Customer Reviews: The Hotel New Hampshire (Ballantine Reader's Circle)
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I have really puzzled over some of the comments other reviewers have made about this book, and wonder if they read the same one I have read (and reread several times). First of all, Irving is known for his strange, evocative and surreal sensibilities; witness the bee sting killing in "Setting Free the Bears" or the ritual tongue-surgeries in "The World According to Garp". Criticizing him on that level means the reviewer is really not too familiar with the corpus of Irving's work, so probably doesn't "get" what it is Irving is saying. Also, it is in the face of such absurdities that all of us must, at least according to Irving, try to find the meaning and purpose of our own lives, like Garp or any of the other figures on the proverbial journeys he sets them on. Finally, Irving's duty isn't to just entertain the reader in a predictable way, but rather to play artfully with the notion that he can create a surreal world that in its own fashion represents a truer & more understandable world than the one we so drunkenly and absent-mindedly habituate every day. That's what some folks call art.

Given all that, perhaps it is more useful to try to discern what it is Irving is trying to say so artfully and colorfully in each of his novels, rather than compare one to another or make comparisons among them. I remember reading once that great novels were like fantastic gems, many of them flawed, but all of them brilliant, colorful, and beautiful to the well-trained eye. So viewed, so is this book brilliant, colorful, and beautiful. This is the tragicomic story of a family trying again and again, regardless of the personal consequences or absurdities of fate, to get it right, attempting to live one after another of their father's fatally flawed dreams, and finally coming to terms with what it most important, most lasting, and singularly true for them as people and as a family.

In my humble opinion, the last few pages of this novel read as poignantly, as meaningfully, and as beautifully as anything anyone has been writing for the last half century in so-called contemporary fiction. Who but John Irving could essay with such whimsy and wile to invoke the strange totem powers of his ever-present bears to conjure up whatever magic it takes for each of us to be kind and strong and present for each other in our mutual times of need, to ask each of us to care? What he has to say about the contemporary state of relationships in our times, and about the obligations, joys and pains of living purposefully, meaningfully, and for the long haul as a loving and understanding family is as dead-on inspiring as I have ever read. How do you live meaningfully in a world full of horror, unexpected tragedy, and overwhelming purposelessness? Perhaps in the world according to John Irving, as a loving family. Enjoy.
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on March 12, 1999
I know that this is violating "reviewer guidelines," but the review that sparked this remark has done so to a much worse degree. Please do not read the review of Feb 4th titled "Good Lord" if you haven't read the book--the reviewer in his/her raging disappointment over the book has vehemently revealed just about every crucial plot turn of the book. Enough said!
The Hotel New Hampshire is not one of John Irving's best, it's true. There really are some elements that seem a bit too contrived, some characters a little too one-dimensional. Irving has really pushed his usually phenomenal ability to make the fantastic and bizarre palatable. However, it still shines as a cut above average fiction. It still pulls you into the story, no matter how reluctant you may be to go there. Irvings trademark mixture of tragedy and slapstick humor is in full swing, and you find yourself wondering, "how can I be laughing at this? How can I be reading this? It's ridiculous!!"
I say if you have read Irving before, it's not his best (Owen Meany and the The Water Method Man are top-notch), but I still say read it, you'll be glad--it's still John Irving. And if you haven't read this author, read it knowing that this is one of his lesser attempts, but still worth reading, as Irving at his worst is still one of the most talented writers I know
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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on December 8, 1999
John Irving's undoubtedly weird characters are often so wonderfully described that they make you feel for them whether you want to or not. "The Hotel New Hampshire" is the story of five siblings; two of them having an incestous relationship, one of them a midget, one of them dressing up all the time for no apparent reason, one of them extremely special in other ways. Yet they are made believable. And yet their story will fascinate you; leave you awake at night wondering about them; make you think. And move you very much. Somehow this very special and improbable story appears very realistic, and very interesting too. Highly recommended.
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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)
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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 yourself a favor and try Irving out!
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on August 14, 2005
The biggest hurdle when reading 'The Hotel New Hampshire' is to stop questioning its logic and reality - if you can embrace the surreal and bizarre the magic starts. It reminds me of movies such as Tim Burton's 'Big Fish' which I loved as soon as I set aside the practical and logical side of my mind and let the warped reality take over.

So the book contains a woman in a bear suit who protects the local prostitutes, is a sometime lesbian, and has serious self esteem issues - rather than wondering how many people could possibly be convinced by a fake 'bear', if you eliminate the logic you start to look at the bigger picture and see so much more of the character than you might have if she was in another incarnation.

Most of the characters in the book are equally bizarre - even 'Egg' the youngest Berry child, despite having no actual character oddities like the other kids, is oddified by his unusual name and its history. Much of the books humour comes from the 'unreal' elements - extreme characterisations and situations - yet by the end of the story I felt real compassion for them all, and proud of their sense of survival. The Berrys are one tough family - interestingly, so many real life famous people seem to have had bizarre and traumatic experiences in their upbringing, so the ending of the book doesn't actually seem that odd!

Having surreal qualities and a sense of the bizarre doesn't mean the broad themes of the book aren't strong, serious and thought provoking. I laughed through a long winter afternoon reading the book, but the harder things were in my mind for days.
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