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The White Hotel

3.84  ·  Rating details ·  4,235 ratings  ·  361 reviews
It is a dream of electrifying eroticism and inexplicable violence, recounted by a young woman to her analyst, Sigmund Freud. It is a horrifying yet restrained narrative of the Holocaust. It is a searing vision of the wounds of the twentieth century, and an attempt to heal them. Interweaving poetry and case history, fantasy and historical truth-telling, The White Hotel is a ...more
Paperback, 288 pages
Published September 1st 1993 by Penguin Books (first published 1981)
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Average rating 3.84  · 
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 ·  4,235 ratings  ·  361 reviews

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Ian "Marvin" Graye

Structurally, "The White Hotel" resembles Nabokov's "Pale Fire", while stylistically it has more in common with Thomas Mann's "The Magic Mountain".

There are two main differences from Nabokov’s novel: the relative lack of metafictional self-reflexiveness in "The White Hotel", and D. M. Thomas' respect for Freud, whereas Nabokov says he detests him:

"I think he's crude, I think he's medieval, and I don't want an elderly gentleman from Vienna with an umbrella inflicting his
Jul 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
There's so much I could say about this book, but I haven't strayed into spoiler territory in a review before and I don't want to start now. More than with any novel I can think of that I've read, this is more than a sum of each part. For example, the fictional case history 'written' by the novel's Freud would mean nothing without the previous two sections 'written' by his patient; the same is true of the following sections relating her later life and that of the world at large, each with a Freud ...more
Really scandalous book that blends eroticism with violence and psychology to portray the horrors of the Holocaust. My English major roommate recommended it to me as his favorite book when I was working on my undergrad. After the first few chapters I was a little disturbed for him, haha. But when I reached the end I realized the powerful effect of the White Hotel. Entrancing, hypnotic, outrageous and multi-layered, this is a book you will not soon forget.
Well, that was weird.
It went from intensely sexual, to clinical, to narrative, to horrific, to just plain bizarre.

Spoiler: I think this might be a spoiler, but I wasn't exactly sure what was going on for the last 20 pages, so it might not be. It seemed like everyone was in heaven, or some kind of after-world, and the protagonist (I use that term veeeeeeeeeeery loosely) and her mother were taking a walk while reuniting and talking about a threesome witnessed by the child protagonist of her moth
Roger Brunyate
Freud and the Final Solution

[2005] An extraordinary book, historical in its way, yet put together like the movements of a musical composition. Introduced by Sigmund Freud, the book's first three movements consist of the erotic fantasies and case-history of one of his female patients, overlapping, expanding, and gradually turning into almost normal narrative. But then the story takes a different course with the convulsions of the century, and becomes a testament of the Holocaust, harrowing and ch
Paul Bryant
Dec 06, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novels
There's a moment in Ernest Hemingway's novel To Have and Have Not which I thought was a real zinger at the time - we have been following Harry and his wife and their relationship intimately - they have some big financial problems but he loves her, and that's always good when a middle aged guy loves his wife don't you think, so you see her from his point of view. Then later you have a different narrator, some other guy, and he's driving along, maybe on his way to see Harry, and he sees this rando ...more
K.D. Absolutely
Nov 27, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to K.D. by: 501 Must Read Books
Shelves: 501
Strange book.

Or maybe I am just not equipped to understand everything.

It is composed of a prologue and 6 chapters in almost different forms and themes: (1) epistolary introducing the main characters; (2) erotic fantasies told in poems; (3) erotic journal in first-person narrative; (4) case history in third-person plain storytelling; (5) clinical psychoanalysis; (6) holocaust; (7) outright bizarre conclusion.

I hate some parts of it not because it is boring but it is hard to understand. I had a 3
Oct 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing
When I attempted to read The White Hotel when it first came out, I was 14 and unable to get through it. I knew there was something much bigger at work but I couldn’t grasp the apparent profundity of the work. Now, at 45 years of age, I have read it from beginning to end and it is a truly spectacular piece of writing! I read for two hours before bed last night, unable to put the book down until I finished the last chapter, crying quietly. This book moved me as few others have and I am a voracious ...more


Take 30% sex
Take 20% Holocaust
Take 20% Freud
Take 10% death
Take 10% violence
Take 10% epistolarity

Spices: Add erotic poetry to spice up the meal and classical music to boost the price.

Be careful not to stir the ingredients together, each flavor should stand out on its own.

! Please be sure not to include any good writing, plot or an underlying message, as they will make the meal heavy and indigestible.

Happy reating!
Oct 22, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
At the time of his conception of this novel, D.M. Thomas's thought process must have been along these lines:

I have yet to encounter any novel from any era that has done justice to the complexity of the human personality. I shall make my own attempt to portray a human personality true to its profound complexity, which to this point has been beyond the imaginings of other novelists.

The result is our immersion in the personality of Frau Lisa Erdman, an opera singer and at the outset a patient of Si
Vit Babenco
Apr 14, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The White Hotel begins with an exquisite Freudian poem. The novel is dark as the history itself and full of alarmingly disturbing thoughts.
“At my first hearing of a dream, I became alarmed, for it told me that the dreamer is quite capable of ending her troubles by taking her life. Train journeys are themselves dreams of death.”
Destiny of an individual is decided long before one's birth and it is interconnected with the destiny of the entire world and our wishes hide in our dreams.
Mar 26, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Be careful picking this one up is not for the feint of heart, but if you need a "sense of proportion" in your life and a paradigm shift in thinking would do you good, give it a go. Read other peoples nicely crafted reviews if you want but I think its best to pick it up without a clue what its about. ...more
Jul 12, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

Theodor Adorno, in an oft-misappropriated quote, wrote that to compose poetry after Auschwitz is barbarism. Adorno did not, as it may initially seem, intend the Holocaust to signify the end of cultural creativity. Rather, it’s a remark that – against the broader critical landscape – inquires about reconciling a culture that produced Kant and Beethoven with the largest, most extensive, systematized killing in humanity’s history. There is a “tension between ethics and aesthetics inherent in an act
JSA Lowe
Sep 04, 2012 rated it really liked it
Why do I keep reading books that utterly destroy me? I don't know. It starts off tacky and eye-rolly, like REALLY, FREUD, WE'RE GOING THERE, REALLY, and then transition via pomo surrealist folderol to unexpected gutpunch. Anyway somehow I didn't expect it, I lost track of history in all those orgy breastmilk scenes. NB that the train is not really going to Palestine. Gutted. Weeping for the last 40 pages. Share and enjoy! ...more
Aug 18, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I'm still not even sure if I like this book, but it gets five stars because after six years I'm still thinking about it, struggling to resolve it, admiring it for the kind of permission it gives other writers, wincing at how some passages could be so erotic while still enveloping the horror of genocide. ...more
Jul 30, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Quite a bit of this book is erotic, except for the bit where Jews (including our female protagonist and those she loves) get cruelly murdered holocaust-style. The author, a man, uses his female lead's voice to describe her hallucinatory fucking; he's a mighty apt transvestite. The author, born a Methodist, describes in graphic detail the slaughter of Jews; he ripped that stuff off from Anatoly Kuznetsov. That lousy quack Freud makes several appearances in the story, playing someone who mattered. ...more
I. Merey
I used to be more patient, but I can't deal with tedious books anymore.
This book had a lot of promise and the premise was interesting.
The writing is beautiful.
However, about 100 pages into it, with no hope of plot or character development,
I've got nothing but pretty writing to keep me turning the pages. And that's not enough.
I feel like I'm hearing someone retell a naughty dream made up entirely of strangers:
'And then this guy... started sucking on this girl's breasts during dinner...
An old lad
Sep 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: bbc listeners
Recommended to Bettie by: Laura

Listen here

Description: Dennis Potter's unproduced screenplay of DM Thomas's award-winning novel, starring Anne-Marie Duff and Bill Paterson. With strong language and sexual scenes.

Circus performer Lisa visits Dr Probst, a celebrated Berlin psychoanalyst, to discover the cause of the mysterious pains she is experiencing in her in her left breast and pelvis. As Probst attempts to unravel the true cause of her pains, he is sure that the answer to Lisa's condition lies in her past and her realisati
From BBC Radio 4 - Drama:
Dennis Potter's unproduced screenplay of DM Thomas's award-winning novel, starring Anne-Marie Duff and Bill Paterson. With strong language and sexual scenes.

Circus performer Lisa visits Dr Probst, a celebrated Berlin psychoanalyst, to discover the cause of the mysterious pains she is experiencing in her in her left breast and pelvis. As Probst attempts to unravel the true cause of her pains, he is sure that the answer to Lisa's condition lies in her past and her realisat
Feb 13, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was not loving the over-the-top public sex, but then p. 135 made me laugh. Rough ending.
Pris robichaud
Jan 04, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

Yhe Vision of Love Through Salvation, 19 Feb 2007

"Thomas takes us beyond Freud, beyond Eros and Thanatos, and thus challenges the very substance of the Freudian text. Within the analyses and, he suggests, buried within her individual neurosis, is the subtext of history--the Final Solution. And beyond the horror is the transcendent vision of salvation through love in the mythical state of Israel. In this bold, intellectually challenging novel, Thomas goes beyond both history and historical fict
Jan 22, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, disturbing
This book is not for everyone, but only due to explicit content and disturbing violence, not due to its message. It's not a feel-good novel, but it's a novel that gets your affective response kicking into high gear -- the type of novel that can change the world, because it makes you question how you think.

The White Hotel is creative, thought-provoking, and emotionally scarring. I didn't actually realize I liked it until I had put it down and thought/talked about it for a few days - Thomas tells
Roman Clodia
Jun 25, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A formidable journey through the pathological psyche of twentieth century Europe

This brilliant and sometimes brutal book combines fragments of narratives to give us a compelling tale that spans twentieth century Europe. Building on Freud's theories of dreams, eros and thanatos, and the practice of psychoanalysis, it expands outwards from the individual to a whole culture, from an excavation of the past to a glimpse of the future, and from dream to prophecy.

Based on Freud's case studies, and the
Jun 29, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Never mind how I managed to have this on the shelf in the first place, upon learning of its significance to Susan Orleans The White Hotel immediately jumped rank and became The Next Read.

It was not a contentious promotion.

To Susan Orleans, veritable author of The Orchid Thief, The White Hotel is one of 40 books that changed her world.

To me, veritable scribe of hope and vengeance, The White Hotel is one of the better books I’ve read in a while.

I’m not done with it yet and am not holding out much
May 23, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Most of this book bored me, I guess because I find the Freudian stuff dry as dust. The structure is interesting, consisting as it does of sections that are related but a little disjointed. Really, this seemed like two books with the ending section maybe being a separate novella. The first part is essentially a case study about a sexual hysteric that I thought was ridiculous, although some of the imagery in the first section was interesting. The second part was about the Holocaust. There was some ...more
Deborah Edwards
Jun 22, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this book many years ago, but still recall the gut-wrenching impact it had on me. The first part of the book is cool and dreamlike, descending into Freudian themes of sexuality that become almost too much to bear. There were times when I thought I might not be able to read on any further, but I did, and with each change in tone the book became more and more disturbing, and yet more and more of a revelation. The ending is hugely disturbing and incredibly powerful, and in a very rare occurr ...more
What can I say about a book that left me speechless for so long? It's front-loaded with graphic, morbid, aggressive, detached sexuality. I should clarify that the sexuality itself isn't morbid in nature but it's contrasted with morbid imagery occurring elsewhere simultaneously. Just when you think you've been offended enough, it switches gears. I read this book for my literary theory class and psychoanalysis describes this novel in which Feud himself is a character. It is not a novel about sex. ...more
Holly Hudson
Jan 11, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
wow. i will mark books “before” and “after” reading the white hotel. 10 stars!
Feb 18, 2015 rated it really liked it
The sixth D.M. Thomas novel I have read, and certainly the best so far (and I suspect it will be the best of his I'll ever read). It is poetic, intense, romantic, tragic, harrowing, beautiful. The prose is exquisite, the multi-layered story is moving.

Thomas demonstrates that he is both a sensitive and strong writer, insightful, courageous, complex, ambitious, sympathetic, capable of contrasting sweetness with darkness in a way that doesn't disturb the balance of the work as a whole. Did I say 'w
Karyna McGlynn
Jul 07, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Consists of three distinct sections/styles which, like most of Thomas' work, makes for a rather frustratingly fragmented (albeit fascinating) read.

Much of the book consists of rather tedious exchanges of letters, and the end is horrific, haunting and totally depressing. However, the parts of the book that take place at the White Hotel will completely knock your socks off. It's magical realism at its most mythopoetic & sublime. And of course the writing is dazzling.
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D.M. Thomas was born in Cornwall in 1935. After reading English at New College, Oxford, he became a teacher and was Head of the English Department at Hereford College of Education until he became a full-time writer. His first novel The Flute-Player won the Gollancz Pan/Picador Fantasy Competition. He is also known for his collections of verse and his translation from the Russian poet Anna Akhmatov ...more

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