on January 5, 2000
First of all, I would like to express my outrage at the reader who was disappointed that Irving's books are formulaic. Sure, he does reiterate himself somewhat in his novels, but what author doesn't? The "one-liners" that emerge from the stories will stay with me for the rest of my life. Especially that wonderful line from The Hotel New Hampshire, "Keep Passing the Open Windows." I have read all of Irving's works, and although I hold a great deal of admiration for each one, The Hotel New Hampshire is definitely my favorite. Irving simply developed his characters better in this book than any of his others. The story in this book- though obviously borrowing some of the antidotes in Garp- is original and amusing. The best thing about this book is that it is funny. Sure, all of his books are, BUT this is the funniest. My only critique is that Irving did not develop Lilly as much as he could have. Regardless, I loved this book, and I highly recommend it to anyone in need of a good laugh and a wonderful story.
on April 4, 2001
With The Hotel New Hampshire John Irving wrote one of his best books and one of my personal favorites. Although in every book several themes return (we already read about rape, wrestling and Vienna in The World According to Garp and the transsexuals from this book can also be found in A Son Of The Circus and the bears... well, you got the point now, I suppose), every work of John Irving is original, surrealistic and moving.
John Irving writes about people. And whether he writes about Owen Meany, Dhar or The Watermethod Man, he writes about life. All his characters are in a way eccentric and bizarre, but always understandable and just normal people. Irving describes their lives, their thoughts, their emotions and so tries to find the meaning and purpose of our own lives.
Irving's books are in that way portraits, but not just portraits. It are portraits of colorful people, absurd, but still in a way being like us. We can see ourselves in the eyes of Irving's main characters. And that's, beside his wonderful writing style and humor, what I like about Irving and especially about "The Hotel New Hampshire", a fresh and imaginative dive in the wonderful world of John Irving.
on July 24, 2012
Or, actually, my second time reading "The Hotel New Hampshire", John Irving's wonderful, heart-wrenching novel from 1981.
It tells the unforgettable story of the fated Berry family, through three hotels and several decades in the US and Europe. Of course they all encounter the unmistakable Irving tropes - bears, prostitutes, football players, writers and death. No plot description does any justice to the power of the book though.
It's just such an incredibly sad sad story. When I read it in 1985, it left a big impression on my young adult life. I was starting out at Uni and I remember it as well, or better, than anything else that happened in that wonderful time.
I remember it as being funny and engrossing and wistful and thought-provoking.
I don't remember it making me ache and shiver and feel lost, and, yes, cry, the way it did this time.
Seventy-two hours after finishing the book for the second time I can still feel the sorrow physically in the middle of my chest - a dull ache that won't go away.
I still feel the Berry family breathing down my neck. I want to embrace them and repel them simultaneously.
Why all of this?
The first time I read the book I obviously identified straight away with what I think of as the "inner story". The narrator, John Berry, describing his coming of age within his vivid family and their various evocative surroundings. Both his journey and mine seemed real and open-ended - albeit his far more fantastical. Especially regarding his sister, the wondrous Franny Berry. Oh boy. Just writing her name makes the ache stronger now. Franny animates this story and is its shining star.
But the book has an outer story. John is actually re-telling these events some twenty-five years later - as a man approaching forty but with a far older world-weariness (even a "world-hurt", such as he ascribes to his little sister Lilly).
I guess this is the part that now resonates so strongly and sadly. This sense of loneliness of the passing time, that deep melancholy of times that have passed, of not being able to go back, of broken people. Of loves, adventures, family members, dreams that are now closed doors.
And this feeling is exaggerated unintentionally by how long ago it was all written.
John Irving dreamt up Franny Berry in 1981, yet she feels so "present" and alive. You just want to spend time with her. She knew things, back then. And now, how many unfulfilled dreams have floated by since then? How many beginnings that never ended, like poor, poor little Egg, like smart Miss Miscarriage and her Gatsby mind? Sorry if you haven't read the book, just go with me here. And know it's just so sad.
Thirty years after meeting these people for the first time I just can't forget them. How many books can you truly say that about? In real life, Franny and John (the story at the heart of the story) would be in their seventies now, and all these events fifty years old. That somehow makes it all the more melancholic.
Part of the effect this has on me, now, is no doubt due to - the cliché - me being a parent now but not then, but it is more than just that. It is the additional thirty years of my own dreaming and yearning, and now looking at life's possibilities from the other end; from older John's damaged perspective.
Then there is this poem by Donald Justice, quoted by John to his older brother:
Men at forty
Learn to close softly
The doors to rooms they will not be
Coming back to
That was mere wordplay to nineteen-year-old me. Now, naturally, I know many rooms. And what is any Hotel but a lot of closed rooms?
Whilst the nominal theme of the book is Sorrow (in both upper- and lower-case), to me it is a book about yearning. About trying to find simple satisfaction and everyday comfort. Did any of these characters truly find happiness? Maybe only Susie the bear; the least "human" of all.
But it was nice (and also daunting) spending time again with these characters who have been passengers in all my adult life's journey. May they stay with me, past all of the open windows in my future.
So now life goes on. But life feels different after spending time at The Hotel New Hampshire. It is less colourful.
We still make dreams, though, and our dreams still escape us almost as vividly as we can imagine them. We try to keep sorrow at bay, using whatever small comfort we can find around us.
In a book full of ghosts, this is the single sentence that haunts me the most, that I keep being drawn back to:
"I hope this is a proper ending for you, Mother - and for you, Egg."
All we can hope for, really, is a proper ending. But even after the ending, some things remain. The Hotel New Hampshire leaves you with an ache; an ache shaped like a bear, or like a little boy lost in a windowless room in the heart of a foreign hotel.
And as I think about all those rooms that nobody will be going back to, I hope this is a proper ending for you.
For you, Franny.
on November 21, 2005
In my opinion this is far and away the best of John Irving's novels (although I admit that I have read nothing more recent than A Prayer for Owen Meany). Up until that point I read everything by Irving that I could get my hands on. This book is hilarious, often bizarre, and sometimes sad. The humor can be pretty raunchy, but it always seems to have a pretty good point to it. Irving has a great gift for creating fascinating characters, and his brilliance in this respect is in full force in Hotel New Hampshire. From sister Franny, to the bear called State of Maine, to the poor and stinky laborador retriever, you will not soon forget this wild bunch of characters. I've read this book several times, and even though I know the story pretty well, I don't get tired of it. It is highly recommended reading.
on May 24, 2001
....I went to the bookstore, itching for something to new to read and stumbled on John "Garp" Irving's "The Hotel New Hampshire" in hardback sometimes in the late 80's. I was already good to go with Irving's penchant for bears, performers in bear suits, preppies, Vienna, hotels, wrestlers, circus acts, bizarre personalities and Dickens like stories and was well pleased with what he was starting to present here. And like I've said in relation to many, many items I've reviewed ..."you just have to be in that quantum packet..." The quantum packet I speak of here is one that is attuned to life, baby, life--and the human drama....
So those who have already read THNH knows that the story takes an immediate, early change of direction .....yes, that's the one, the crash...and you find yourself pulling for the family Berry trying to move and grow and go on as always--except, these are unusual kids, an unusual family. And that "usual" for them would make Jerry Springer guests look normal...Let's say, they are not exactly a dysfunctional family--(Who has so called normalcy in their family anyhoos? Mostly folks in TV commercials and Make Space for Daddy style moovys and sitcoms of the 40s-50s-60s. And THEY had problems keeping it normal.)---but unusual, nonetheless. And, in all the kids adventures and misadventures and whatever effects being in this crazy hotel resort has....the father puts on a good showing. No, he doesn't, on second thought--he loses his sanity and goes along with things for the sake of the rest of the family. And Irving handles this quite subtly and endearingly and with that twist of that "whatever you want to call" thing it he does. The characters are like cartoons he's created that eventually become more and more real and more human to us the more we stay with them and their idiosyncratic turn of events. Irving's other great talent is in making the reader wanna cry and laugh at the same time....
Anyway, this story sure did it for me, I was hooked--it was, needless to say, great reading for me. I found myself diggin' the man's style of literature and greedily, ravenously getting all his successive works. This and "The Cider House Rules" are my favorites of his to this day. I, however, enjoy reading and rereading them all...do yourself a favor and try Irving out!
on October 2, 2005
Irving does to the contemporary life what great Russian romanists of 19th century did to their century. His books touch on all the important subjects, but they are ultimately about people. No matter how unusual Irving's characters are externally, they are just like you and me inside. I cry and laugh with the Irving's characters - this is what makes Irving similar to great writers of the past, and this is one aspect I like most - I don't care about this post-modern idea that the great novel must be about ideas, not real people. Please give us more real people in novels, and feed us ideas in the process! Like John Irving does.
One difference with the great Russians of 19th century is that Irving's mastery of the language is far better than
either Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky (my mother tongue is Russian, so I can tell). In this respect Irving's more like Chekhov.
My favourite Irving's novels are Garp and Widow. Hotel NH is right behind them which gives it 5 stars (Garp and Widow are really closer to 6)
on October 20, 2004
I love the writing of John Irving, because he successfully pulls off that quality that made Shakespeare a genius: the ability to create characters who are lifelike and complicated. Irving's characters are always part of a world that is different, and simpler, than the world we see around us. Due to growing up in isolation, they develop in different ways. Yet, they seem realistic, because their oddness is a natural reaction to the unusual living circumstances.
In the Hotel New Hampshire, which I would place third on my list of Irving (behind A Prayer for Owen Meany and The Cider House Rules), the narrator chronicles the story of his family. The parents met at a hotel called Arbuthnot by the Sea, and there are five children: Frank, Franny, Jon (the narrator), Lily, and Egg (from oldest to youngest). The family is nourished by the dreams of the father, balanced with the abilities and genius of the various family members.
As with all his books, Irving tells us the whole story, beginning with the parents of Father and Mother, and continuing until the youngest children are in their forties. The children are kind of like the ones in "The Royal Tennenbaums," and the book actually shares a lot of themes with the popular movie.
Things they have in common:
--Both involve an incestuous relationship between an athletic brother and his beautiful sister; in both cases, the brother is the initiator
--Both involve a misfit family of brilliant children who turn to each other for understanding
--In Tennenbaums, the children become a Tennis player, a businessman, and a writer. In Hotel, the children become a weightlifter, a businessman (agent), and a writer.
--Both involve a father who is selfish, and who lives for an extended period of time in a hotel.
--Both involve one of the grown children attempting suicide.
Irving employs other trademark devices, including referencing classic literature (in this case, the Great Gatsby and Moby Dick). There are also odd sexual experiences, some of which are involving a group of whores who live in the Second Hotel New Hampshire in Austria.
One thing that bothered me was that one character spends a good deal of time dressed in a bear suit, and there are many instances of people mistaking her for an actual bear. This seems impossible to me.
For all the strong images in the book, the two that lingered in my mind between the two readings (which must have been a period of several years) were the image of Earl, a bear who earned a living for his trainer Freud, and the consummation of incestuous love between two of the main characters.
on December 6, 2015
I have this secret fantasy that one of these weeks the NYT is going to interview me for their "By the Book" weekly column. (In case you are not familiar with it, It's a weekly column in which a famous and/or accomplished person is asked a series of questions about the books in their lives. For me it's like the National Enquirer!) I get the sense that the question that the interviewees tend to struggle with is "What was the last book that made you cry?" Well, thanks to the brilliant ending of this novel, I'm ready for that one!
I'm a major fan of Irving. I think I started reading this when it first came out, and real life must have interrupted things. Which is one of those backhand gifts of fate that are one of the themes of this amazing book. I never would have appreciated it as much when I was 25. But that would probably be true of all of his novels, and all great novels. Read them early, and re-read them!
But I laughed much more than I cried. And when I cried, it was just for the beauty and emotion of the final words of this amazing story. One of my Dad's favorite lines was "look at the donut instead of the hole". He was such a Coach Bob!
on June 11, 2000
Right of the Bat, I don't rate this book as highly as "The World According to Garp" or a "Prayer for Owen Meany" but lets face it, no other two books are ever going to be "that" good.
This story is just so incredible, and it does manage to capture the magic of Irwings other classics, I for one love his continued obsession with Bears and Vienna, and I pity people who feel he is being narrow. His imagination for an off the wall eccentric sorry is just phenomenal. I think this book started well, it lost something in the middle with the early years in Vienna, but the end was wonderful, and so typically heart wrenching. Finally, John Irwings stands alone in development of colorful characters; right now the world is obsessed (and rightly so) with the wave known as Harry Potter, but I feel even JK Rowlings has a distance to go before she achieves what Irwing achieves with his characters... Here we have prostitutes, quarterbacks, writers, terrorists, an elusive man in a white jacket, midgets, and not forgetting a talking bear... what could be better?
on January 13, 2000
Hotel is one of those books you come across once every five years, where the stories, characters, jokes, and yes, the famous Irving one-liners, stay with you for the rest of your life. Endearing, bittersweet, and hilarious--I can't recommend it highly enough!