Set in New York and Montreal at the outset of the Great Depression, a novel about two gifted orphans – in love with each other since they can remember – whose childhood talents allow them to rewrite their future.
If you were to go to sleep and dream of life in early 20th Century Montreal, Heather O’Neill’s The Lonely Hearts Hotel is what you might dream. The Giller-shortlisted author’s new novel has all the absurd, frightening, fantastical qualities of a midnight reverie — complete with depressed clowns, dancing bears, lunatic nuns and smitten mobsters — and with a similar power to haunt ... When their much-anticipated reunion takes place, it does nothing to disrupt the bittersweet mood of the book. Great joy and immense sadness follow as their story unfolds, and the two set about staging the circus they’d envisioned as children. It would be hard to overstate here just how the good the writing is in The Lonely Hearts Hotel. For it is stunningly, stunningly good ... O’Neill, always an original and enchanting storyteller, is at the height of her powers. The Lonely Hearts Hotel is a feat of imagination, accomplished through the tiny, marvellous details she scatters across the page.
To read Heather O’Neill’s dazzling new novel, The Lonely Hearts Hotel, is to enter an enchanting and poetic world that is also amusing, troubling and often lascivious. O’Neill’s lively style is so filled with vivid descriptions and complex characters that the reader’s experience is virtually cinematic ... Dangers emerge, but in the hands of this brilliant author, even the ugliest events are depicted with the most musical cadences, soaring arias and symphonic resolutions. Filled with inspired twists and turns, the tale is utterly compelling, creating a world where desperation and love coexist.
The Lonely Hearts Hotel is not surrealist or fantasy, but it does exist on a very edge of realism, unapologetically full of coincidences, near misses, and high drama that might often be considered 'too much' in a literary novel ... O’Neill pushes these coincidences past their novelty to the point that the pair’s eventual reunion feels as if it should be the novel’s end, but in fact the plot gets progressively wilder from there ... The greatest strength of O’Neill’s work is her wholly unique narrative voice, which is at once cool and panoramic, yet shockingly intimate and wisely philosophical. The novel brims with shimmering one-liners about gender, poverty, violence, sex, that stand out all the more jarringly in a novel that usually exerts a light, whimsical touch ... The Lonely Hearts Hotel is overstuffed with plot, and at times seems to go on too long. Such epic storytelling may ultimately be less than wholly compatible with the distanced, often explanatory point of view that holds the reader at arm’s length while paradoxically at times 'telling' too much. Overall, however, The Lonely Hearts Hotel is that rare find: a novel you have never before read anything quite like. O’Neill, a genius at metaphor, and who tackles graphic and delicate topics with rare tenderness and even charm, has created a sweeping story with elements of historical fiction, romance, crime and noir, yet writes in a style that authoritatively claims all terrain in her reach as her own.