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Hotel Honolulu: A Novel Paperback – May 15, 2002

4 out of 5 stars 83 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Scrappy, satiric and frowsily exotic, this loosely constructed novel of debauchery and frustrated ambition in present-day Hawaii debunks the myth of the island as a vacationer's paradise. The episodic narrative is presided over by two protagonists: the unnamed narrator, a has-been writer who leaves the mainland to manage the seedy Hotel Honolulu, and raucous millionaire Buddy Hamstra, the hotel's owner and former manager, who fired himself to give the narrator his job. The narrator is at once amused and moved by Buddy, "a big, blaspheming, doggy-eyed man in drooping shorts," who is as reckless in his personal life as he is in his business dealings. He hires the writer despite his lack of qualifications, and the writer returns the favor in loyalty and affection, acting as witness to Buddy's flamboyant decline. As the hotel's manager, the writer comes to know a succession of downtrodden travelers and Hawaii residents, each more eccentric than the next. Typical are a wealthy lawyer whose amassed fortune does not bring him happiness; a past-her-prime gossip columnist involved in a love triangle with her bisexual son and her son's male lover; and a man who is obsessed with a woman he meets through the personals. Theroux, never one to tread lightly, often portrays native Hawaiians including the writer's wife as simpleminded, craven souls. But he is an equal-opportunity satirist, skewering all his characters except perhaps his alter-ego narrator and Leon Edel, the real-life biographer of Henry James, who makes an extended, unlikely cameo appearance. The lack of conventional plot and the dreariness of life at Hotel Honolulu make the narrative drag at times, but Theroux's ear and eye are as sharp as ever, his prose as clean and supple. (May)Forecast: A nine-city author tour kicks off a promotional blitz for Hotel Honolulu, which includes a sweepstakes with a trip to Hawaii as prize. More carefully worked than Kowloon Tong, Theroux's last novel, and more familiar in setting, this may be one of the part-time Hawaii resident's better selling efforts.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal

A blocked writer seeking clarity and an escape from the life of the mind accepts a job as manager of a low-rent Hawaiian hotel, and his detailing of the denizens within the hotel community illustrate the old adage "Everyone has a story." Readers who know Theroux's fiction (e.g., Kowloon Tong) may not be surprised that many of the tales deal with the mystery and obsession with sex, and the author composes a good number of sad and twisted variations on love and lust, often found fleetingly. Though there is much sordidness here, Theroux skillfully portions out doses of humor, tenderness, and humanity, often with the turn of a phrase, as in the tale of two limping waiters or of a Filipino bride's deliverance to a relatively better position in life. By the time the reader navigates through these 80 snapshots of peoples' lives, a sense of this unnamed writer's shared experience becomes real. A most impressive and compulsively readable novel; highly recommended.
- Marc Kloszewski, Indiana Free Lib., PA
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books; Reprint edition (May 15, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618219153
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618219155
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.1 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (83 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #543,627 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Paul Theroux's highly acclaimed novels include Blinding Light, Hotel Honolulu, My Other Life, Kowloon Tong, and The Mosquito Coast. His renowned travel books include Ghost Train to the Eastern Star, Dark Star Safari, Riding the Iron Rooster, The Great Railway Bazaar, The Old Patagonian Express, and The Happy Isles of Oceania. He lives in Hawaii and on Cape Cod.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
There's a great premise for this novel by Paul Theroux. The narrator is an unnamed middle-aged writer who takes a job as a manager of a small seedy hotel in Honolulu. What follows is a book full of overlapping stories about the constant parade of guests and locals and a fresh look at what Hawaii is like by the New England-born author who now makes Hawaii his part-time home.
There's a wide variety of characters and a loose non-conventional plot. Most memorable of all is the larger-than-life figure of millionaire and hotel owner Buddy Hamstra, a big man who over-indulges his appetites in life. There's the writer's wife and daughter as well as permanent and temporary hotel guests and employees. It's a collection of vignettes interwoven with reoccurring themes and finely developed people. It's big and sprawling and full of pathos and humor, small portraits of human nature focusing on the themes of love and death.
I found myself drawn into it, enjoying the author's sharp observations and finding myself wanting to laugh out loud. How each character views this world is fascinating and the writer dares to ridicule it all. There's a power in the book that kept me reading in spite of the meandering pace. It's sad and funny and very human all at the same time as it willingly explores such topics such as ethnic tensions and physical disabilities. It might not always be a flattering picture of a place we sometimes think of as paradise, but it sure does seem real, as the characters grope and blunder along in their lives below a constantly shining Hawaiian sun. I just loved the experience of reading this book. Definitely recommended.
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Format: Hardcover
Paul Theroux loves to play the intelligent, uninvolved raconteur, the perpetual, if distant, visitor. In his inimical style of episodic narration he tells the stories of those characters he meets, or he writes his fantasies about them (read sexual). In Hotel Honolulu he continues the witty, winking entertainment he began in his fictional autobiographies My Secret History and My Other Life, all viewed from his superior stance. Now that he is transplanted from England to Hawaii, the flavor is Polynesian, but the sly, voyeuristic prose the same. No other autor carries the reader along so effortlessly, so superbly, and on such a smooth amusement ride. No literati populate this world, however, a world of prostitutes, con men, complainers, and calculating crones.
If readers are hoping for plot, try Theroux's masterful sci-fi story O-Zone, or the bizarre sexual deviant thriller Chicago Loop, ore even the anti-establishment raves Milroy the Magician or Mosquito Coast. Discover Paul Theroux, a truly great writer, a mastermid who can take his reader on a funfilled ride of literary loops and thrills that leave you breathless at the feats of prose prowess and always wanting more.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
When I went to Hawai'i I hadn't yet read this book. I got home and picked it up to read. Now that I've read it I'm glad I got to go to visit first. I have reflected on the stories Theroux tells and I am able to appreciate Honolulu in a way I probably couldn't while I was there. I recognized so many of the people Theroux described and saw myself in them as well. I had to wonder how much of this novel was really fictional; it was far too easy to imagine that these things had happened. (Especially after getting to know some of the people who do live in Honolulu.)
Having grown up near a tourist destination this book give me an appreciation for those who have to deal with tourists for a living; it also gave me several insights into the human condition.
I would hand this book to anyone who is planning to travel (and not just to Hawai'i).
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Format: Hardcover
Irreverant and supercilious as always, humorous travel chronicler Paul Theroux gives us a hilarious, eerily insightful account of the sleazy underbelly of "America's tropical paradise," as viewed through the eyes of a presumably fictional profligate, sometime novelist/sometime hotelier wearing racist-tinted sunglasses. As in Theroux's other novels, the self-indulgent exaggeration of the human condition tells us far more about the author than the characters he portrays. Like the people in his travel essays, the staff, guests, relatives, and hangers-on of the Hotel Honolulu are neither protagonists nor antagonists, but skillfully dialogued cardboard cut-outs of laughable humanity, reminding us what pitiful blobs of protoplasm we really are. The arrogant air of superiority Theroux often exudes in his travel essays is bequeathed to the morose, self-searching personality of the egotistical narrator. Theroux's novels have a way of starting out with brilliant, incisive prose and slumping maddenly into a lethargic din. He often seems to struggle with his prose, but despite its flaws, "Hotel Honolulu" is a fun read. If your image of Hawaii is plastic bobbing-head hula-dancer dashboard ornaments and imitation plastic flower leis, this book will change forever the way you think about "America's tropical paradise."
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Format: Hardcover
Paul Theroux writing on autopilot is still better than many other authors at the top of their form. His well-known ability to describe a place or person in just a few perfect words, his creation of believable characters with clear motivations, his ironic detachment as these same characters mess up their lives, and his depiction of a writer's battle with the demons of his craft are among his many brilliant qualities, all on vibrant display here.

Ultimately, however, this novel was a disappointment to me. Set in a 3rd-rate hotel in Honolulu, it has the characters and setting of a novel (and is called a novel on the cover), but it is so lacking in any sort of unifying plot, that it's not even possible to write a plot summary. The huge cast of characters has only one thing in common--they all live and/or work at the Hotel Honolulu. While some characters are complete enough that they could have been worked into a wonderful collection of short stories, others are seen only in tiny, three- or four-page vignettes and add nothing significant. Very much like the author, the narrator is a writer who has had a failed marriage and difficult divorce in England and who has come to Hawaii hoping to escape his bad memories and the pressures of the writing life. He likes Hawaii "because it [is] a void"--almost no one recognizes his name, and those who do have not read his books. He works as the manager of the Hotel Honolulu.

Distressingly, this fragmented book is shockingly mean-spirited in tone, going way beyond good-humored satire, and demeaning almost every aspect of Hawaii, its people, and its culture, while also taking pokes at some American icons. Virtually every woman in the book either is or has been a prostitute. All are dimwits.
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