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.