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The Third Hotel

3.25  ·  Rating details ·  3,777 ratings  ·  690 reviews
In Havana, Cuba, a widow tries to come to terms with her husband’s death―and the truth about their marriage―in Laura van den Berg’s surreal, mystifying story of psychological reflection and metaphysical mystery.

Shortly after Clare arrives in Havana, Cuba, to attend the annual Festival of New Latin American Cinema, she finds her husband, Richard, standing outside a museum.
Hardcover, 212 pages
Published August 7th 2018 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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Andres Ocon It is not exploitative at all. I'm not sure why you might think that, since the novel doesn't exactly revolve around issues that might exploit Cubans.…moreIt is not exploitative at all. I'm not sure why you might think that, since the novel doesn't exactly revolve around issues that might exploit Cubans. I guess you are worried that the book might describe stereotypical Cubans, however I'm not sure what that even means. If your worry is of a description of the country as ugly or poor, it is definitely not the case. However it also doesn't romanticize it either. It gives a very real look at a country I've visited twice and describes real locations that tourists often visit. Nothing exploitative about it, just very accurate and truthful.(less)
Emily Felsen
This answer contains spoilers… (view spoiler)

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Sep 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
Beautifully written, atmospheric novel about marriage and grief. Also very strange, diffuse. Mostly set in Cuba, and the country is rendered in lovely ways. So much precision of language. The ending... doesn't quite work for me, or, better put, I did not understand the ending. I admire the amount of work that went into this book--lots of interesting stuff about horror movies. Fascinating novel. ...more
Iryna *Book and Sword*
2.5/5 (rounded down)

"What in the world did I just read" - sums up this book very well. At least for me. Aside from giving it a low rating I actually do not think that this is a bad book, I think that this is a brilliant book - for the right audience.

​The closest thing I can compare it to is The ocean at the end of the lane by Neil Gaiman, so if you enjoyed that one you will probably love The Third Hotel. Myself? Not so much. I didn't enjoy Gaiman's book and I didn't much care for this one, alth
Jenny (Reading Envy)
This is my favorite work of the author's yet. After her husband's death, Clare travels to Cuba on the trip they were supposed to make together, to a horror film festival. Her husband was an academic studying the genre. But then she sees him in Havana....

The remarkable thing is that in just over 200 pages, the author creates so many layers - horror films, Cuban culture, psychological thrills, grief, the questions of if we can truly know another person - but at the same time manages to help the r
Kylie D
A strange little book that sees our protagonist, Clare, reeling from the death of her husband Richard. Richard was a horror film buff, and was planning to go to a film festival in Cuba when he died in an accident. Clare decides to honour this wish and still go. She does go to some of the festivities, but spends a lot of time wandering aimlessly about in Havana, where she sees her husband outside a museum. She continues to see him around, thinking he may be a zombie, like in the movies he loves. ...more
Mike Scalise
Dec 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Read this book if you like any of the following, or all of the following, and you'll be utterly entranced:
(a) horror movies
(b) smart discussions about horror movies
(c) ghost stories
(d) ghost stories that kind of maybe aren't ghost stories, but also maybe are?
(e) strange, confounding protagonists
(f) metaphysical mysteries
(g) deep considerations of marriage and what it means
(h) short, finish-in-one-sitting novels with unique, irresistible voices
The Third Hotel is such a complex and meaningful novel, so deceptively smooth yet so loaded with significance. It's almost too big for me to sum up without spinning into endless ruminations. It's about tourism, grief, and misogyny in the arts. It is also a startling piece of weird fiction in which a woman encounters her dead husband alive again. This is not a case of mistaken identity, but whether he is a ghost, hallucination or alternate self we cannot be sure. On the first page, protagonist Cl ...more
Dec 05, 2018 rated it it was ok
The Third Hotel follows a newly widowed woman named Clare, trying to come to terms with the death of her husband and the illness of her father, while attending a film festival in Cuba. One day in Havana she thinks she sees her husband standing outside a museum and she decides to follow him. Much surrealism and existential angst ensues.

I think my biggest issue with The Third Hotel was that I did not feel the slightest emotional connection to this story. I really don't need to feel an emotional pu
Oct 08, 2018 rated it liked it
So this was ok, fine, mildly diverting ? It has elicited a vague shrug and nodding admiration from me but now almost 24 hours after finishing I find it leaves no real lasting impression.

The writing is good, it's easy to read, even has some light humour but nothing jumped out and demanded serious attention from me. The individual disparate elements of this book were interesting but I missed the point of the unified whole. The setting of Cuba for example added a lush tropical holiday vibe but ther
Sep 17, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: usa
Cuba, zombies, and loose molars - this is a fever dream turned into a novel. Laura van den Berg writes about grief and the power of the subconscious: Clare, a traveling sales executive for an elevator company, loses her husband in a car accident. Richard was a film scholar who did research on horror movies, and overcome by grief, Clare feels like she is plunged into a horror flick of her own. Will she be the "final girl", the one who survives the slaughter, or will the zombies that possess her - ...more
Julie Ehlers
Aug 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
But maybe a person became even more themselves when away, liberated from their usual present tense

I read this sentence only a few days after returning from my own vacation, and I paused for a minute to consider how true it was: On my first trip in a few years, I felt liberated from my routines and obligations, which made me relaxed and happy and therefore more easygoing and nicer to the people around me—more myself, as I would be without all the stresses that typically grind me down. Then I went
Heidi The Reader
Mar 27, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: horror, book-club, fiction
A strange and confusing ride through a world seen through the eyes of a grieving widow. A short time prior to attending a film festival in Cuba, Clare's husband Richard was killed. Now, she sees him on the streets of Cuba.

"Clare had never before seen her husband operate a motorbike, but he navigated it like he had been riding one all his life, like he had been riding one in Havana all his life, like he had not been struck by a car and killed in the United States of America some five weeks ago."
Oct 07, 2018 rated it it was ok
I spent most of my time reading The Third Hotel in a state of déjà vu, trying to work out what it was reminding me of. This tale of an American in a foreign city, tailing a doppelgänger who may or may not be a figment of their imagination, felt so familiar but I just couldn’t place it. Perhaps it is not one, but an amalgam of many books & films that are variations on this theme, which it brings to mind.

The book follows recently widowed (or is she?) Clare around Havana during a film festival. He
Connie G
Aug 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
What is real and what is in the imagination of the mind? Laura Van Den Berg's "The Third Hotel" takes us through a surreal experience where the characters are in a liminal space between real and unreal, and between dead and not dead.

Recently widowed Clare travels to Havana to attend a film festival that her husband, a horror film scholar, had originally planned to attend. Then she sees him standing outside a Cuban museum--but he died five weeks earlier in a hit-and-run accident. The novel goes b
Jerrie (redwritinghood)
Oct 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed the writing in this slim book about grief, losing yourself in travel, and daring to take a look at your ‘secret’ self. Parts of the plot are vague, which would normally bother me, but in this case the vagueness added a subtly creepy element to the story. We go deep into the protagonist’s psyche here, and there is some musing about what we choose to see or not see about ourselves. And, if we do see, how do we cope with it?
Oct 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A mysterious novel about a woman visiting a Cuban horror film festival in the stead of her husband, who-- we slowly learn--is dead. Or is he? The book is a riddle, moving backwards and forwards in time, following strange occurrences which could be the result of the protagonist's grief or of a slippage in reality itself--or a combination of the two. I recently saw van den Berg at a book festival, and when asked if this was surrealism or straight narrative, she said, "I'm from Florida, and there a ...more
Oct 09, 2018 rated it liked it
"...the foundation of horror is a dislocation of reality, a dislocation designed to reveal the reality that has been there all along..."

In this moody, liminal novel of ideas, Van den Berg immerses the reader in a hallucinatory narrative that is highly cinematic. And, like a surrealist film, the results are variable and largely dependent upon the spectator's interest, focus, and willingness to abandon all attempts at making good sense of the proceedings.

" plunge the viewer into a state of te
Oct 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
At first I felt like I was sucked into the land of deja vu. Something about this story, no more like the actual choice of words, felt eerily familiar. Did I already read this book? Impossible, it’s too new. Nonetheless, there was that feeling that stuck on my brain till near the end. This is a mysterious story about a ghost like woman who goes in search of, or to hide from, life. She has recently lost her husband. She thinks she has found him again, far away from home in Cuba. Suspend your ratio ...more
Oct 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
I’m really not entirely sure how I feel about this novel, so I’ve given it the benefit of the doubt. This review should be read with the understanding that I have a fairly high tolerance for ambiguity in a novel- in that I enjoy ‘ideas reading’ as much as I do ‘plot reading’.

In terms of narrative- I’m not really sure what this novel is ultimately about. A woman suffers loss and trauma, and in a state of extreme grief goes to Cuba, to a horror film festival. As a reader I didn’t get too invested
Oct 07, 2018 rated it it was ok
There is an amount of ambiguity and vagueness that can be great in a novel, but unfortunately that is almost all there was in The Third Hotel. Quite readable but I had absolutely no idea what was going on for almost the entire book - safe to say this was just not for me.
Suddenly and newly widowed Clare (5 weeks as the story opens) has gone to a Latin Horror Movie Festival in Havana, not because she’s into horror movies, but because her husband was. She mingles a little with the other attendees, but mostly wanders around isolated and alone. Then she sees her husband on the street--
I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from this book. I was hoping a bit for fast-paced, gripping psychological suspense. It’s definitely gripping, and incredibly intense, but it’s ess
Marialyce (absltmom, yaya)
Unfortunately, this is another book that is going into my DNF file. I truly tried not only to like this book but to also understand what it was trying to relate to me. I managed to get to the 60% mark, but in reality have not a clue what I have read and how it all comes together. I did try but know that to attempt to read the last 40% will leave me just as muddled as I currently am.
Katie Long
Oct 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
A creative and atmospheric exploration of grief and, especially, the hidden depths and secret desires of ourselves and those we love. It is about the impossibility of truly knowing ourselves, let alone anyone else. The imagery is heavy handed at times, but overall, definitely worth a read.

3.5 rounded up
lucky little cat
Dec 03, 2018 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: Havana-loving masochists, Wim Wenders fans, literary fiction fans who value moodiness & experiment
Recommended to lucky little cat by: 2019 Tournament of Books Long List
Lyrical but opaquely Kafka-esque novel set in Havana, where an alienated, recently widowed tourist either does or does not trail the ghost

of her dead or perhaps not-dead husband. If you need clarity, appealing characters, meaningful linear plot, or anything resembling a resolved ending, you'll want to skip this one.


The book doesn't say boohockey about the nature of grief. The narrative's way too absorbed with being detached and self-consciously arty to slow down for mere gri
Aug 17, 2018 rated it it was ok
I can’t decide whether to give this book a 2 or a 3. I keep changing the rating. The writing is beautiful and I loved the premise. The plot was intriguing and dark and kept me guessing until the end. Unfortunately, it kept me guessing a little too much because about 3/4 ways through the book derailed into something so abstract I kept asking myself, “what the hell am I reading”? I continued reading through to the end because it was a pretty short book, and also, I hoped the end would shed some li ...more
Stephanie (That's What She Read)

So, this is a book that is definitely not going to be everyone's cup of tea. It's surreal and hazy. Clare's husband died in a hit and run, and she is going to a film festival in Cuba to see a horror film her husband was going to write about. She wanders around the city and sees her husband outside of a hotel wearing a linen suit. Throughout the narrative, Clare reflects on her and Richards marriage, grief, her sick father, her love of business travel and
solitude of hotel rooms. Richard was also
Kasa Cotugno
This is a highly unusual take on a familiar subject, accomplished with originality and wit. Laura van den Berg had me at the location and setting, but her protagonist stepped off the page and became real, a viable character flaws and all. I was even intrigued by her line of work. Havana also comes alive, and Clare's long walks through her streets are filled with sensual detail. I was somewhat reminded of Daphne du Maurier's description of Venice in Don't Look Back, which serves almost as a templ ...more
Oct 07, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: indiebuddyreads
I liked it and the writing but I still don’t know quite what to make of it. The book felt unfinished.
May 07, 2018 rated it it was ok
I just didn't get this one and I suspect it's more me than the book itself. I'm actually sitting here feeling rather stupid that I didn't get this one, pretty much at all.

I suspect that if you're a fan of horror films and books, you'll get it and that's who I recommend it for. I also suspect I tried to read it/take it too literally.
Aug 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is a cerebral text about liminal spaces. A woman pursues the ghost of her dead husband through Havana. He was a academic specializing in horror films which leads to some gorgeous brilliant insights on the techniques, purposes, and psychology of horror films.
Erin Glover
Oct 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: five-stars
Frolicking in parallel universes, creating reality from the subconscious, and having sex with a dead person—these are a few of the things Clare, from upstate New York does when she gets to Havana, Cuba, a trip she was supposed to take with her recently-deceased husband Richard.

Clare is in Havana for the Festival of New Latin American Cinema. Richard, a film studies professor specializing in horror, was an admirer of the director Yuniel Mata who is there showing his new film Revolutión Zombi, a
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Jane's Stories: Johnson Award Nominee: The Third Hotel 2 10 Aug 31, 2019 12:46PM  
The Wild Detectiv...: Laura Van Den Berg's The Third Hotel 6 30 Nov 28, 2018 09:27AM  
Prize Readers: 2019 TOB Longlist: The Third Hotel 1 18 Nov 17, 2018 02:37PM  

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Laura van den Berg was raised in Florida. Her first collection of stories, What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us, was a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers selection and a finalist for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award. Her second collection of stories, The Isle of Youth (FSG Originals, 2013), received the Rosenthal Award for Fiction from the American Ac ...more

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