Tag Archives: The Ice Storm

Hotels of North America by Rick Moody: On the road again

Cover imageI 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.

Books to Look Out For in April 2016: Part 1

Cover imageWith luck those of us who’ve been struggling with a grey, damp – or worse – winter will be able to see a bit of light glimmering on the horizon by now. Far too early with that observation according to H but I’m forever the weather optimist and if I’m proved wrong there are a few books to take refuge in the first of which I have very high hopes for: Georgina Harding’s The Gun Room. She’s one of those authors who takes her time but whose novels are always worth the wait. This one follows a war photographer whose shot of a burning Vietnamese village makes his career but who remains haunted by what he’s seen. Hardly original, I know. Many novels have dealt with this theme, from Catherine Hall’s The Repercussions to William Boyd’s Sweet Caress, but Harding’s writing is always so beautifully crafted that I suspect this will be well worth reading.

I’d expect to be feeling the same pleasurable anticipation for a new Curtis Sittenfeld novel – Sisterland and American Wife were both excellent – but Eligible is a tribute novel, the kind of thing that makes my heart sink. It’s a retelling of Pride and Prejudice with the Bennett sisters transported to 1930s America, both successful career women summoned home from New York to Cincinnati to nurse their father where they meet Chip Bingley and his haughty friend, Fitzwilliam Darcy. I’m going to have to grit my teeth in order to start this one but Sittenfeld’s such a good writer it’s got to be done.Cover image

I may have to do the same with Nicola Barker’s wacky looking The Cauliflower. You may feel that she’s a Marmite author but I’ve loved some of her novels and failed miserably to get on with others. Whatever you think of her she’s rarely anything but original. This one follows a nineteenth-century guru who must, at all costs, be protected from that most bland of vegetables, the cauliflower. ‘Rather than puzzling the shards of history and legend together, Barker shatters the mirror again and rearranges the pieces. The result is a biographical novel viewed through a kaleidoscope. Dazzlingly inventive and brilliantly comic’ says the publisher. We’ll see – brilliant jacket, though.

Rick Moody is another author whose books I’ve read and enjoyed. You may remember his name from The Ice Storm which tells of the accidental death of a young boy and was made into a devastating film directed by Ang Lee. Hotels of North America is set in lighter territory. Motivational speaker Reginald Edward Morse has a talent for the witty anecdote, exercising his skills at the RateYourLodging website but perhaps giving away more than he thinks. ‘Always funny, unexpectedly tragic, this is a book of lonely rooms, long lists, of strong opinion and quiet confession, by one of America’s greatest novelists’ say the publishers. Well worth a look by the sound of it.

Cover imageFinishing off this first batch of books to look out for is a debut but by a name you may well know already. Award-winning poet and rapper Kate Tempest has turned her hand to fiction with The Bricks that Built the Houses. Set in London, it spans several generations telling the story of Becky, Harry and Leon who turn their backs on the city in an old Ford Cortina with a suitcase stuffed with money leaving behind Becky’s boyfriend at his own party. ‘Moving back in time – and into the heart of London – The Bricks that Built the Houses explores a cross-section of contemporary urban life with a powerful moral microscope, giving us intimate stories of hidden lives, and showing us that good intentions don’t always lead to the right decisions’ say the publishers which certainly whets my appetite.

That’s it for April’s first selection. Quite a mixed bunch as is the second, all by authors new to me. As ever, a click on the title will take you to a more detailed synopsis.