The Lonely Hearts Hotel
Healther O’neill’s work in The Lonely Hearts Hotel is bewitchingly magical, but it isn’t always clear to see. This novel is loaded with abuse and hardship, making it disturbing in a way that is almost painful to describe. But buried beneath all that pain is hope, and it is that hope that keeps readers enraptured the entire way through.
Abandoned in the winter of 1914, the protagonists, Rose and Pierrot, can be described as children of the snow or, more simply, as orphans who narrowly survive their entries into the world.
It is clear that these two are magical – prodigies even. Pierrot plays the piano as if he is one with it, and Rose performs and dances in a way that entrances anyone who dares to watch.
After escaping the ruthlessness of a Montreal orphanage, darkness continues to follow the children as they are separated and forced to face life alone.
As they grow into their twenties, the way in which Rose and Pierrot look at the world persists, and their love for each other never fades; in fact, it grows – even as they take on taxing journeys in order to find each other.
Amidst all the darkness, readers are offered glimmers of light. It is clear that as tragically beautiful as this novel is, at its core, it holds an epic love story – a story so spellbinding it takes the reader’s breath away.
Heather O’neill’s work is partitioned into the most elegantly entitled chapters. Even more stunning is her sentence structure and tender use of simile. She is able to write in a way that is audacious, yet elegant.
The storyline seems to strengthen from page 242 onward, making it nearly impossible for one not to marvel, at least a little bit, at the author’s writing:
It was like he forgot what was his own self and what was hers. She liked the way he rode her around on the handlebars of his bicycle. She liked the way when they had conversation while walking, he’d jump in front of her and walk backward so he could look right at her when they spoke. She liked the way he laughed uproariously at any joke on the radio.
He liked the way she would laugh uproariously at any joke on the radio. He liked that she would write words in the air with her fingertip. He liked the way she put her hand out to check whether or not it was raining, when it clearly was.
… He liked how she made him feel about himself.
She liked the way he made her feel about herself.
Throughout the read, love seems to be defined by truth. That truth is surrounded by melancholy, and the melancholy is intertwined with grit. In the end, that grit stands side-by-side with both love and despair.
As with many of life’s full-bodied experiences, the charm held within the pages of this book is not boldly apparent. In fact, there are moments that present themselves as almost unbearable. But the last few paragraphs highlight just how magical this novel truly is.
The Lonely Hearts Hotel is a piece of work that sits with a person as an extraordinary and unexpected appreciation brews. As with life’s lessons, the enormity of the gift received from this experience is enjoyed in hindsight – once the book is finished, the light is not only seen, but heard and felt. It is then that readers are able to see the magnitude of the gift that has been bestowed upon them.