Her readership, as far as I can understand based on the public present at her recent Montreal book launch, seems to consist mostly of young to middle aged women. About eighty percent of the public present at that event was of that gender, which is not, in itself, a negative fact. It is public knowledge that women read more than men. But these women were avid fans. They love Heather. They adore her. What lies behind this loving relationship? Is there a female style of writing? Of course there is. But to access this kind of adulation must mean something deeper than just gender.
There is talent, of course, but there is also hard work. Because even though her writing style seems seamless, effortless, this by no way conjugates with sloppiness or botched prose. Stylistically, her writing is highly peculiar, and it seems at times as though a young girl is at the helm, at least an adolescent, which she definitely is not, at least not anymore. But that she can funnel this part of her creative imagination invokes talent, deep talent. What is a wee bit disturbing is the combination of this youthfulness with luridly lewd passages. She’ll admit to a cackling crowd that she wanted to put into her novel as many “big penises” as she could… evidently being somewhat censored by her publishing house, less inclined to such lubricity.
There is talent, of course, but there is also hard work. Because even though her writing style seems seamless, effortless, this by no way conjugates with sloppiness or botched prose.
The Lonely Hearts Hotel is the story of Rose and Pierrot, two orphans who grow up in a Montreal still in its infancy in the 20s and 30s. It is at its base a love story, each deeply in love with the other, in spite of life’s turns and twists. It is not a novel for pure and chaste eyes. It is crude, with lots of dope (Pierrot is a heroin addict), sex, and immoral behaviours. But it is a very entertaining read. You can read it quickly, if you don’t restrain yourself and enjoy a slower ingestion that is well worth a prolonged read. The story is straightforward and without too much complication. It is primarily a carnivalesque story, in the true Bakhtinian sense.
I do not believe that an author’s gender is much of an issue, neither in reading nor appreciating a novel. In fact, literature has been for too long a male-dominated fortress, that breaches in this fortress of solitude are welcomed to breathe in life and renewal to the industry. Even if this means soaring crowds of women at book launches, the female half of society shall not be put aside anymore.
Images: courtesy of the CBC
Writer and journalist, globe-trotter at heart, passionate about movies, music, literature and contemporary dance, came back to Montreal to pursue his unrelenting quest for artistic meaning.