James's Reviews > I Hotel

I Hotel by Karen Tei Yamashita
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May 20, 11

Read from July 19 to August 02, 2010

As a matter of principle, I avoid hotels, in any form, at all costs. But I Hotel, like the ones in Vegas, I just couldn’t seem to resist.

The publishers refer to Karen Tei Yamashita’s I Hotel as “This dazzling, multi-voiced fusion of fiction, playwriting, graphic art, and philosophy [that:] spins an epic tale…”

On other matters of principle, I am always cautious when the word “epic” gets thrown around like blame after an oil spill. But flipping through its pages, I Hotel does appear to have graphic and stylistic elements in the realm of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, House of Leaves, and VAS.

Which makes me excited. It’s the future of literary storytelling. Language and ideas still dominate, but there is no reason why the form cannot evolve to be more nuanced, interesting, and visual. Novelists have been keeping too many tools in the toolbox for too long.

I’m going to just come out and say it: I am pro e-reader. I’d love to read I Hotel on one. Because the only negative thing about the experience thus far has been holding the damn book up. Because despite its modernist underpinnings, I Hotel is a veritable work in the classic sense. It is not for the easily distracted, weak, or dumb. The paperback I borrowed is over 600 pages.

And isn’t the title clever? Like iPod or MymaxiPad.

The prose, too, is fine. Nibble on this, from page 2:

“Who are we to know that our black daddy Martin with a dream and our little white father Bobby will take bullets to their brains? By the end of the year, we are monkey orphans let loose, raising havoc; no daddies to pull the stops, temper the member; got those wired tails swinging from every rafter, we are free at last, brother, free at last.”

I particularly like “black daddy Martin with a dream,” and “temper the member.”

And here’s some of that philosophy they were talking about earlier:

“There exists an unscientific attitude toward language that results in doctrinal disagreements. We must understand that problems are formulated in words, and that a change in the attitude toward language can help us become understanding listeners.”

She need not continue the obvious: “and therefore fix our fucking problems!”

I’m really looking forward to this one…


Despite my initial enthusiasm, I Hotel is not a good book.

Do not read it. It is long. It is boring. It is disappointing. It is safe. It is easy. It is pointless. It has no edge.

2010 ytd, I can only recommend Reality Hunger.

And White Hotel. But that’s from 1981. The ’80s generated a lot of marvelous creations, yours truly being one of the many significant yet underrated entities in question from that special time.

I Hotel is cumbersome, disjointed, schizophrenic, frustratingly sprawling, and lacking in cohesion. There are no compelling protagonists. There is a lot of telling and very little storytelling. It’s just all over the place and entirely overwhelming in the worst of ways. It is a big book of very little, suffering from what must certainly be at this point some kind of Asian-American authorial cliche to engage in sprawling multi-generational sagas.

Acknowledging this irrefutable mediocrity, Yamashita apologizes in the Afterword: “Thus the structure I chose for the book is based on such multiple perspectives, divided into ten novellas or ten “hotels.” Multiple novellas allowed me to tell parallel stories, to experiment with various resonant narrative voices, and to honor the complex architecture of a time, a movement, a hotel, and its people.”

First of all: hogwash. Borrring! Obnoxious MFA semantic posturing. You should honor the complex architecture of your novel!

Second of all: The afterword is better written than the novel.
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message 1: by Jono (new)

Jono Who you calling dumb?!

iWish iCould read books like this >_<


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