I really, really wanted to like this book, but I just… didn’t. I was curious about the premise and soon found myself wrapped up in the writing- I have to hand it to the author that she clearly has talent. My criticism is ostensibly with the subject matter, so because of that I’m going to try my utmost to keep my cool… HOWEVER, I had *way* too many problems with this to actually enjoy this book and argh it was so not my cup of tea.
Initially I did think the characters had promise and I wasn’t put off by the fact it included horrific abuse– not because I enjoy reading that sort of thing (in fact I largely avoid books on child abuse as a general rule)- but I won’t slate a book for including dark content. Especially not when it’s reflecting reality and I respect the author for tackling these topics. This merely served more as an appetiser for the other unpleasantries that made this a miserable reading experience for me.
What ruined the book for me was EVERYTHING ELSE. As much as the atmosphere was captivating, the descriptions vivid and the emotion was palpable, all I was left with was disgust. The book was full of seedy insinuations, abrasive vulgarities and all sorts of cloying topics that made my skin crawl. Here you could put this down to personal taste- because I don’t particularly like feeling revolted. Furthermore, this element of criticism is the same one I have for Lolita: as a single consistent emotion, disgust has a tendency to overpower and sour everything else. It also doesn’t help that I am never keen on art (like Tracy Emin’s unmade bed) which relies solely on a single emotion aka shock value. My problem here is fundamentally that there is no range.
For a tragedy to work, there has to be a glimpse of what could be and thus offer a satisfying catharsis when hopes are dashed. And yet, much like the poem City of the Dreadful Night (or in my opinion TFIOS), this plods along with no sense of enlightenment and is in essence grim in its entirety. I could tell from about halfway through the book that the romance wasn’t going to work out and couldn’t hitch my hopes up enough to get invested in it. Considering all the build-up and near misses the way it played out in the end was a letdown. The best tragedies, like Tess, have that shining moment in the middle where the lovers get their glimpse of happiness- here however there’s only living in a hotel room and miscarrying children… not exactly upbeat. But *spoiler alert* it’s not that it mattered anyway, because it did that very modern 180 of cancelling out the romantic relationship story by becoming one of those motherhood-is-true-love tales aka the Maleficent movie narrative structure. Except in this case the tone jars with the so-called “happy” ending.
This is far from my only criticism of the plot. Dare I say it, I found the book romanticised prostitution. Look, I get that Rose loves sex (it would have been nice if she’d had a personality beyond that, but whatever)- still jumping from that into porn and prostitution is quite a leap. It’s presented as empowering, nonetheless: sex work is dangerous and not known to be a road to happiness (do try to not get your knickers in a twist over that statement, just my personal advice/opinion). Off script there are characters addicted to heroin (another lovely subject), end up in the position due to circumstance- conversely the focus of Rose the magically attractive heroine is just doing it for the lols. Forgive me for not being all hip and trendy, I simply couldn’t understand why this book revelled in Rose’s glorified descent into a questionable career.
To say that the characters are hard to like is an understatement. At first, I liked the fact that the heroes Rose and Pierrot stood out, were different and were striving to perform; by the end, I was sick of the fact that all that specialness just boiled down to “I like sex”. Groundbreaking. They also fit into that damaged character trope, where a victim of abuse becomes a “pervert” (not my choice of word), but it’s okay because “we’re all perverts” so yayyy representation… Seriously this book pushes that message over and over and over… and I get it- you want to appeal to the lowest common denominator- only this crap doesn’t appeal to me in the slightest. I have my bloody limits.
Still if you think that touches the surface of the bad characterisation, you have another thing coming. One of the worst things about the book is how it tries to “humanise” or explain the villain, Sister Eloïse. Partly, because why are you even trying to humanise a child molester?! (yes, that’s some of the aforementioned child abuse). Partly, because I disagreed with the logic (or lack thereof) of how it was done. For instance: “They are bad with the conviction that they are good” did not work brilliantly in context to explain the motivation for rape. It places more emphasis on the nun’s zealotry, while ignoring aspects of power and gratification (this is all really well explained in Baumeister’s Evil, if you’re interested in a starting point for moral psychology). Either way, this did not sit comfortably with me in terms of expressing the psychology behind her actions. And in case that wasn’t enough, Rose forgives Eloïse (potentially on behalf of her now deceased victim), which just made me yell WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK?! That level of bullshit sent. me. over. the. edge. If everything else hadn’t turned me against the book that point certainly would have.
Okay- I’m going to cut this off before I become full on RAGE MONSTER. Despite all my griping, I do get why people like this and I scattered a ton of allusions to other art you can use as a litmus test as to whether you’ll like Lonely Hearts Hotel. Like a *surprise treasure hunt*. Honestly, when I first finished this, I had no idea what rating to give, yet by now I’ve realised this is one of those books I like less and less the more I think about. So I have no hesitation giving it:
Aka my rating for “I didn’t like this, but other people might”.
Sidenote: breaking your hands doesn’t make you play piano better (why’d you think pianists ensure their hands for hundreds of thousands of pounds?!)
Dare I ask: have you read this? What did you think of it? Let me know in the comments! (I sincerely hope you liked it more than me!)