Hotel Silence by Auđur Ava Ólafsdóttir (transl. Brian Fitzgibbon): Life lessons

Cover image A few years ago, I read Auđur Ava Ólafsdóttir’s slightly wacky, Murikamiesque Butterflies in November which I enjoyed very much. Her new novel, Hotel Silence, is a much quieter, more conventional piece of fiction which follows a heartbroken man who’s bought a one-way ticket from his Icelandic home to a country devastated by war and holding its breath that peace has been struck.

Jónas has been celibate for years although not by choice. The love of his life has ditched him, telling him that the daughter he thought was his is another man’s. He visits his demented mother, patiently listening to the recital of the story of his birth and her accounts of the many wars that have afflicted the world. He has a waterlily tattooed over his heart in honour of his daughter whose name it is. He listens to his neighbour list the many wrongs men have done women and his worries that his wife is unhappy. Never far from his mind are thoughts of killing himself but he can’t bear to inflict the discovery of his body on Waterlily. Instead, he decides to go abroad, booking a week at the Hotel Silence. He packs a few clothes, takes the diaries he kept as a young man and, as an afterthought, a few tools. He finds the hotel the worse for wear and sets about putting his room in order, attracting the attention of the young woman who runs the hotel and her son. Soon, Jónas finds others asking for his help and a week turns into three.

There’s a gentler, more melancholy humour running through this novel in contrast to the off the wall moments of Butterflies in November. Jónas is sympathetically portrayed, a man left somewhat puzzled by what has happened to his marriage, mining his diaries for clues about the young man he was when he first met his wife. His visit to the unnamed country taking its first steps towards recovery serves as an effective metaphor for his mental state as he pitches in to help survivors marked by horror and atrocity. The theme of relationships between man and women underpins this novella, deftly handled rather than laboured, but always there. It’s a quietly powerful piece of fiction managing to both entertain and deliver a message of hope through shared humanity and cooperation.

14 thoughts on “Hotel Silence by Auđur Ava Ólafsdóttir (transl. Brian Fitzgibbon): Life lessons”

  1. Butterflies in November was almost too quirky for me, so it’s good to hear that this one is a bit more ‘normal’. I might have given it a miss, but I think your review has convinced me to try it.

  2. I’ve had images of this book popping up all over my Twitter timeline the last couple of days, so it’s lovely to read what it is all about. Not come across this writer before, but the premise of this novel really appeals.

  3. I think what I most enjoyed about Butterflies in November was the upset in my expectations: a beautiful bright blue cover with talk of a little boy bringing something unexpected into a woman’s life. Well, that didn’t go anywhere I expected. That’s what I loved. Since then I’ve been intrigued by talk of The Greenhouse as well. Which makes me think that it is, after all, the writer who interests me, more than the story. Sometimes it’s just like that, isn’t it. (Other times, not so much!)

    1. Absolutely! I’m always impressed when a writer produces two books quite so different as Butterflies in November and Hotel Silence. I haven’t come across The Glasshouse. I’ll keep my eyes peeled.

  4. I’ve not heard of this author, but I like the sound of the novel and that premise of changing one’s environment and discovering, you have something that might be valued and appreciated by others, especially when that person is at such a low themselves. Lovely depiction of the book, you make it sound very appealing to me.

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