Happy New Year! Well, kind of! We are counting down the lat few hours of 2017 and 2018 is peaking round the corner. I for one cannot wait for 2018 and to see where it takes me. I am hoping for lots of fun with family and friends, good health and lots of wonderful books. 2017 was my first calendar year of blogging and reviewing books and I have fallen in love with it. Thank you for reading, liking, sharing and commenting over the past year – it has meant a lot. If this is the first time you have visited my blog, thankyou so much for stopping by, I hope you like it and want to stick around.
I’ve been counting down the top 5 books that I have read this year over the past few weeks and today I am revealing the book which has taken the top spot (you can read the 4 previous weeks here: Number 5, Number 4, Number 3, Number 2). I have read so many wonderful books this year, many of which I have given 5 stars to on Goodreads and I had difficulty narrowing down to just 5. The book which has taken the top spot is one that I read in February and I was absolutely blown away by it. It is beautiful, other-worldly, brave and written with gorgeous lyrical prose. I think about this book often, still miss the main characters and I wish that I could read this book for the first time again.
Sp, without further ado, the book which has taken the top spot in my Top 5 Books of 2017 Countdown, is…The Lonely Hearts Hotel by Heather O’Neill and you can read my full review beneath.
About The Book
With echoes of The Night Circus, a spellbinding story about two gifted orphans in love with each other since they can remember whose childhood talents allow them to rewrite their future.
The Lonely Hearts Hotel is a love story with the power of legend. An unparalleled tale of charismatic pianos, invisible dance partners, radicalized chorus girls, drug-addicted musicians, brooding clowns, and an underworld whose economy hinges on the price of a kiss. In a landscape like this, it takes great creative gifts to thwart one’s origins. It might also take true love.
Two babies are abandoned in a Montreal orphanage in the winter of 1910. Before long, their talents emerge: Pierrot is a piano prodigy; Rose lights up even the dreariest room with her dancing and comedy. As they travel around the city performing clown routines, the children fall in love with each other and dream up a plan for the most extraordinary and seductive circus show the world has ever seen.
Separated as teenagers, sent off to work as servants during the Great Depression, both descend into the city’s underworld, dabbling in sex, drugs and theft in order to survive. But when Rose and Pierrot finally reunite beneath the snowflakes after years of searching and desperate poverty the possibilities of their childhood dreams are renewed, and they’ll go to extreme lengths to make them come true. Soon, Rose, Pierrot and their troupe of clowns and chorus girls have hit New York, commanding the stage as well as the alleys, and neither the theater nor the underworld will ever look the same.
With her musical language and extravagantly realized world, Heather O’Neill enchants us with a novel so magical there is no escaping its spell.
I’m not entirely sure where to start reviewing The Lonely Hearts Hotel; a novel which opens with an extreme act of cruelty, explores poverty, neglect and drug abuse and yet does so in prose which is both lyrical and beautiful. Telling the story of Montreal orphans Rose and Pierrot in the 1920s we are taken on a dazzling (and sometimes harrowing) journey from their difficult start in life, to their even more difficult adulthood through extreme poverty during The Great Depression. Reading that back it sounds like this is a depressing novel filled full of gloom, and, although it has its very dark moments there is so much joy and love contained within it that it bursts from every page.
Rose and Pierrot first meet in an orphanage run by nuns where they form an instant connection. They are both entertainers, Pierrot is a wonderful pianist whilst Rose dances and performs to his music; something which the nuns take advantage of, sending them out to the wealthy houses of Montreal to earn money from their abilities. They are in love and have a plan to create a circus together when they both leave the orphanage, until tragedy strikes and they are separated – Pierrot is adopted by a wealthy man whilst Rose becomes a governess in a household. Their lives veer in very different directions and O’Neill doesn’t shy away from exploring the dark side of life, showing the lengths that somebody will go to to make a living. Pierrot falls into disrepute; penniless, madly in love with Rose and unable to find her he turns to heroin becoming very quickly addicted. Pierrot’s struggle is wonderfully written with descriptive and vivid passages that convey the horror of addiction.
The star of this book though is the wonderful Rose, who is as whimsical as she is ballsy. She retreats to a world of make-believe, turning to her imaginary friend, a bear, to get her through the difficult times in the real world. The Lonely Hearts Hotel reads like a fairy tale at times and Rose is an anti-hero to the feeble princess waiting for a prince to make everything better. She is strong, defiant and intelligent; something which the men in the novel find very difficult in a woman. The Lonely Hearts Hotel is very much a novel about women; their oppression;
“That’s because we’re girls. We’re supposed to only have emotions. We aren’t even allowed to have thoughts”
“It was only when a girl was in love with a man that he could ruin her self-esteem”
And their strength;
“All fear is dependent on context”
Rose takes her circumstances and uses them to her advantage, learning all she can from the men she encounters as a gangster’s moll to become a business woman in a time where women were maids, nurses, wives, mothers or prostitutes. She is kind-hearted and loving and doesn’t lose her hope that one day she will be reunited with her love, Pierrot.
This book deals with very difficult themes; child abuse, drug addiction and rape all feature and I have read some criticism of this on some of the reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, and whilst I can fully understand why readers may have found this unpalatable, I don’t think that this story could have been told without it. Rose and Pierrot live through a very difficult period in history and The Lonely Hearts Hotel tackles the issues and adversities faced by people like them head on.
I absolutely adored this novel, it was quite unlike anything else I’ve ever read before and days after finishing it I am still thinking about it and missing wonderful Rose and Pierrot. This novel has made me wish I was studying an English Lit degree again as there is so much more that I could write about, it’s chock full of themes and metaphors and deserves a re-read. Many thanks to the publishers Riverrun and NetGalley for an advanced copy in return for an honest review, it was my pleasure to read this gorgeous book.