I try to avoid TripAdvisor – I’ve spent far too much of my life on it – but a quick visit when checking out somewhere to stay seems almost inevitable these days. Admittedly it can be useful and I’m grateful to the reviewers who include practical information but so often the reviews are rants, often unreasonable as rants tend to be, or so effusively positive that you wonder if the reviewer has been paid or is part of the family. They do, however, sometimes offer an insight into a reviewer’s character – I still remember the person who complained bitterly about the dullness of breakfast at one hotel I stayed in: I wish I came down to a buffet of fresh fruit, yoghurt, muesli, croissants and pains au chocolat every morning. All of this is by way of introducing Rick Moody’s new novel largely made up of the reviews of Reginald Edward Morse, a motivational speaker and top ten reviewer for RateYourLodgings.com, entirely fictional and absolutely nothing to do with TripAdvisor at all.
Moody’s novel opens with a preface from the director of the North American Society of Hoteliers and Innkeepers explaining why he has decided to publish a series of books made up of reviews. Morse’s contributions follow beginning with Dupont Embassy Row, Washington in 2010 and ending with The Guest of Honour, Connecticut the same year. Sandwiched in between are reviews which range all over the States, from a smart New York hotel recalled from Morse’s childhood to an IKEA car park where he and his lover, K, find themselves sleeping in their car. As Morse’s story unfolds it becomes clear that despite the confidently assertive tone of his early reviews, his is a precarious, lonely existence brightened by meeting K who accompanies him to many of his lodgings. After the final review when we learn how they met, there’s an afterword from Moody in which he speculates about what has happened to Morse who appears to have vanished off the face of the earth.
It was Moody’s intriguing structure that attracted me to his novel, that and The Ice Storm which I read and admired a long time ago. It’s a tricky idea to pull off but on the whole it works – the preface seemed a little strained to me despite Moody’s tongue being firmly in his cheek. Morse’s reviews are very funny at times – his scathing description of a design hotel in Milan is particularly amusing and the rant about bed and breakfasts is spot on. Moody reveals Morse’s character and circumstances through hints and anecdote, skewering Morse’s state of mind in his review of the Sun Trap Inn, Oregon booked after overhearing a group of ‘men who had dreamed big when young and failed more spectacularly to develop these dreams’. The vitriol and oddness ever-present in some parts of the internet is nicely captured in Morse’s waspish responses to his commentators’ outlandish or intrusive remarks. It’s an enjoyable read, wisely kept short, with a memorable and aptly named, protagonist.