- Mass Market Paperback: 432 pages
- Publisher: Ballantine Books; Reissue edition (August 30, 1995)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 034540047X
- ISBN-13: 978-0345400475
- Product Dimensions: 4.2 x 1.1 x 6.9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars See all reviews (153 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #906,097 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Hotel New Hampshire Mass Market Paperback – August 30, 1995
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"Like Garp...a startlingly original family saga that combines macabre humor with a Dickensian sentiment and outrage at cruelty, dogmatism and injustice." Time
"Rejoice! John Irving has written another book according to your world…. You must read this book." Los Angeles Times
"Spellbinding…. Intensely human…. A high-wire act of dazzling virtuosity." Cosmopolitan
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Top customer reviews
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.
It is Win, a dreamer and teacher in Dairy, NH, who on a whim decides, in the mid-1950s, to buy and convert a dilapidated girls' school to a hotel, at the time when the three oldest children are teenagers. The chaos of running and living in the hotel seems to bring out their different personalities: John is the loner; Franny is the rock; John is the follower; Lilly is the writer; and Egg is the baby. Rather surprisingly, the Berry's abandon, that is, sell, the first hotel when Win is lured to Austria by Freud, not Simon but a vaudevillian he knew from a summer job in Maine sixteen years earlier, to operate a hotel, sight unseen. The intensity of the story is ratcheted up at this point, as women of the evening and a mysterious band of radicals occupy two floors in their out-of-the way, dumpy hotel. Win, having lost his wife to an accident, is so disconnected that it is up to Frank and Franny to navigate the intricacies of running the hotel and deal with a variety of stubborn personalities, including Freud's latest bear, a female who wears a bear suit.
Being in such close proximity to a large assortment of people in these two hotels practically forced an accelerated maturation on the Berry kids, as sexual self-discovery is a strong current in the story. John and Franny, the two best looking of the kids, are most open to various experiences, though Franny endures an assault in New Hampshire with remarkable resilience. A delicate subject for the author and the reader is the love - the physical attraction - that John and Franny hold for each other and the manner in which they resolve that very sensitive situation.
As said, the book is interesting and not without its comedic parts, but nonetheless it seems excessively drawn out - overly repetitious in trite expressions, truisms, mannerisms, actions, and reactions. The most compelling aspect of the entire saga is the very appealing character Franny, who shows uncommon toughness and street-smarts, freely acknowledged by her siblings. However, more often, the strangeness and oddities of the characters and events almost overwhelm; the numerous accidents and unexpected deaths are more jolting than additive to the story. The fantastical vein of the story continues as the Berry's return to NYC after seven years in Austria, having survived a terrorist plot hatched by the radicals, now recipients of a financial windfall, ostensibly because Lilly has written a book on growing up small, but more due to their notoriety from foiling the event. The Maine chapter of the hotel story, actually it is a crisis center for women who have been assaulted, is a time for resolution, a welcome return to normalcy. Over all, who could guess that the hotel business, conducted by rank amateurs, could be so zany, eventful, and lucrative?