The accretion of detail, of nuance, of language are at the heart of McBride’s work. And Strange Hotel, her third book, is a powerful demonstration of her ability to marshal words to peerless effect ... This first section is rich in suspense, confidently cut through with an absurd humour ... McBride cleverly drip-feeds information, rounding out her character, probing her damaged self and exploring what might have caused her to be roaming the world’s hotels, engaging in an endless stream of one-night stands ... the simplicity of the tale belies the deep psychological complexity it explores ... McBride’s fractured, fluid indirect style captures the newness of past events, constantly alive in the mind ... The language is...tortured—if exquisitely deployed ... Once inside the discursive thought process of this woman, her sadness, trauma, loneliness and grief come fully alive ... Strange Hotel is a finely controlled, complex and emotionally absorbing novel that manages to burrow deep into the heart of something essential about the human experiences of love and loss. That’s quite an achievement in so short a work.
Strange Hotel records an exhausting fictional itinerary of nights ... the prose is also a little simpler than in McBride’s previous work. It’s still full of its own lexical and grammatical idiosyncrasies ... but this voice is that of a speaker for whom ‘a good old linguistic knot’ no longer seems the adequate medium, and who finds herself searching for ‘other configurations’ to organise her experiences ... These are interior pieces, both in their setting and in their compelling transcription of a mind examining itself, its surroundings, its past, its processes of self-reflection and self-deception ... they seem merely fragments of a world, the observer of which has become, or wishes to become, indifferent to such possibilities of connection ... There is a certain satisfaction here, albeit of a slightly clinical, psychoanalytic kind: by revisiting the scene of trauma, the damaged psyche is able to repair itself, to resume a healthier form of connection with the rest of the world and with its own desires.
... a novel as tightly wound as its predecessor was exuberant. McBride seems to be testing how much can be communicated within a radically restricted structure ... Her subject matter has shades of Dorothy Allison’s domestic Gothic; Anna Burns and Kristen Roupenian are among her contemporary fellow travelers. But she is distinct from all of them in offering a frank, unsentimental, and serious treatment of women’s sexual experience—and in placing it at the center of her novels ... To say that McBride writes experimental novels in stream-of-consciousness style does not capture the wreckage her sentences inflict on the English language. Lines break off mid-phrase, punctuation is percussive, shorthand locutions substitute for exposition ... the first of McBride’s novels to be written in the third person, but it is no less intimately observed. The woman at the center watches herself with the attention of a hunter stalking prey ... Still, there is something odd about the way her thoughts are presented. We see her up close but also at a remove; it can be hard to work out exactly what she’s up to ... All the woman’s actions are described with minute physicality, but in an analytical language that tamps down even the possibility of feeling, as if she is directly restricting access to emotion ... In Strange Hotel, in which writing about sex becomes a way of expressing both intimacy and its absence, the opposite of love might be grief, despair’s close cousin, and the novel’s true story is the journey from the bottom of that grief back to love.
On the surface, the first section of Eimear McBride’s third novel, Strange Hotel, is curiously underwhelming and maddeningly evasive. Not a lot happens. Little is known. Nothing is at stake. McBride continues in this vein as her protagonist drifts through the years, visiting a series of cities and staying in a succession of hotels. But what the book withholds and how it unfolds are the keys to its success. The voyeuristic reader is invited into the woman’s room and into her mind to try to make sense of her meditations and recollections, her transactions and transgressions. The result is a novel rich with mystery, complexity and seductive charm.
If Ms. McBride really believes that elevated writing is insincere, she shouldn’t do it. But for me, the gamesome, Joycean wordplay is the best thing about Strange Hotel, however mannered it sometimes becomes. Certainly the baroque tangle of the main character’s 'inverted chats,' as she dubs her monologues, is more interesting than yet another plainspoken confrontation with repressed trauma. Ms. McBride’s brilliance lies in her arrangements of the glorious garble of language. I hope she won’t keep apologizing for it.
... sound[s] as though it is a meditation on romantic loss and a sketch of the accommodations one makes in its absence. In a way it is; but it also delves far more deeply into the instability of identity. It evokes a precariousness that flits between the physical, the mental and the linguistic – specifically, the narrator’s identity as a woman ... Reading Strange Hotel is indeed a matter of strange immersion, and one that will often puzzle and sometimes frustrate the reader, but its portrait of sadness and alienation is, in the end, also strangely revivifying.
The sentences in Strange Hotel are smoother, friendlier, but there is still plenty of grappling to be done on the reader’s part ... This is a novel with no moving parts, where everything that happens inside the narrator’s head, and the descriptions are skewed but effective ... Its quietness is apt for the subject matter of love lost, of the mystification of middle age, and the pleasures and sorrows of solitude ... Some will find Strange Hotel’s evasiveness maddening, but there’s something oddly comforting about it too: not a word usually associated with McBride’s work. True, nothing much happens, but the close, intricate style gives its eventlessness a hypnotic quality. All that combines to give this novel a unique honour: it’s the most interesting boring book of the season.
Strange Hotel feels like a book determined to show just how different it is from its predecessors ... One clear departure is in the voice, which is expressed in a kind of convoluted verbosity...as her protagonist engages in an endless, spiralling conversation with herself ... this short book is evasively lacking in context. We never know why the woman is in these cities, or what she does in them. We never see her leave the hotel rooms. Hotel rooms are strange—and McBride captures brilliantly the uncanny feeling of replication across cities and continents they give, how they seem to exist out of time, and how an abstract, untethered version of the self stacks up whenever you check in. But Strange Hotel’s view is also limited, always turning inwards rather than outwards. There’s a stuffy, airless claustrophobia to the character’s solipsism ... McBride has pinned down the inner workings of an individual arguing with themselves with as much coherent virtuosity as she captured the unrestrained rush of youthful impressions and geysering emotions in Girl and The Lesser Bohemians. It’s just that—to put it bluntly—the result is rather less interesting.
This level of modernist difficulty will no doubt turn off many, who will condemn Strange Hotel as pretentious or self-indulgent. That objection might have some validity if the unorthodox structure didn’t make us curious about a mind whose personal observations approach the universal, if not the profound ... a book that exists in physical, artistic, and imagined liminal spaces ... McBride avoids delivering yet another potted self-empowerment message. She embraces the aesthetic maxim of Joyce’s Stephen Dedalus: the only 'proper' art is suspended between the pornographic and the didactic ... McBride is clearly occupied by Bloomian (Harold, not Molly or Leopold) agon or anxiety of influence. She is not fending off a single predecessor, but the weight of the historical many, personal as well as literary. It is a battle well worth reading.
As McBride is stubbornly resistant to exposition, it’s difficult to say with much confidence what happens in Strange Hotel ... There is—wake up!—a 'reveal' two-thirds of the way through, but it feels undeveloped, a half-formed means of raising the stakes ... Strange Hotel is a pool of stagnant thoughts. The language is less experimental but the meaning is harder to decipher ... Why is this story being told? You could argue that it’s about the wasteful self-absorption that accompanies romantic obsession ... But Strange Hotel exults in an inwardness that’s characteristic of a lot of women’s fiction right now. It’s melodramatic but oddly evasive, light on plot but heavy on deoxygenated angst. I will always defend good writing about the self—so hard to do well—but I fear that, unless these novelists develop an interest in other people, literary fiction is on course to become a depleted cul-de-sac.
... a rueful comic attention to the minutiae of life on the move (or on the run) collides should with a drenching immersion in memories that stubbornly retain their weight and bite ... In her company, we sometimes teeter on the brink of bedroom farce but, equally, on the threshold of horror. Is that once-charming cowboy hammering on the door in Austin a joke, a jerk or a deadly menace? ... Yes, the fiction of Samuel Beckett does loom behind McBride’s prose like some craggy cliff. A few passages, indeed, go in for frank pastiche ... Although a book composed of beautiful sorrows, Strange Hotel also crackles with a bone-dry humour and a crisp intelligence that relieves its melancholy and lightens its load. In any case, the supple rhythms of McBride’s prose carry their own cargo of exhilaration. At the close, we may even glimpse the chance of a liberation from this cycle of mourning and regret.
Thematically and stylistically, McBride’s third novel boldly departs from previous work...McBride narrates this story of a mature woman in a considered, crafted voice that suggests language can be both subterfuge and cover.
... an altogether more sober affair, stripped of linguistic exuberance, and for the most part of affect and event. Its rewards are less immediately obvious, although they do become more apparent on a second reading ... Everything – registration, key, door opening, checking of wash bag for spilled shampoo – is recorded in detail and in close-up, as if bearing a great deal of narrative weight ... Stylistically McBride still inclines towards Beckett...But in this one I thought I detected the influence of French novelists, the precision of Emmanuèle Bernheim, the incantatory reminiscence of Duras. Much of the book is a meditation on loneliness, ageing, sex and mortality, melancholy (but not wistful) and as featureless as the rooms in which it is set. It comes as a great relief when the author’s familiar raging defiance finally makes an appearance in the closing pages.
Now, with her third novel, McBride has eased off the staccato, and her sentences flow in rhythm with her protagonist’s thoughts: anguished, panicky, revolving, repetitive, and occasionally humorous. In common with the first two books, however, is its bedrock of sexual self-expression, and the claustrophobic sensation she creates of being trapped in an angst-ridden woman’s mind ... Not until the final pages does McBride reveal the purpose behind this woman’s incessant hotel and bed hopping. It might feel an insufficient explanation, but the agony McBride conveys shows that we are in exceptional territory in terms of emotional pain ... Such a narrative technique unfortunately can turn curiosity into a penance, as if the reader is complicit with the author in teasing out the meaning of every sentence, and where it might lead. The banality of getting into a hotel room or checking out the mini bar is neither interesting nor revealing. It is the fictional equivalent of dead air or treading water, with the result that, while this is not a long book, it sometimes feels like one.
McBride writes with soul-stirringly inventive language and an immediate, stream-of-consciousness style that’s all her own. While in some ways more straightforward than her previous books, this slim novel casts a distinctive literary spell ... McBride interrupts the narrative with subject and tense changes that keep us, thrillingly, on our toes. This begs to be savored, and reread.
... beguiling ... The linguistic prowess found in McBride’s other books remains present, with the bravado slightly dialed down for emotional effect. McBride’s nebulous formalist structure could be described as a long prose poem masquerading as a novel. As a narrative, though, it is a half-formed thing.
As in McBride's previous books, there are numerous sparks of singularly brilliant prose ... Ultimately, though, as the protagonist herself acknowledges, 'the time for this digression is up. She should really be getting off this subject.' Readers will agree at many points in her story. A bridge work that will hopefully lead to McBride’s next major novel.