The Hotel New Hampshire

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Hotel New Hampshire
by John Irving

Hey John Irving, WTF!?!

Look, I know you love your crazy characters, but you lost me a bit with this one.

The Berry family is an odd mix of eccentrics who seem perfectly normal to each other. There’s Frank, the introverted eldest son, Franny, a strange extrovert with no concept of boundaries, our narrator John, Lily the youngest daughter who can’t seem to grow and Egg, the youngest son, who is hard of hearing and constantly changing costumes. Throw in a pet bear, a weight-lifting grandpa, a dog named Sorrow and a few more odd balls and you’ve got a story…. kind of.

The family lives in and runs two hotels over the course of their childhood. One is actually in New Hampshire; the other is in Vienna, Austria. Their lives are complicated by loss and inappropriate love. The author loves jarring readers out of their comfort zones when they’re reading his books. I feel like every time I read one of his books, as soon as I start relaxing into the story he does something awful and kills off a major character or throw in a disturbing twist.

Irving has a serious obsession with sex in his books, particularly young men with older women. This made a lot more sense to me after I read an interview where he talked about that being his own first sexual experience. Still it’s always slightly irked me because it often feels forced in the flow of the story. This book kind of takes the odd sex stuff to an extreme. There’s rape, incest and prostitution, yet somehow the book is not heavy or depressing because it’s all done with a jovial tone. Like I said, it’s really odd.

It’s also hard to explain how you can like and dislike a book at the same time. I thought parts of it were incredibly funny, but others just overwhelmed me with their dysfunction.

BOTTOM LINE: I want to like Irving’s work more than I do. I really loved A Prayer for Owen Meany and would recommend that one, but his other books don’t seem to work for me. There’s too much of an emphasis on sex, troubled relationships with older women or relatives, etc. However, his writing is incredibly entertaining and I found myself enjoying the book as I was reading it, but then it lost me somewhere along the way. I stopped rooting for the characters and became too distracted by their problems. I think after this, my third Irving, I’m done with him for awhile. I’ll try him again in 10 years.


Anne said...

I loved A Prayer for Owen Meany too. I have not read this Irving book yet and after reading your review it does not sound like it is worth my time. Thanks for the review!

Jeanne said...

My favorites by him are Garp (because I read it first) and The Cider House Rules. This one is, as you say, almost aggressively quirky.

claire said...

I know exactly what you mean! I loved this one, The Hotel New Hampshire, though, when I read it in my younger days. In fact, I was super in love with Irving during those times. My favourite was The Cider House Rules. Next was The World According to Garp. But I read A Widow for One Year when I was already blogging, just a couple or so years ago, and I find that I didn't like all the sex, too much! Also, I did not love his style all that much anymore then. Although, I have to say, he still has a special place in my reader's heart because of how his books shaped me as a reader when I was young.

Bybee said...

This was the follow-up to Garp. I was disappointed.

Kristi said...

I haven't read any John Irving books, but I do have A Prayer for Owen Meany on my shelf. I'm glad you at least liked that one.

Your experience sounds like mine with Ian McEwan. Loved Atonement and wasn't so fond of any other book of his I've read.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Anne - I've yet to find one that lived up to Prayer for me.

Jeanne - It sounds like The Cider House Rules is good. If I read another of his I think it will be that one.

Claire - I have had the exact same experience with other authors. I think we're more forgiving readers when we're young and we have a soft spot for those authors. I think it's wonderful to have great memories of authors who shaped our reading tastes, but it can be hard to read their books when we're older and be disappointed.

Bybee - I feel like they aren't even in the same league!

Kristi - I'll be curious to hear your thoughts on Prayer when you read it. I also agree about McEwan. Atonement was the first of his that I read and I loved it, but the half dozen books of his I've read since then have all been a bit disappointing. I wonder if the bar was just set too high with Atonement.

Jenners said...

I think I read this way back but barely remember it. I think he is best in small doses.

Care said...

Uh oh. I've only read Owen Meany and keep thinking I should try something else but maybe I will keep waiting...

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Jenners - Yes, unfortunately most of his novels are pretty thick.

Care - You never know, it could be one you love. I've just been disappointed.