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The Grand Babylon Hotel
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Group reads > The Grand Babylon Hotel by Arnold Bennett (August 2018)

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message 1: by Susan (last edited Jul 16, 2018 08:49AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Susan | 10627 comments Mod
Our August main read is for our 1900's theme. The Grand Babylon Hotel was published in 1902 and first appeared as a serial in the 'Golden Penny.'

The book has appeared as a BBC radio adaptation and has three film versions, the first in 1916. The plot has an element of farce, with an American millionaire buying a hotel, when his daughter, Nella's request for a steak and beer is refused by the exclusive hotel restaurant.

Soon, though, it seems that strange things are happening, as staff members vanish, guests disappear and Mr Racksole, and Nella, are thrown into an exciting adventure to get to the bottom of the odd events at the Grand Babylon.


Susan | 10627 comments Mod
I haven't read Arnold Bennett before and I have no idea whether this is representative of his writing. I found this light-hearted with an element of farce.


Elizabeth (Alaska) I have read only his The Old Wives' Tale. I just went to look at my review, and I think the light-heartedness might be typical. I'm glad of an opportunity pushing him again before my eyes. But I haven't started it yet - I think tomorrow for sure, though.


Susan | 10627 comments Mod
I look forward to hearing what you think, Elizabeth.


Jill (dogbotsmum) | 682 comments Very reminiscent of the long ago radio series, or the children's Saturday Morning Pictures shown at the Odeon. Each chapter ending with a cliff-hanger and the words"To Be Continued". I suppose at the time this was written, it was an expectation of the audience. Seemed a bit anti wealth at first, but as always money has the power to sort everything out. An entertaining read, and glad I read it.


Elizabeth (Alaska) Is there also a spoiler thread?


Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4673 comments Mod
I thought this was very different from the other books by Bennett that I've read so far, The Old Wives' Tale and Anna of the Five Towns, which are much more realistic and down-to-earth, about life in the Potteries area.

This one is much lighter and more far-fetched, and I agree with Jill about the number of cliff-hangers! I enjoyed it, but I do think it gets rather taken over by the plot twists at times - my favourite things about it are the glimpses of life in the impossibly grand hotel, and Bennett's witty writing style.


Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4673 comments Mod
Elizabeth (Alaska) wrote: "Is there also a spoiler thread?"

No, we don't have spoiler threads in this group, but we avoid spoilers early in the month.


Elizabeth (Alaska) Judy wrote: "Elizabeth (Alaska) wrote: "Is there also a spoiler thread?"

No, we don't have spoiler threads in this group, but we avoid spoilers early in the month."


Thanks. I'll know not to visit threads until after I've read the book.


message 10: by Judy (new) - rated it 3 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4673 comments Mod
As I said, we are careful not to post spoilers early in the month, so anyone who hasn't finished the book yet should still be fine to visit the thread.

If anyone is worried that a comment may be a spoiler, they can always use spoiler tags to be on the safe side.


Susan | 10627 comments Mod
Yes. Indeed, there is no need to avoid the threads, as there are no spoilers, early on :)


message 12: by Nigeyb (new)

Nigeyb | 10371 comments Mod
I downloaded this onto my kindle (not from Amazon) and it’s underlined all the way through 😱


I hope to get a physical edition from the library very soon.

In the meantime I’m underway with Riddle Of The Sands


message 13: by Judy (new) - rated it 3 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4673 comments Mod
Nigeyb wrote: "I downloaded this onto my kindle (not from Amazon) and it’s underlined all the way through 😱..."

That's such a pain, Nigeyb - I once borrowed a book via Kindle Unlimited which had a lot of random sentences highlighted in yellow, and that was quite annoying too!


message 14: by Jan C (new)

Jan C (woeisme) | 1290 comments Isn't there a way to turn the highlighting off?

I thought I remembered there being one.


message 15: by Judy (new) - rated it 3 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4673 comments Mod
There is a way of turning the highlighting off for when bits are underlined because people recommend them - I managed to turn that off a while ago, though I don't remember how I did it! The yellow highlighting looked as if it was something else, though, but it was only in that one book.


message 16: by Val (new) - rated it 2 stars

Val | 1709 comments Jill wrote: "Very reminiscent of the long ago radio series, or the children's Saturday Morning Pictures shown at the Odeon. Each chapter ending with a cliff-hanger and the words"To Be Continued"."
Do you think this book could have been intended as a spoof of those cliffhanger serials? Many of the situations are too far-fetched to be taken seriously, with people popping up at just the right moment and so on.
I have read some of his other books. They are lighthearted, but not unrealistic.


message 17: by Jill (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jill (dogbotsmum) | 682 comments Val wrote: "Jill wrote: "Very reminiscent of the long ago radio series, or the children's Saturday Morning Pictures shown at the Odeon. Each chapter ending with a cliff-hanger and the words"To Be Continued"."
..."


I haven't read anything else by him before , so not sure is this is his usual style, but I did find it entertaining . I am interested in trying more of his books. I could just imagine that every time the villain entered the audience booing, and cheering for the good guy. Maybe a bit like the music halls.


Elizabeth (Alaska) Susan wrote: "Yes. Indeed, there is no need to avoid the threads, as there are no spoilers, early on :)"

I was already feeling uncomfortable, but not visiting the thread until after I'd read it is not a problem. Sometimes I even feel that the GR description tells me more than I want to know, but fortunately things usually hang around on my shelves longer than my memory will retain such things.

I liked the comment above about this being a farce, which I think is spot on. How many "ludicrously improbable situations" can a book have and still be only ~200 pages?


message 19: by Val (new) - rated it 2 stars

Val | 1709 comments Jill wrote: "I could just imagine that every time the villain entered the audience booing, and cheering for the good guy. Maybe a bit like the music halls."
Yes, music hall or pantomime - very silly, but very entertaining at the same time.


message 20: by Judy (new) - rated it 3 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4673 comments Mod
My favourite parts of this book were the amusing, but amazingly glamorous, descriptions of the hotel and the staff - Jules being so shocked at the thought of any guest having steak and beer!

I wondered what the original of the hotel was, and I see the Wikipedia page for the novel says it was the Savoy, and that Bennett was also inspired by this hotel when he wrote a later novel, Imperial Palace, in 1930.

This Wikipedia page has loads of info about the hotel, which was built by impresario Richard D'Oyly Carte with profits from his Gilbert and Sullivan opera productions.

It says "It was the first in the Savoy group of hotels and restaurants owned by Carte's family for over a century. The Savoy was the first luxury hotel in Britain, introducing electric lights throughout the building, electric lifts, bathrooms in most of the lavishly furnished rooms, constant hot and cold running water and many other innovations."

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Savoy_H...

I was quite impressed by the electric lifts in the book and thought they must have been the latest thing!


message 21: by Jill (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jill (dogbotsmum) | 682 comments Very interesting Judy,.Thanks for the link.


Elizabeth (Alaska) I found it interesting that the most expensive suites were nearest the ground floor. Our present day is that they are the highest up, with the best views. I'm assuming the earlier practice was before elevators/lifts, so that the rich didn't have to climb so many stairs.


message 23: by Val (new) - rated it 2 stars

Val | 1709 comments I noticed that the lifts were turned off overnight.


Susan | 10627 comments Mod
That's an interesting observation, Elizabeth.

Lifts used to have someone in them, as I recall, Val. I remember going to Selfridges as a young girl and they had lift men, who pushed the buttons and opened the doors. I always thought it was a terrible job!


message 25: by Elizabeth (Alaska) (last edited Aug 02, 2018 10:45AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Elizabeth (Alaska) Susan wrote: "Lifts used to have someone in them, as I recall, Val. ."

Yes, I recall years ago being in an elevator that didn't have buttons, but a sort of wheel thingy with a handle that the elevator operator used to get from floor to floor. Sometimes the elevator didn't get level with the building floor and he (sometimes a she) then adjusted the elevator so passengers exiting/entering wouldn't trip. Also, the doors were on the building side so when you went by the floors you saw the doors, rather than than the doors being in the elevator and traveling with you. So then the elevator operator had to open the doors too.


Susan | 10627 comments Mod
Yes, I used to work in a building with a similar lift, Elizabeth. It was never level, and didn't seem to stop completely, so you had to hop out as you passed the floor!


message 27: by Val (new) - rated it 2 stars

Val | 1709 comments I can remember those lifts too, mainly in older department stores which had not been modernised.
A couple of my university buildings had paternoster lifts, which were open and you stepped in and out of while they were moving. I rode over the top once to see if they turned upside down; they don't they just move sideways.


message 28: by Judy (new) - rated it 3 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4673 comments Mod
I don't remember seeing a lift operator in the 1960s, but I did notice that the building had one in the TV series Mad Men.


message 29: by Judy (new) - rated it 3 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4673 comments Mod
On the steak and beer, I wonder if part of the horror was a woman drinking it - or was beer too common in general for such a grand hotel?!


Elizabeth (Alaska) Judy wrote: "On the steak and beer, I wonder if part of the horror was a woman drinking it - or was beer too common in general for such a grand hotel?!"

I thought the objection was that it was American. Racksole had already offended Jules ordering the Angel's something-or-other.


message 31: by Judy (new) - rated it 3 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4673 comments Mod
Oh yes, an Angel Kiss cocktail!

i just searched for a recipe for this online, and discovered from Cocktails Wikia (who knew there was such a thing?!) that the Angel Kiss in The Grand Babylon Hotel is a different drink from the traditional Angel's Kiss! In fact the Arnold Bennett version gets its own page:

http://cocktails.wikia.com/wiki/Angel...

Perhaps we should try some of these at the Midnight Bell later?


message 32: by Judy (last edited Aug 02, 2018 11:50AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4673 comments Mod
Not that I have a clue how to make the "traditional" Angel's Kiss either. There seem to be a lot of recipes for it online which are all different from one another.


Elizabeth (Alaska) I highlighted in a few places, mostly because they amused me.


The waiters, commanded by Jules, moved softly across the thick Oriental rugs, balancing their trays with the dexterity of jugglers, and receiving and executing orders with that air of profound importance of which only really first-class waiters have the secret.


He sat up very late. To be precise, he sat up all night. He was a man who, by dint of training, could comfortably dispense with sleep when he felt so inclined, or when circumstances made such a course advisable. He walked to and fro in his room, and cogitated as few people beside Theodore Racksole could cogitate.


The cellar steps were happily not difficult to discover, for in moving a pace backwards Prince Aribert had a narrow escape of precipitating himself to the bottom of them.


message 34: by Val (new) - rated it 2 stars

Val | 1709 comments Alec Waugh, Evelyn's brother, says he introduced the cocktail party to the UK. That particular one sounds disgusting though.

Bass Brewery is British (or was until this century, it is now Belgian) but it would have been associated with working-class men in flat caps.


message 35: by Haaze (new) - added it

Haaze | 146 comments According to Somerset Maugham Mr. Bennett was a better writer when he used his past experiences (growing up in Stoke) for his novels. When he wrote about the upper classes he was out of his league. Is there any truth to that harsh critique? After all, this particular novel deals with the upper class and is filled with peculiar characters.

In Maugham's own words: "Success besides often bears within itself the seed of destruction, for it may very well cut the author off from the material that was its occasion...No better example of this can be given than Arnold Bennett. He never knew anything intimately but the life of the Five Towns in which he had been born and bred, and it was only when he dealt with them that his work had character. When success brought him into the society of literary people, rich men and smart women, and he sought to deal with them, what he wrote was worthless. Success destroyed him."

I suspect that Bennett didn't get along very well with Maugham?


message 36: by Haaze (last edited Aug 02, 2018 01:16PM) (new) - added it

Haaze | 146 comments Judy wrote: "There is a way of turning the highlighting off for when bits are underlined because people recommend them - I managed to turn that off a while ago, though I don't remember how I did it! The yellow ..."

There is a checkbox in the settings for the Kindle to turn off the highlights...


message 37: by Haaze (last edited Aug 02, 2018 01:18PM) (new) - added it

Haaze | 146 comments Bennett looks pretty well off in 1913!!!?

Arnold Bennett caricatured by OWL for Vanity Fair, 1913 (Wiki)



message 38: by Susan (last edited Aug 02, 2018 10:02PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Susan | 10627 comments Mod
There is always a snobbishness about money and class. Presumably, Mr Bennett managed the one, but not the other?

I am currently about halfway through Bertie: A Life of Edward VII Bertie A Life of Edward VII by Jane Ridley
There is much about his various mistresses, including Jennie Churchill, and of how hostesses both resented the wealthy, American heiresses and didn't know where to place them. I think this period was such an interesting time, as society was changing rapidly.


message 39: by Val (new) - rated it 2 stars

Val | 1709 comments Haaze wrote: "According to Somerset Maugham Mr. Bennett was a better writer when he used his past experiences (growing up in Stoke) for his novels. When he wrote about the upper classes he was out of his league...."
I think there is some truth in that opinion, although it sounds harsh. His 'Potteries' novels and short stories are certainly more realistic than this one. Bennett may have been well aware of that potential limitation himself and made his upper-class characters German for that reason.
He was a very popular author in his time and did become quite wealthy from his book sales. On the subject of posh hotels, recipes and Arnold Bennett: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandst... (sounds tastier than the cocktail).


message 40: by Judy (new) - rated it 3 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4673 comments Mod
That's a great photo, Haaze, thanks for that! I definitely think the Five Towns books that I've read are greater than this book, fun though it is, and I'm sure the reason is that they are so deeply grounded in his personal knowledge.

I think we do get a taster of that style when he starts to discuss little details of life at the hotel - a pity maybe that he didn't spend more time on this sort of thing, rather than having quite so many amazing plot twists and cliffhangers!


message 41: by Judy (new) - rated it 3 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4673 comments Mod
Haaze wrote: "There is a checkbox in the settings for the Kindle to turn off the highlights ..."

Thanks for the reminder. I didn't remember how I'd turned them off when someone asked about it - I know the highlights drove me mad when I did have to see them. They often gave away key plot points in mysteries, and were just an unwanted distraction in general.


Susan | 10627 comments Mod
I don't understand this sharing notes, or seeing other people's highlights in books? I never highlighted books, unless I was studying them for an exam and, even then, it felt uncomfortable... I do, sometimes, accidentally highlight things while trying to get my kindle to translate something though.


message 43: by Judy (new) - rated it 3 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4673 comments Mod
Elizabeth (Alaska) wrote: "I highlighted in a few places, mostly because they amused me.

The waiters, commanded by Jules, moved softly across the thick Oriental rugs, balancing their trays with the dexterity of jugglers, and receiving and executing orders with that air of profound importance of which only really first-class waiters have the secret...."


Thanks for these quotes, Elizabeth, I really enjoyed them. The first one made me laugh out loud while reading the book!


message 44: by Judy (new) - rated it 3 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4673 comments Mod
Susan wrote: "I don't understand this sharing notes, or seeing other people's highlights in books? I never highlighted books, unless I was studying them for an exam and, even then, it felt uncomfortable... I do,..."

I don't like seeing highlights while I'm reading, but I'm happy to discuss favourite quotes afterwards - I haven't got my head round highlighting myself yet.

The book I mentioned with words highlighted in yellow was unrelated - it looked as if someone had uploaded a copy to Kindle where they had carried out a search for a particular phrase, so every time that phrase cropped up it was in yellow!


message 45: by Val (new) - rated it 2 stars

Val | 1709 comments Susan wrote: "I don't understand this sharing notes, or seeing other people's highlights in books? I never highlighted books, unless I was studying them for an exam and, even then, it felt uncomfortable... I do, sometimes, accidentally highlight things while trying to get my kindle to translate something though."
I create accidental highlights quite often, then when I go onto Goodreads it asks if I want to share them. What, share my mistakes? No thanks.


Elizabeth (Alaska) Susan wrote: "I don't understand this sharing notes, or seeing other people's highlights in books? I never highlighted books, unless I was studying them for an exam and, even then, it felt uncomfortable... I do,..."

When I bought my Kindle, it was because I wanted to read some nonfiction, and I knew I would want to highlight, which I would never ever in a 100 years do in a physical book. I'm very happy to have this option. I don't quite know why anyone is getting books that are already highlighted, though. I have never seen that.

As to physical books, I have page numbers penciled in on the back of my bookmark for reference in group discussions.


message 47: by Val (new) - rated it 2 stars

Val | 1709 comments Elizabeth (Alaska) wrote: "When I bought my Kindle, it was because I wanted to read some nonfiction, and I knew I would want to highlight, which I would never ever in a 100 years do in a physical book."
Yes, that is why I haven't turned highlighting off altogether. The highlights are for myself though, so I can look up further information.


message 48: by Elizabeth (Alaska) (last edited Aug 03, 2018 12:57PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Elizabeth (Alaska) Val wrote: "Yes, that is why I haven't turned highlighting off altogether. The highlights are for myself though, so I can look up further information. ."

There is no way to turn off my own highlighting - why would anyone even make that a feature? If you don't want to highlight, there is no requirement to do so.

I do not have my Amazon and GR accounts linked, so I never get asked about sharing.


Lynaia | 468 comments Susan wrote: "Yes, I used to work in a building with a similar lift, Elizabeth. It was never level, and didn't seem to stop completely, so you had to hop out as you passed the floor!"

Okay, that just sounds like a nasty accident waiting to happen!


message 50: by Val (new) - rated it 2 stars

Val | 1709 comments I could turn off saving them to Goodreads, but it is an easy way to recall them when I am on the PC instead of the kindle.


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