“The first of my father’s illusions was that bears could survive the life lived by human beings, and the second was that human beings could survive a life led in hotels.” So says John Berry, son of a hapless dreamer, brother to a cadre of eccentric siblings, and chronicler of the lives lived, the loves experienced, the deaths met, and the myriad strange and wonderful times encountered by the family Berry. Hoteliers, pet-bear owners, friends of Freud (the animal trainer and vaudevillian, that is), and playthings of mad fate, they “dream on” in a funny, sad, outrageous, and moving novel by the remarkable author of and .
JOHN IRVING was born in Exeter, New Hampshire, in 1942. His first novel, Setting Free the Bears, was published in 1968, when he was twenty-six. He competed as a wrestler for twenty years, and coached wrestling until he was forty-seven. Mr. Irving has been nominated for a National Book Award three times—winning once, in 1980, for his novel The World According to Garp. He received an O. Henry Award in 1981 for his short story “Interior Space.” In 2000, Mr. Irving won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for The Cider House Rules. In 2013, he won a Lambda Literary Award for his novel In One Person. An international writer—his novels have been translated into more than thirty-five languages—John Irving lives in Toronto. His all-time best-selling novel, in every language, is A Prayer for Owen Meany. Avenue of Mysteries is his fourteenth novel.
If you haven't read Irving yet, I think you should give him a try. This novel isn't one of his "big three", but it's damn good.
First off, most Irving novels have some general characteristics:
- They typically have a Dickensian plot, in which you follow the characters through large portions of their lives. The breadth of the novel typically goes through one generational span, but often you'll get (at least) a few beginning chapters detailing the lives of the protagonist's parents or grandparents, as well.
- Irving writes of these lives through story telling.
- He wants his readers to really get to know his characters. I've never read an Irving novel that didn't have, in my judgment, superb character development. Characters from Irving novels I read years ago still leap out at me; I still feel they are real, and that I know them. I have a love for them.
- Irving rarely describes the internalized thoughts and emotions of his characters. Instead he gives the reader insight into their personalities through their reactions, styles, comments, loves, hates, interactions, and all-around preferences. He can do this because his descriptions and stories are very detailed and tend to be true to the universal life experiences we've all had in dealing with, and observing, people. Irving lets these personalities play themselves out, and trusts that the reader will come to understand the inner-core of the character as that character continues to get revealed.
- These characters are often wacky... but in a likeable way. They make you laugh. Yet his protagonists are typically men who are easily relatable -- flawed, but likable. Typically the strong hero-esque roles are filled by women with strong personalities -- but not always.
- When Irving's host of motley characters interact- ironic, tragic, comical, over-the-top, bizarre things happen. It doesn't seem far-fetched at the time (at least not to an Irving fan), because the characters are still believable, and the events that take place are simply extensions of their quirky personalities. Weird fates usually happen to weird people, right? It'd be weird if that weren't the case, but now we're just playing word games....
- There are a number of common themes that run through his novels: New England, Vienna, bears, prostitution, absent parents, the death of main characters, wrestling, sexual deviances, to name a few...
- Irving pushes the boundaries of ridiculousness. The reader needs to have an appreciation for the absurd, and develop a level of trust with the author, because just about anything can happen. Likewise, having a trace of megalomania within, certainly doesn't hurt; especially when, at the end of the novel you find that some characters have become rock stars, famous writers, hollywood actors/actresses, etc. Or perhaps they die... or have something happen to a sex organ, or... you get it, right?
And lastly, John Irving novels deal with important subject matters: abortion, faith, rape, fidelity, sexuality, war, the list goes on. When writing of this novel, another reviewer wrote this: “Once the novel jumps the shark, you realize Irving has all along been cruel and insensitive on every page of the book – on the subject of rape, on the idea of sibling sexual attraction, on the adoption of feminist concept, on political dissent, on prostitution, and on the lives of little people.” I couldn’t disagree more. Irving is very even-handed and sensitive when it comes to these topics. He, in fact, deals with them so humanly, delicately, and skillfully, that he's able to use dark humor as a way of comforting the reader. Trust me: he never downplays important subject matters; he treats them the way great authors do: with consideration, compassion, and heart.
And that brings me to the big issue that it's in this novel, which is rape. There's an early chapter that details a gang rape, and it's one of the most disturbing, soul-wrenching chapters I've ever read in my life; hands down. The effects of rape recur throughout the novel. It doesn't just effect the victim, but the families and friends of the victim, as well, and all in different ways. In The Cider House Rules Irving personalized abortion for me; giving me a sick feeling in the gut when faced with the accounts of women who had to make that difficult choice before it was legal. In The Hotel New Hampshire Irving personalized the horror of rape in the same soul shaking way.
Some believe this book is too wacky and unbelievable, even for Irving. Wild love triangles, incestual romantic love, two bears, a jewish performer named Freud, living in hotels, characters going blind, radicals, screwed-up taxidermy, dwarfs, lots of prostitutes. As said earlier, for me, most of the odd misadventures involved are not unrealistic, but rather natural manifestations of the novels' quirky but realistic characters. All the wild things that happen keep it entertaining. But some of the scenes do seem out of place; like they were thrown into the larger story in an unnatural fashion.
The only other small qualm I have is that Irving overdoes the storytelling from time-to-time. When he artfully and heartfully gets into stories that relate to the novels' general themes, the novel wins. But when the novel gets bogged down in detailed accounts of irrelevant side stories, it loses. This novel could have been 50 to 75 pages shorter, and probably better for it.
I only bring these two issues up to explain why I didn't give this novel five stars, despite my strong reaction to it, and despite my love for it. It's still a damn good book, and you should still read it; or at least pick up an Irving novel, if you haven't. (I'll tell you for a third and fourth time if I have to.)
"It was the end of the summer of 1964; I hadn't been in the United States since 1957, and I knew less about my country than some of the Viennese students knew. I also knew less about Vienna than any of them. I knew about my family, I knew about our whores, and our radicals; I was an expert on The Hotel New Hampshire and an amateur at everything else."
Ultimately this novel is about acceptance, and valuing the time you have on earth with those worthy of your love. It's special how Irving makes this novel work; like an almost magical piece of artwork, everything comes together to make a beautiful whole.
It’s been forty years since I read this book. It put me on a course that would take me thru almost the entire then-extant Irving opus, back in those depressing doldrums they called the eighties.
So Irving’s offbeat book helped this offbeat guy, through its deification of Murphy’s Law to a murky hilarity that totally reflected my thirtysomething life (and yes, in the evenings I watched the classic Thirtysomething TV series, so go figure how down I was)... at that sad time.
A Time of reflection and angst, after the passing of my dear Mom.
Dare I revisit the old hotel now?
Stay tuned in the warmer time of year, after I’ve reread this book - it showed me back then I’d only escaped from the seismic shock of the seventies to be met by a muddlesome mid age crisis! *** I have now, some several months of unanticipated though virus-mandated isolation later, acquired an 80’s edition of this book in mint condition.
That copy I will probably give to a young friend who has long wrestled with this selfsame contrariness of happenstance throughout his life, as I did. Because I believe I now see the key to dismantling that contrariness in my life - or in yours - which key I’ll now bequeath to your common good.
Though my friend will relish its topsy-turvy world, it would now be deleterious to my own well-being.
Why do I say that?
Simply because the world as it is is much simpler and more workable than Irving’s, and all it takes is the clarity that is gained by a lifetime of fortitude in the adverse yoke under which us seekers labour, in a world ruled by Murphy’s Law.
Quantum physics might say the Murphy’s Law life is a parallel and antecedent world to a world that simply - and quite peacefully, amid the noise of eternal conflict - IS.
In such a way Parmenides saw the world: it just IS, immutably. And its trajectory is eternally circular.
You see, the phony world is TRYING to habituate us to endless defeat in a Murphy’s World, as Irving is in the following suggestion to himself: Give it up! As the gatekeeper tells Franz Kafka.
Get this - the phony world, no matter what age or aeon you live in, wants to sell you ITS version of itself. Got it? Not the straight and narrow world of pure unprejudiced ISNESS. Only its mere fabrication.
So it wants us to admit defeat and accept its version of life.
I don’t buy that. I KNOW life is simple, pure, uncluttered Being, because I have LIVED that experience. And intend to continue doing so.
And that’s why I can no longer read this book.
Life is at the same time much simpler and much more difficult than that. Cause you gotta fight it every inch of the way if you want to reach the summit (and “the Road goes on Forever”).
So I continue to fight - just trying to:
redeem the Dream... The unseen token of the Higher Dream.
Our Dream takes dedication, but it’s real. So’s the battle!
This is my Quest, to follow that Star No matter how hopeless No matter how FAR...
And the end of all our searching Will be to arrive at the place where we started And KNOW the place for the First Time.
But, you know, it’s a book my young friend Matthew - and YOU - might LOVE, if you’re in those Sturm und Drang younger years when happenstance is NEVER on your side! *** All is now well, as the chill winds of imminent fall weather blow...
And I, in the late September of my years, have made penultimate Peace with a world that always went against my expectations, simply by not refusing to bear my Lifelong Cross peaceably, as I ALWAYS should have done!
And another happy ending... Irving’s long and hilarious conundrum is now in the permanent possession of my fruitlessly questioning young friend!
May Irving’s ideas fall deep into his fertile spiritual soil.
Win(slow) Berry is a dreamer never satisfied with life, as it is. Always wanting to climb over the hill to see what's on the other side. It will always be better over there! An unhappy childhood with only one parent to raise him, a physical fitness fanatic rather cold but a good man... The single father Bob (Coach Bob) his wife having died, giving birth to Win. The dedicated football coach at the prep school in Dairy, New Hampshire called unimaginatively, the Dairy School. A second rate institution for boys thrown out of superior ones, or not even able to get in them in the first place. Without the school the small town would cease to exist. Win has no brothers or sisters a lonely boy, very intelligent but nevertheless an unfortunate one. His life really begins in 1939 at a resort hotel, The Arbuthnot-by-the-Sea, in Maine there he falls in love with Mary Bates, also from Dairy they had kept away from each other. She attended Thompson Female Seminary, Win, ( the name he prefers) of course the Dairy School, both are employees at the hotel during the summer. There they meet Freud, just his nickname folks... not the famous psychoanalyst. An animal trainer who has a bear act, performing nightly outside the Arbuthnot, while the guests are having dinner... a little unsettling . State O' Maine the 400 lbs. bear loves the motorcycle. He sits in the sidecar as Freud drives, scaring people just the timid... even doing a dance. The young couple get engaged and become great friends with Freud, who had encouraged the union both are 19. Win goes to Harvard but first he buys the bear and the motorcycle from "Freud", he unwisely returns to his native Austria. The animal act with State O' Maine, Win calls the old bear Earl is rather shall we say, not the best. Taking two long years before he has enough money to get back to Harvard. Children arrive very quickly, Frank, Franny, John (the narrator of our story) Lilly and Egg... don't ask. Bang, bang, bang, etc., as Franny would say many times afterwards, the eccentric family is complete. Later the father tells them stories that maybe are not quite true but still fun to hear, better than the mother's she doesn't lie. After serving safely in World War Two, at an Air Base in Italy. Win not really an accurate name for him returns home, graduates from Harvard gets a job, where else but the Dairy School, teaching English. And soon buys the closed Thompson Female Seminary, the Dairy School finally letting girls in. The dreamer starts The Hotel New Hampshire , few customers though in the crummy hotel it will not be the last one, he tries to run. The novel has incest, rape, terrorists, midgets, whores and tragedies... And comic situations, a girl in a bear suit how cool after all this is really a comedy, believe it or not ? If you enjoy novels that are different , maybe over the top from the norm The Hotel New Hampshire will be for you.
The Berrys' are a somewhat quirky New Hampshire (USA) family, with parents who fell in love Summer working at a local resort; they have five kids, including John who narrates his family's story from some unspecified time in the future. Their family saga owning and running not one, not two, but three versions of the Hotel New Hampshire at heart capture a family that mostly takes its own paths and when tragedy or indeed joy arrives they persevere as much as they can; they 'keep passing the open windows' when they can... essentially if life feels like it's asking you to jump out of the window, don't!
For a book that at times features sexual violence, incest, underage sexual experiences and exposure, physical violence, attitudes to homosexuality in the 1950s and 1960s, animal cruelty and more it's quite a feat to maintain its darkly comedic feel throughout. What makes it standout is its hyper real look at a quirky family from within and from the perspective of a dysfunctional man (John) who himself sees himself 'more normal' than most of his family. Most of all I should not underplay the marvelous feat of saga-ic storytelling that this book is! 8.5 out of 12. The movie trailer!
I've never much liked fancy dress. I've never been very good at it, either. It's my mum's fault, really. Every Halloween when I was a child, my mum would throw a black bin liner over me, colour in my nose with her mascara, and attach a sock she’d stuffed with newspapers to my bottom, before declaring my costume complete. Even at seven, I was aware of how ridiculous I looked. Sometimes I decided to throw on some additional make-up or attach a couple of ears to my head just to avoid confusion, but that was hard work: most years, I just wrote ‘CAT!’ on a sheet of paper and pinned it to my chest for everyone to see. My baby sister had less need to explain her identity to our neighbours, but her Ghost disguise – one sheet, two eye-holes – was another classic in the shite costume genre.
You know another example of crappy costume? A bearskin. And by that I mean the skin of an actual bear, which - let's face it - would look incredibly stupid on a human, especially a skinny female human. And yet, according to this novel, a skinny female human automatically becomes a dead ringer for a bear when dressed in this enormous animal's skin and faced with any idiot hotel guest. In the real world, nobody with a single brain cell would fall for this trick, but idiot hotel guests fall for it here. Continually. It's very annoying.
“It is hard work and great art to make life not so serious.”
If you have read John Irving before you know his work is bizarre, too tidy (usually) and not realistic, and if you can get over that aspect then you have a chance of enjoying his work. He is hit or miss for me. I have read a couple of his I enjoyed, and a few I have loathed. I have noticed that those I dislike are ones he has written in the last 20 years. “The Hotel New Hampshire” has all the usual Irving characteristics; a story that takes place over many years, a sprawling cast list, some ridiculous plot contrivances, a little too much familial love for my tastes, a homoerotic fixation with male physiques and oddball characters. And in this text, I was okay with that. I cannot really tell you why I liked this book, but I did. It took me about 50-60 pages to get into it and invest a little, but I did and then I was in. I am not sure I can pinpoint a thematic significance to the text; it was just a family saga. And that is a significant thing to write about. For most of us that is the stuff our daily lives are made of. As one character says of the details of daily life, “Thus we invent our lives”. “The Hotel New Hampshire” follows the Berry family from the initial meeting of the parents at a resort in Maine thru the middle age of the surviving offspring of the marriage that springs from that summer fling in Maine. I have been told this text has a lot in common with “The World According to Garp”, which I have not read. The second son in the family is our narrator. John Berry seems rather unflinching in his evaluations of himself, and those he loves. It is somewhat refreshing to read a novel whose narrator (I don’t think) has an agenda. The plot is sprawling, we go from New England to Maine to Austria, to NYC and back to Maine. It is quite a trip. The book is a mix of some really lovely writing and some fun storytelling elements, and sometimes the two elements even mix together. I have not said a lot that is important about this text. It is a good read, and a unique story. There are not many people writing like this, and this novel from 1981 is one of the better pieces of John Irving’s that I have read.
"So we dream on. Thus we invent our lives. We give ourselves a sainted mother, we make our father a hero; and someone's older brother, and someone's older sister - they become our heroes, too. We invent what we love, and what we fear. There is always a brave, lost brother - and a little lost sister, too. We dream on and on; the best hotel, the perfect family, the resort life. And our dreams escape us almost as vividly as we can imagine them."
I have started writing this review four, five times? I can't remember anymore. Each time, I get a few lines into it, and realize I'm falling terribly short of what I really want to say. This novel broke my heart. It is beautiful and lyrical and warm and funny and it broke my fucking heart, with each and every paragraph, every word. That's really all I can say about it. Read it.
This is one of my favorite books of all time, and is-for what it's worth-my favorite John Irving book in a world where everyone else picks The World According to Garp. It's the perfect blend of sad and sweet and strange, a combination that is quite difficult to pull off. Irving himself doesn't always manage that trifecta successfully in his other works.
The story is about the travails (and boy, are there travails) of the Berry family of New Hampshire, in running the titular hotel and what follows (bears, Austria and wrestling are all involved, because John Irving.) Someone quoted, "Keep passing the open windows" to me the other day, and I almost cried because I love this book so freaking much and if you've read it, you get it.
It was also turned into a surprisingly faithful and underrated movie in the 1980's starring Beau Bridges, Jodie Foster and Rob Lowe.
This novel, the first one I ever read of Irving, left a very ambiguous mark on my soul. I was strongly attracted to the really powerful story telling, which reminded my of Dickens. As with Dickens, there was also the intens and warm interaction between the main characters (almost all of them members of one family) and the sometimes dramatic events they have to confront.
But Irving really is modern writer: the unconventional relations between the family members, the risky cross-border themes (rape, incest, homosexuality, etc), the rather marginal environment of prostitutes or (clumsy) revolutionaries, this all adds up to a real end-of-the-twentieth-century-feel. And then there is the typical Irving-ingredient of absurd-hilaric characters and situations that normally would seem completely incredible but with Irving are just a natural part of the story. In short, Irving presents a cocktail that makes this novel "big", giving the reader the feeling that he really learns something about the absurdity, complexity, harshness and tenderness of the world and of life. Awesome.
But... in the last 100 pages, Irving went just a little bit too far to my taste, he made his cocktail just one fraction too intense. For instance, in the episode about the revenge on rapist Chipper. And then there's the disappointing epilogue, with which I think Irving wanted to give his novel a beautiful 'Gatsby-like'-ending. And that wasn't really necessary. So, though not flawless, this book definitely gave me the urge to read more by Irving.
One of the benefits of having your favorite professor of psychology as your next door neighbor is learning that he is a very widely read man. We are an odd pair, I suppose. He is 76. I am 59. But through the years we have known one another we have become best friends. We frequently exchange books the other has not read.
It is safe to say that Howard is fond of literature that some might find "quirky." That's fine with me. That which is quirky can be quite fascinating. Howard can also be subject to a touch of hyperbole. So when he handed me his copy of The Hotel New Hampshire, declaring it the finest book written in the English language, I graciously accepted it, not revealing the grain of salt I reserved for his high accolade.
While I would not proclaim "The Hotel New Hampshire" the finest book written in the English language, it is a book I came to love with the passage of each page. Quirky? Oh, there's no question about it.
Iowa Bob Berry is the football coach of Dairy Prep School in Dairy, New Hampshire. The school doesn't quite make the top tier of preparatory schools in New England, but it serves its purpose for the wealthy whose children don't fall into the top tier of students that attend the top tier schools. It comes, then, rather a surprise that Iowa Bob's son, Win,is Harvard material. The problem is, that although he has been accepted to attend it's going to take hard work to earn the money to afford the tuition.
Now,Dairy Prep is an all boys' school. It comes as no surprise that Win's girl of his dreams is unknown to him although they live in the same town. However, after graduation, the two nineteen year olds spend their summer working at Arbuthnot by the Sea, a resort in Maine. Nor does it come as a surprise that the two fall in love over that wondrous summer.
There is definitely a fairy tale quality to the courtship of Win Berry and Mary Bates, the daughter of a very scholarly family. Another employee at Arbuthnot is Freud, not Sigmund, of course, but Freud a mechanic, who entertains the guests with the antics of pet bear, "State O' Maine" who rides a 1937 Indian Motorcycle. At the end of summer, 1939, Freud announces he's returning to his home in Vienna, not a wise thing to do. He sells the motorcycle and the bear to Win for $200.00 for Win's promises he marry Mary, attend Harvard, and one day will apologize to Mary for an event Freud does not reveal.
Win makes good on the first promise quickly. Win and Mary begin to be fruitful between the entertainment seasons during which Win is earning his tuition at various resorts with the use of the Indian and the Bear. World War II puts a hitch in Win's enrollment at Harvard. However, he returns safely, graduates from Harvard and takes a teaching position at Dairy, now a coed facility.
The Berry children are Frank, Franny, John Harvard, Lilly, and the youngest,known as Egg. John, the middle child, narrates the novel in first person.
Win quickly becomes dissatisfied with his teaching position. He buys the now vacant female seminary to convert it to a hotel as there is no other in Dairy.
I've mentioned that Irving's novel has a fairy tale quality to it. It's necessary to remember that there are the lighter tales of Hans Christian Anderson and there is the darker side of the genre by the Brothers Grimm. As the story of the Berry clan proceeds, it is evident that Irving has chosen to follow the Grimm route.
Frank is gay. He is targeted for humiliation by the backfield of the Dairy football team, quarterbacked by Chip Dove. The same backfield rapes Franny. She refuses to report that she has been raped, but minimizes the attack by saying she had been beaten up. Lilly has a rare disorder which prevents her from growing. Egg is practically deaf following a series of ear infections.
Win receives an offer to sell the Hotel. And who should appear to offer the Berry family a change of scenery but Freud, now the owner of a hotel in Vienna, Austria. Win is his pick to help improve his gasthaus to the level of a fine hotel.
Freud could use the help. It's an odd establishment. One floor is occupied by prostitutes, who may ply their trade legally in Vienna. Another floor is occupied by a group of radicals, despising the old order and anything smacking of tradition. Win has his work cut out for him.
Freud has obtained a smarter bear, Susie. She's considerably smarter than State O' Maine. She happens to be a young woman who does a divine impression of a bear, not only serving as an entertainer, but a body guard for the ladies of the evening upstairs. And, oh, yes, Susie was the victim of sexual assault as well. She considers herself ugly, and is content to hide behind the bear suit.
"The Hotel New Hampshire" was written and directed by Tony Richardson for the screen in 1984.
The radicals upstairs are a dangerous group. They plan to set off an automobile bomb which will cause a sympathetic bomb under the stage of the Vienna Opera House on the premiere night of the fall season. I leave it to the reader to discern whether the attempt is successful,or not, and who lives and who dies.
The Vienna Opera House
The Berry family return to the United States. Lilly has written a best seller "Trying to Grow." This deus ex machina allows the Berrys to live a comfortable life, though all of life's normal travails continue to follow them through out their lives.
As Irving tells us, sorrow, love, and doom float through each of our lives. It's how we each handle those unavoidable currents that determine the satisfaction of our lives.
Iowa Bob, training John Harvard to be a weight lifter, put him on a strict regimen of exercise. "You have to be obsessed. Obsessed. Keep passing those open windows." Having lived approaching sixty years, I'd have to say you can't live just standing still. Some dreams become wishes which are fulfilled. Some are not. Just persevere.
I have read a number of reviews of "The Hotel New Hampshire." You will certainly find its detractors here. Those unfavorable reviews note the dysfunctional nature of the Berry family. Similar reviews find Irving's emphasis on sexual assault unnerving. While I've noted Irving's fairy tale nature of storytelling in this novel, life isn't a fairy tale. The events described in Irving's novel happen all too frequently. As a bit of a post script, I have to say Irving did his research on the dynamics of sexual assault and its effects on survivors. Yes, sorrow also floats.
One of my most revelatory professional discoveries is also stupidly simple. It’s this, courtesy of Bob Probst: Reading is a selfish venture.
It is. Of course it is. I’m disappointed in myself for not realizing it earlier, because it’s a principle – probably one of the top two or three – that guides my work with pre-service English teachers, and it would’ve transformed the way I taught English in high school. I was reminded of the selfishness of the reading enterprise as I made my way through John Irving’s The Hotel New Hampshire, more on which in a couple minutes.
Here’s why it’s important to consider the solipsistic nature of reading, especially for the teachers in my audience. We read, let’s say 99% of the time, for our own reasons and purposes. We certainly do this when we read for pleasure, but even professional reading is done for specific personal reasons. I pick up a novel to get lost in the characters, to savor the author’s use of language, to find myself carried along by plot and conflict; when I conduct research for an article I’m writing, my personal reasons look very different, but the act of scouring journals and other texts for salient information is also highly personal, and how it looks depends on what I’m writing. In both cases, I’m reading for my reasons, and this holds true for just about everyone, no matter what they read.
School is the only place where people are regularly called on to read for external reasons over which they have no control. They want to score well on the quiz, write the paper, contribute to the discussion – and the parameters for success on all those activities are probably set by the teacher. In my experience, students are rarely encouraged to read for their own purposes, which is a direct contradiction of the way people read in the world outside of and beyond school. We read what interests us – or, if we’re not sure if something interests us, we bring our own experience and knowledge to bear on the text in an effort to make meaning of it.
And so it was for me with The Hotel New Hampshire.
(As a side note, this is, of course, where the Common Core State Standards get reading completely wrong. In the English standards’ slavish adherence to “the four corners of the page” and standards author David Coleman’s desire that students not access their prior knowledge and history – essentially asking students to come to the text as a blank slate, which precisely no one ever does – the selfish aspect of reading is left entirely out of the equation. By focusing completely on providing textual evidence for whatever superficial task the teacher has mandated, student choice is eliminated completely. We’re asking students to read in complete defiance of what we know about how people read, which means most of the reading tasks they’re asked to complete in school are completely artificial, and with very little transfer to the way we read outside of school. It’s asinine.)
Back to The Hotel New Hampshire, and from here on in I tread lightly.
I enjoyed the book, but it’s problematic for a lot of reasons, touching as it does on anti-Semitism, adolescent sexuality, incest, prostitution, terrorism, and rape, all while somehow being laugh-out-loud funny. It details the exploits of the Berry family – mainly father Win and his children Frank, Franny, John (who narrates the book), and Lily – and the three hotels they own (in New Hampshire, Vienna, and Maine) over the course of twentyish years. The last item in that lengthy list of the book’s sensitive subjects hangs over everything after Franny is raped in high school by several boys, and it’s tempting to read it as the catalyst for much of what develops later between her and John.
The interesting thing – and what prompted me to think carefully about the inherent selfishness of reading – is how I homed in on Franny’s rape as the book’s defining event even though it isn’t really about rape or misogyny or even, broadly, gender politics. It’s certainly part of the book’s tapestry, but if I said this was a book about rape, I’d be lying.
The treatment of women in our culture has been on my mind lately due to the recent video of the woman being sexually harassed on the streets of New York and the misogynist cowards behind Gamergate and the threats levied against critic Anita Sarkeesian and the necessity of #YesAllWomen. It’s the Hobby Lobby decision and the GOP’s rejection of equal pay for women and even yesterday’s exceedingly lame conference focusing on “men’s issues” on the campus where I teach. If the autumn of 2014 taught us anything, it’s that men, as the saying goes, are pigs.
So I was already sensitive to this subject, and I felt anything but optimistic about the direction in which I saw Irving heading. It seems spectacularly foolhardy to think a man has anything worth saying about rape, but to make it one of the key events of a novel had all the makings of a Hindenburg-style disaster. Because of the way I was already attuned to the issue, I was perhaps more prepared to trace its development than any of the other problems Irving presents us with.
There’s one big reason why I think Irving’s handling of this most sensitive issue ultimately works: it’s nuanced. That seems counterintuitive when dealing with an issue like rape, so I should probably clarify that it’s the aftermath of the rape that’s nuanced. The crime itself is never seen as anything other than the brutal act it is, but Irving’s characters resist convenient responses. Franny, as the victim, somehow manages to be the strongest character in the book – she refuses to see herself as a victim, claiming that while, yes, she was physically assaulted, the rapists never touched her emotionally, never got to, as she puts it, “the me in me” – while continuing to write letters to one of her assailants for years after the attack because she was in love with him at the time.
In Vienna, the family meets Susie, a fellow rape survivor (who also dresses as a bear, which is too convoluted a backstory to discuss here), who says that Franny’s response is ridiculous. According to Susie, Franny’s blithe refusal to see herself as a victim indicates a refusal to deal with the crime itself, and by not attacking her assailants at the time, “she sacrificed her own integrity.” The problem with this view, John the narrator realizes, is the fact that it reflects Susie’s own refusal to acknowledge that everyone is different, everyone processes trauma differently, and that by demanding Franny handle her rape in the same way Susie dealt with hers, she’s robbing Franny of her individual authenticity:
"Even before she started talking to Franny, I could see how desperately important this woman’s private unhappiness was to her, and how – in her mind – the only credible reaction to the event of rape was hers. That someone else might have responded differently to a similar abuse only meant to her that the abuse couldn’t possibly have been the same.
‘People are like that,’ Iowa Bob would have said. ‘They need to make their own worst experiences universal. It gives them a kind of support.’
And who can blame them? It is just infuriating to argue with someone like that; because of an experience that has denied them their humanity, they go around denying another kind of humanity in others, which is the truth of human variety – it stands alongside our sameness."
And this seems to me to be what the book is all about: simultaneously glorying in human difference while also realizing the problems it causes. Is that the definitive answer of what Irving is going for with The Hotel New Hampshire? Probably not. There are, as I said earlier, many other issues at play in the book, and that’s without mentioning how the book examines the idea of family: what it is, how it starts, what holds it all together, how it handles loss, and so on. There are many angles from which a reader can make sense of The Hotel New Hampshire, but I, rightly or wrongly, made sense of it through the lens of Irving’s sensitive handling of the aftermath of rape. And that’s because I, recently dismayed at the preponderance of misogyny in our culture, selfishly (and in defiance of the Common Core) took ownership of my own reading.
The Hotel New Hampshire is so rich that it invites these kind of readings, and to reduce it, as I sort of have, to a book only about rape, is to do it a disservice. The strongest thing working in its favor is that I could read it multiple times and see an entirely different story each time.
I winced, cringed, and rolled my eyes through this. The only other Irving I'd read was Garp and I absolutely adored it...until about the last third. The spell Irving had woven over me wore off and the book started to grate; this one wore out its welcome in the first hundred pages. I can't stand the precious little phrases the characters use constantly throughout the book (what?, open windows, 464, blah, blah, blah) and the motifs from the author's other works (bears, athletic obsession, lust, castration fear). The work starts out in the town of Precious and moves on to Cloyington and then settles in Contrivedville. To me, this stuff is the bastard child of Dickens & Tom Robbins. That mix obviously appeals to many readers, I'm just not one of them. I still have a copy of A Prayer for Owen Meany that I intend to read, as I am told that's his best work. Maybe I'll enjoy that one. I certainly hope so.
The bear knows this, too: it is hard work and great art to make life not so serious. Prostitutes know this too.
John Irving is trying to write the perfect novel. Every time he finishes one book, he looks back and frowns: still not good enough! So he goes back to the planning board and starts anew. We, as readers, should be grateful for his determination and for his integrity towards his art. Even as he reuses favourite themes, imagery and type of characters, Irving remains true to his vision of hope against all odds, in a world too serious for its own good. Sometimes you need a bear riding in the sidecar of a derelict motorcycle to help you through the dark times.
Every kid should grow up in a weird hotel, don’t you agree?
The Berry family, with parents Win and Marry, children Frank, Franny, John, Lilly and Egg, grandfather Iowa Bob, a pet dog named Sorrow and a trained bear named ‘State of Maine’ are taking over an abandoned school building in the small town of Dairy and transforming it into something else. The first Hotel New Hampshire is the product of the dreams of Win Berry, first fostered in the summer of 1939 when he met Mary and the bear on the coast of Maine, while serving as temporary staff for a fashionable resort.
Life is never boring in the Hotel New Hampshire
The novel starts as a romantic interlude on the eve of war, the fading splendor of a lost generation, spiced up with Irving’s signature black humour and weird characters. A wandering Jew named Freud with his elderly bear nicknamed ‘State of Maine’ are entertaining guests and temporary workers like Win and Mary – inspiring a form of rebellion against a life without surprises and without passion. A mythical figure of an elegant man dressed in a white tuxedo, rising out of the moonlit waters of the bay will be later revealed to be a reference to F. Scott Fitzgerald and his Gatsby character: the dreamer who rejects the world as it is and tries to recast it in his own vision. Fitzgerald is also used later as a reference for the writer who wrote the perfect ending to a novel.
“Everything is screwed down in the Hotel New Hampshire; in the Hotel New Hampshire, we’re screwed down for life!”
Children being raised by such a non-conformist family and in such an unusual setting as an improvised hotel, are liable to develop strong, unconventional personalities. Familiarity with other novels written by the same author will help identify recurring themes and overlaps with those other novels. Like I mentioned earlier, Irving is the sort of writer who starts from autobiographical elements and transforms them into universal truths by the power of his imagination, so there was little surprise for me when I came across references to things like the circus, midgets, weight lifting/wrestling, campus life, literature teaching, rape crisis centers, tattoos/taxidermy, Vienna/ psychotherapy, oddball sexuality and trauma.
Of all these elements, trauma is the most potent in shaping the life of the Berry family. For all the comedy and the free spirit mentality of the household, their life is defined by pain and loss.
Sorrow floats. We knew that. We shouldn’t have been surprised.
Time after time, life sends the Grim Reaper to block the path forward for Franny and Frank, John and Lilly and Egg. The focus of the novel, as the Berry’s first foray into the hotel industry stumbles and flounders, moves to post-war Vienna, where their old acquaintance Freud, an old blind man now with a new pet bear named Susie, is inviting them to take over his own derelict hotel in the town centre. The second Hotel New Hampshire is about to take off!
It was as if the power of his dreaming was so vivid that he felt compelled to simply act out whatever future he imagined – and we were being asked to tolerate his absence from reality, and maybe his absence from our lives, for a while. That is what “pure love” is: the future.
Win Berry, the irrepressible dreamer in the family, is the driving force behind the move to Vienna. The personal price the family has to pay is high, and for seven long years the children must learn how to deal with their terrible sadness. The elements of black humour and the theme of sexual abuse/ sexual liberation are continued under the tutelage of the twin teachers lodging in the second Hotel New Hampshire : the semi-legal prostitutes on the third floor, and the group of anarchist revolutionaries on the top floor. Between the lobby and the different inhabitants moves Susie the bear, another victim of sexual abuse.
She is a symbol for all the sexually wounded, which is what the ‘Hotel New Hampshire’ is about.
Violence, psychoanalysis, literature (with a reading of Melville’s ‘Moby Dick’) , Arthur Schnitzler’s bedroom excesses, sexual identity and family connections can all be condensed in one phrase that defines both the Vienna interlude and the novel as a whole:
“Keep passing the open windows”
Hang in there, Frank and Franny and John and everyone else – no matter how bleak and desperate life gets, it’s still better than the alternative. The words from an urban legend about a depressive clown who couldn’t take it any more and jumped from a high window, become the Berry family catchphrase. Father Win Berry, about to become a hero in a formidable apocalyptic scene at the end of the Vienna sejour, is the one who explains the significance of the meme to the reader:
“Human beings are remarkable – at what we can learn to live with. If we couldn’t get strong from what we lose, and what we miss, and what we want and can’t have, then we couldn’t ever get strong ‘enough’, could we? What else makes us strong?”
The stronger Berry family, such as it is left after the Vienna debacle, moves back to New York, and the children try to find their place in the world as adults. Before they can do so, there are still unsolved issues from the past – like dealing with repressed memories and with denial of inflicted deep wounds.
The New York episode is memorable for me for the inclusion of poetry as an integral part of the narrative. At first I thought that Donald Justice was an alter ego of the author, a way to include metaphor as a way to define the characters and their significance. Further research reveals that he is a real poet, and a teacher of John Irving, one of the mentors who shaped him and helped him find his unique voice:
If what’s best and clearest in him isn’t in his poems, he wouldn’t be a very good writer.
Metaphorically speaking them, Donald Justice and John Irving will explain to us why we spent all this quality time in the company of the Berry family, in and out of one hotel after another. Like a good novel, a good hotel is there to provide service we sometime don’t even know we need:
We’ve been in this business for years, and that’s just what a good hotel does: it simply provides you with the space, and with the atmosphere, for what it is you ‘need’. A good hotel turns space and atmosphere into something generous, into something sympathetic – a good hotel makes those gestures that are like touching you, or saying a kind word to you, just when (and only ‘when’) you need it. A good hotel is always there but it doesn’t give you the feeling that it’s breathing down your neck.
Ein traumhaftes Buch! Im wahrsten Sinne des Wortes. Ich meine dies also nicht schwärmerisch, sondern vielmehr wortgetreu. Ich kam mir beim Lesen der Geschichte der Familie Berry oft so vor, als würde ich nach einem wilden Traum am Morgen aufwachen. Es gibt Träume, die spielen ja in realistischen Umgebungen mit bekannten Personen, doch plötzlich tauchen andere Menschen oder Wesen auf, die eigentlich gar nicht hier hingehören und der eigene Traum wird skurril und surreal.
Wie anders soll es einem denn vorkommen, wenn sprechende Bären, abgehalfterte Prostituierte, Terroristen, zwergenhafte Gestalten, sexbessene Menschen und die eigene Familie plötzlich in einem Haus wohnen. Und dies mit einer völligen Selbstverständlichkeit erzähl wird. Die Familie Berry betreibt in diesem Rückblick auf mehrere Dekaden insgesamt vier Hotels New Hampshire. Man kann somit jedes Hotel als eine Lebensstufe des Ich-Erzählers John sehen, der das mittlere der fünf Kinder ist. Das Buch ist voll geladenen mit Symboliken, Anspielungen, aber auch Kopien aus anderen Büchern. Es ist wunderbar erzählt, vor allem äußerst liebe- und humorvoll, aber halt auch an vielen Stellen sehr derbe und vulgär. Das muss man sicher mögen, denn ansonsten stößt einen das Buch ab. Am Hotel New Hampshire kann man gut erkennen, warum man sagt: Irving hast man oder liebt man.
An manchen Stellen war mir das Wiener Hotel New Hampshire auch zu grotesk und ich hatte mich an das idyllische Familienleben im ersten Hotel NH in der ausgedienten Mädchenschule in New England zurück gesehnt. Das lag wohl aber daran, dass ich die Erzählung in dieser Phase zu verkopft aufnahm und mich daher am fehlenden Realismus störte. Erst als mir der Zusammenhang mit dem Träumen bewusst wurde, gerade weil auch Siegmund Freud aus der Traumdeutung oft zitiert wird, habe ich meine Sichtweise geändert, habe das Buch eher als Märchen anstatt als Biografie gesehen und fand auf diese Weise auch wieder die Faszination am Buch zurück. Biografisch ist allenfalls der Bezug zu Irvings Leben, der Ringer (John ist fanatischer Gewichteheber), der Wiener (wo Irving lange lebte) oder der Literaturwissenschaftler (es gibt unzählige Parallelen zu anderen Büchern und Autoren, die er vereehrt, z.B. Der Große Gatsby oder auch die Blechtrommel (gerade die vielen Zwerge im Buch)). Das Leitmotiv bleibt aber die Liebe zum Leben und die Bessenheit zu einer persönlichen Sache. Die hat wohl jedes Familienmitglied. Der Vater will das beste Hotel, Frank das beste ausgestopfte Tier erstellen, Franny den besten Sex, John ist bessesen von Franny (ganz heftige Inzuchtsszene) und die kleinwüchsige Lilly bessesen vom Wachsen. Aber alles soll mit Vorsicht betrieben werden. Auch das ist ein Leitmotiv der Familie, vorallem durch Opa Iowa Bob ständig ausgerufen: Just keep passing the open windows. Ein Titel eines Queen-Songs, der für den Film geschrieben wurde (hab ich auch erst dadurch erfahren).
Es hat mir auf jeden Fall sehr große Freude bereitet, die Familie Berry zu begleiten und ich werde sie vermissen. Schon alleine dieses Gefühl des Verlusts nach dem Lesen der letzen Seite sagt mir, dass alles andere als 5 Sterne für mich nicht gerechtfertigt wären.
John Irving is one of America’s great writers. Happy Days was one of America’s most popular television shows. (Don’t worry this will make sense later)
Happy Days was beloved, but everyone knows there was one episode where everything seems to start to go downhill for Fonzie and the kids; it was the episode where Fonzie drove his motorcycle over a ramp and jumped a shark. Now the phrase “jumped the shark” is utilized for that point whenever anything goes absurd, turns sours, declines, takes a turn for the worse, or generally decreases in value.
In Hotel New Hampshire, John Irving starts by writing a pretty affecting and darkly comic book about family and their commitment to each other. The Berry family follows the dreamer father Win and his ridiculous, half-baked schemes to relative ruin. Before the five children are born, Win buys a circus bear and motorcycle off of a Jewish performer. When the children are young, the family converts an old girls’ school into a downscale hotel – The Hotel New Hampshire. Later, they’ll follow the dad to Europe and back.
The book is well-written and easy to read. Also, there is some macabre humor with the bear, the family dog, and some misaimed taxidermy. However, the book also contains rape and incest. But THAT isn’t particularly where Hotel New Hampshire jumps the shark; it could have been handled in a sensitive and insightful way (it isn’t, but it could’ve been). The place where the whole story goes severely awry is half-way through the book with the reintroduction of the bear theme (and that’s what it feels like, a reintroduction of a theme, and not a natural or believable turn of a good story. It’s wholly implausible; I found myself actually loathing and disbelieving the idea and the character it was attached to).
Once the novel jumps the shark, you realize Irving has all along been cruel and insensitive on every page of the book – on the subject of rape, on the idea of sibling sexual attraction, on the adoption of feminist concept, on political dissent, on prostitution, and on the lives of little people.
One thing saves this book; for all his callousness, Irving can still – almost accidentally – write about the love of a mother in a way that is emotionally affecting. He can create the peculiar personalities of siblings that make you care for them and want to be related to them. He creates a unique and lovable grandfather, and even the dreamer dad is sweet in many ways. Especially affecting is the story of the old Jewish performer and his love for his adopted Berry family.
Still, there’s that major stumble exactly half-way through the book that makes me wince each and every time I think about it. Some writers jump the shark – others fall in the tank.
Questo libro mi ha completamente spiazzata! Pensavo di trovarmi di fronte ad una storia leggera e divertente che racconta le vicende di una famiglia un po’ pazza perennemente in viaggio alla ricerca della realizzazione dei propri sogni. Mi sono trovata, invece, immersa in un libro profondo e coraggioso che affronta temi molto “scottanti” come il bullismo, lo stupro, la prostituzione, il suicidio, il terrorismo e la morte e affronta tabù come l’incesto. La cosa che mi ha colpito di più è che Irving ha la capacità di affrontare tutto questo con grande ironia e leggerezza, che non è mai superficialità. A volte il suo modo di raccontare è un po’ “forte”, a volte dissacrante, ma c’è sempre uno sguardo dolce e amorevole verso i suoi personaggi. Nonostante il finale un po’ dolceamaro, questo libro ti lascia un messaggio decisamente positivo: una vita senza sogni non può essere chiamata davvero vita. In fondo l'Hotel New Hampshire non è un luogo, ma la metafora dell’eterna ricerca dell’uomo della propria realizzazione e della capacità di non smettere mai di sognare e di sperare... nonostante tutto. Veramente bello.
To describe the plotline of The Hotel New Hampshire to a questioning would-be reader is to realize that you’ve been enthralled with a plot that is, at its core, rather silly. Circus bears and run-down hotels, plane crashes (so silly!) and midgets, botched taxidermy and obsessive weight-lifting – these are what Irving novels are made of. This was an undeniably fun read that I sped through, and I picked up another Irving (A Widow for One Year) as soon as I was done (I just can’t get enough). It will be a sad day when I run out of Irving books and have to subsist on the memories of novels gone by.
Irving does an exceptional job of creating a story surrounding the lives of children without being trapped within the confines of a children’s book. The innocence of childhood is mixed with a healthy dose of sexual confusion, social angst, and slapstick comedy to engage the reader in the concerns of this young family as they grow and seek their fortune (or at least their subsistence) in the hotel industry.
Awesome book. I had never read Irving before, and I have no idea why not. He's like that Deli that you always drive by but never go into, then one day decide "what the hell" and it turns out to have the best pastrami sandwich you've ever had in your life.
Anyway, the story revolves around an unusual family growing up and learning about sex, sports, love, death, failure, success, etc etc. It's quirky and funny and strange - Irving has a knack for finding little bits of truth in truly bizarre situations.
Oh, and the main love story is between a brother and sister, so...yeah.
My only complaint is that the ending is a little too neat, everything fits together a little too well. The rest of the book is messy and bursting at the seams, so it doesn't quite fit. Other than that though, 4 stars.
Irving is a great storyteller and novelist with characters that come to life in being all but flawless and also by taking views and actions that are unexpected, very much like in life. He also has a few strange interests, such as bears, wrestling and much more and a few of them are in evidence in this one as well.
'Hampshire' is good, but not one of his best, mostly due to it being quite the bumpy ride, parts are amazing and some parts are easily missed. I would start with another one of his.
Now I have read four books by John Irving and none as been over 3 stars. Not a bad writer but his books just don't work for me. This was a bit strange at times but it didn't work either. Didn't get the humour,invested in the characters or plot. Will probably not pick something else up by him if I'm not suffering from memoryless one day at a secondhand store
I feel a little bad for finishing this book so quickly, as John Irving spends years writing his books — in longhand, no less! — and a lot of work goes into constructing his stories, but I could not put this down. Never before I have been that enamored so soon when reading an Irving novel; typically, it takes a chapter or two until I warm up to the world he is building. Not so with The Hotel New Hampshire. I was charmed from the start.
One’s enjoyment of this novel will likely hinge on his or her threshold for ‘triggering’ subjects. Incest is arguably the heart of this book; Irving handles the topic with love and care, but I know the subject is an unpleasant one for many readers — and the author does not shy away from it; Irving handles it with his typical deftness. He wants to throttle his reader, to push him or her out of the comfort zone . . . and he accomplishes that.
On display is the typical Irving-isms: bears, New England private schools, Vienna, prostitution, sexual awakenings, sexual experimentation, shocking deaths, wacky situations. It’s John Irving; he certainly is not for everyone, but for his fans, in this hotel can be found familiar pleasures.
Puoi anche prenderla in giro, la Susie, perché ha paura di essere un essere umano e di avere a che fare con gli altri esseri umani; ma quanti esseri umani la pensano allo stesso modo e tuttavia non fanno nessuno sforzo d’immaginazione per trovare una soluzione? Sarà da stupidi passare la vita a fare l’orso, ma ammetterai, ci vuole fantasia.
Sì, ho dato due stelle a Irving. It was ok. Non è molto di più, o almeno non lo è stato per me. I Berry sono sgangherati, fuori di testa, originali, ammaccati e divertenti. Passano da un posto all’altro, da un orso all’altro, da una disavventura all’altra senza mai perdere una certa purezza interiore. Diciamolo, i primi capitoli sono spassosissimi, prima che con l’adolescenza le cose inizino a farsi maledettamente serie. E fin qui, sembra un capolavoro il romanzo. Solo che poi ci sono i sette anni a Vienna, l’orsa Susie, gli aerei che cadono, i rivoluzionari, le bombe. Cosa si può volere di più. Ecco: io avrei iniziato a togliere qualcosa, per esempio. Il continuo aggiungere situazioni assurde ad altre, mi ha fatto perdere il lato umano. Ho perso la tenerezza. Perché ai personaggi ti ci devi pure affezionare. Io ho iniziato a pensare che menomale che qualcuno era passato a miglior vita, menomale che passavano le pagine, menomale che tornavano a New York. Ma anche a New York due scene memorabili: la vendetta su Chip Dove e (spoiler) il suicidio di non posso dirvi chi. Poi poco altro. Si risolleva nel finale, quando i Berry, per scalcagnati e pazzi furiosi che siano tornano umani. A quel punto, però, avevo galoppato per due terzi del romanzo sperando di arrivare presto alla fine.
”Se non diventassimo forti con quello che perdiamo, con ciò che ci manca, quello che desideriamo e non abbiamo”, disse papà, “non saremmo mai forti abbastanza, non ti pare? Che cos’altro ci rende forti?”
Nel romanzo i momenti grandiosi e le trovate geniali si mischiano con momenti tediosi e passaggi un po' banali. Comunque forse il mio problema è che mi aspettavo troppo. Oppure che sto diventando cattivissima con le valutazioni. Non so. Quello che so, è che io non la penso come Win Berry. Per me, un hotel non ha bisogno di un orso. Meglio una doccia con funzioni massaggio, grazie.
Perskaičiusi dabar jau aštuonis Irvingo romanus, galiu nesunkiai suprasti, kodėl dažnas jo nemėgsta - jis rašo taip pat ir apie tą patį. Vi-sa-da. Visada bus šeima, vaikai ir jų netektys. Visada bus mažiausiai 500 psl. Visada bus keli pagrindiniai veikėjai, tarp kurių autorius tarytum neišsirenka mėgstamiausio. Visada Hampšyras. Visada bus meškų, mažų žmonių, visada bus imtynininkų ir/ar svorio kilnotojų. Visada bus rašytojų ir prostitučių. Bus Viena. Ir tikrai tikrai visada bus visuomenės opų ir pūlinių, kažkokių yuckie dalykėlių.
Tai čia Irvingas išstoja tarsi šaipydamasis - čia Naujasis Hampšyras, šiek tiek kontūzyta šeima, kurioje vyksta mirčių, čia vėl galingi veikėjai, kilnojantys (arba ne) svorius, čia meškos groja vienu pirmų smuikų (beveik literaliai), vyksta rašytojo(s) virsmas, Vienoje sukinėjasi prostitutės, na ir, žinoma, kaip gi mes be opų! Šiuokart irvingiškosios opos vaidmenį atlieka išprievartavimas: jo pasekmės, aukos, ilgametės jo sukeltos traumos, kerštas ir jis pats, tarytum atskiras veikėjas. Ir niekaip nesuprantu, kaip įmanoma rašyti visada, rodosi, tą patį, rodos, taip pat, bet... kitaip? Vis šitaip įtraukti ir paskandinti?
Perskaičius dabar jau aštuonis Irvingo romanus, tiesiog tenka pripažinti, kad, ko gero, jei jau perskaičiau tiek, vadinasi, skaitysiu iki galo. Gal net ne vienąkart. Nes čia namai. Gerai gerai, gal ne namai - ten norėtųsi daugiau ramybės. Čia labiau ne namai, o toks... (wait for it) VIEŠBUTIS, į kurį grįžus, žinai, kaip kas vyksta ir kodėl, čia gana patogu, bet lyg ir ne visai jauku; esi vienas, bet ištisam šaršale, mat aplink pilna garsų, kvapų, vaizdų. Čia ilgais koridoriais stumiasi lagaminai, aidi girtas juokas ir aimanos, dainos ir kitokie dalykai, dūžta gyvenimai ir jo gyventojai, o ir pusryčių ne visuomet lieka.
Va taip mane verčia jaustis Irvingas, o “Naujojo Hampšyro viešbutis” tiesiog puikiai tai reprezentuoja. Kadangi apie tai jau esu rašiusi, nesiplėtosiu per daug, tačiau nepaminėti negaliu: Irvingas vis tiek yra rašymo ir istorijos kūrimo genijus. Vien jau dėl to rekomenduoti nebijau.
I've always known about 'Hotel New Hampshire'. I never knew what it was about but I knew there was a book. I knew there was a film too. I somehow imagined it to be something Hitchock-like mixed Last Tango In Paris. Imagine my surprise. So far there is something about a bear. I will finish this review when I am done reading.
Ok. Done reading. I don't think John Irving will ever get five stars from me. Though he is an excellent story-teller - and this is what a purpose of every novel should be - to tell a good story. All modern and not so modern writers that have some other hidden agenda should probably consider a career change. Telling stories is what writing novels is all about. And John Irving does that superbly. You never know if it is a plot-driven novel or character-driven novel because he seems to put equal effort into developing both his characters and his story. They go hand in hand and develop together. Kudos for that. As a true story teller Irving often goes astray. He just loves to digress, and digress... and digress... However, it didn't bother me at all in The Hotel New Hampshire (unlike in the Prayer for Owen Meany). The real problem I have with Irving and the reason why probably will never get five stars from me is his really cheesy symbolism. I have no problem with books asking me for a serious supsense of disbelief. But Irving puts all that crazy sh!%$ in his books just so he can have his symbolism. I think his tricks are cheap. And sometimes I really don't know. Is Irving a truly amazing writer or is he just tricking me into believing he is while always serving me the same recycled dish?
i've probably read this 10 times now. i went through a john irving phase, and i ODed about half-way through. (140lb marriage is a terrible book, btw. don't do it).
but this is one of my favorite books. it would be desert island number three, but it's a little too sad... i don't think it would be a good idea to isolate myself with it on an island to read again and again for eternity. that said, it's irving at his best. anyone who can take a family involved in incest and abuse and prostitution and suicide and still somehow make you love them and identify with them is a pretty fantastic writer. totally ironic (whatever that really means) and sympathetic. it's sad, and even painful, so i often think about picking it up, but don't. it takes a certain mindset. but everyone should read it at least once.
After starting his career with three obscure novels that hardly anyone noticed, John Irving was immediately vaulted into literary superstardom with his fourth, 1978's The World According to Garp (see my review), a clever metafictional tale in which this New England author writes an semi-autobiographical story about a New England author who writes semi-autobiographical stories, using the fiction pieces his alter-ego Garp writes to show the complicated relationship they have with Garp's "real" life, which effectively serves as a double-blind to examine how the events of John Irving's actual real life complexly inform both Garp's fictional biography and the fictional-fictional works he's writing about his fictional biography. The fact that he pulled this off with humor and aplomb is a big part of why it became such a surprise international bestseller, which was then only helped by a high-profile movie version which marked the feature debut of insanely popular comedian Robin Williams.
So in this, then, you can see Irving's follow-up, 1981's The Hotel New Hampshire, as a fully realized version of one of the novels Garp is described as having written during his own fictional career, in that it touches on basically all the issues that were a part of Garp's "real" life (and hence double-removed issues from Irving's real-real life): rinky-dink circuses, performing bears, time in Vienna, an obsession with Viennese prostitutes, blue-collar intellectuals who are into sports, the aftermath of sexual assault, dysfunctional radical feminists, and death, death, oh so much death, all wrapped up in a convoluted adult fairy tale about the world's quirkiest family and their efforts to run three different family-owned hotels in three far-flung locations around the world.
It's easy to see why the world generally reacted with disappointment when New Hampshire first came out, because it's essentially only one half of the previous Garp, but without the delightful Postmodernist element of a modern author looking back on the story that he's writing as you're reading that story he's writing; that was a kind of perfect magic trick Irving miraculously pulled off, a once-in-a-career "lightning in a bottle" moment that he was wise to not even attempt again. (But don't worry about Irving; his very next book after this one, 1985's The Cider House Rules, has gone on to be one of the most popular and repeatedly read of his entire career.) And in the meanwhile, time has been kind to The Hotel New Hampshire, in that it reads even more delightfully here 38 years later than when it first came out, a sort of winking, self-aware fable that solidified Irving's reputation for plunging into black pits of darkness in his work but somehow always managing to get us to swim back up to the light-infused surface again. Irving has since gone on to a long and fruitful career of pulling off this dark/light, realist/absurdist feat time and time again; but it's certainly on display in a masterful way even here in his early work, a book that has its spotty moments but in general is a great read for any Irving completist or simply fan of Postmodernist literature. (And for super-completists, make sure to track down the Hollywood adaptation that was made of this too, starring such young luminaries as Rob Lowe, Jodie Foster, and a tiny Seth Green in his feature debut.)
John Irving books being reviewed in this series: Setting Free the Bears (1968) | The Water-Method Man (1972) | The 158-Pound Marriage (1974) | The World According to Garp (1978) | The Hotel New Hampshire (1981) | The Cider House Rules (1985) | A Prayer for Owen Meany (1989) | A Son of the Circus (1994) | A Widow for One Year (1998) | The Fourth Hand (2001) | Until I Find You (2005) | Last Night in Twisted River (2009) | In One Person (2012) | Avenue of Mysteries (2015)
I recently came across a review of John Irving's work which claimed that only three of his novels are worth reading: A Prayer for Owen Meany, The Cider House Rules, and The World According to Garp. The Hotel New Hampshire, the reviewer claimed, is pretty good, but too "odd" to be considered great.
It is oddity that makes The Hotel New Hampshire worth reading (over and over). I have read The Hotel New Hampshire at least 5 times, and have found that it improves with each reading. True, the characters and the events of the novel are weird and improbable. But the depth and poignant accuracy with which Irving describes his characters' emotions as they live through a series of tragically bizarre events makes every moment feel one-hundred-percent true. Irving's gift is for describing the odd and the everyday with such clarity that the odd feels true and the everyday feels extraordinary. This is nowhere more true than in The Hotel New Hampshire. Even after multiple readings, I walk away from this novel dazed, convinced that the Berrys are people that I actually knew once upon a time. This book cannot be written off as too "odd" to read, for the Berrys feel true.
The Hotel New Hampshire must be read - if for no other reason than to encounter the single greatest family motto ever: "Keep passing the open windows." Who knew you could put a positive spin on "Don't Jump!"?