A dreamlike, noir-ish novel about widowed elevator sales rep who travels to Havana for a film festival after her horror-film scholar husband, Richard, is killed in a hit-and-run near their home in Upstate New York. When she arrives in the city, she spots a man who looks exactly like Richard, becomes convinced her husband has somehow been resurrected, and begins searching for him.
The most transforming kind of fiction is capable of causing a dislocation of reality: a bit of the bizarre, a lot kept beneath the surface and worlds can open within worlds. There’s Borges and Bolaño, Kafka and Cortázar, Modiano and Murakami, and now Laura van den Berg ... The fantastic plot is elevated by van den Berg’s fantastic writing and unique twists of language ... so much subtextual lava is coursing under the surface of every page of The Third Hotel the book feels like it’s going to erupt in your hands.
If Clare is obsessed with negation and absence, The Third Hotel is eager to abet her: The book enthusiastically (and, I presume, deliberately) derails itself again and again. Scenes begin with clear goals in mind, then are sidetracked; questions, pointedly asked, go unanswered ... What we get instead of narrative momentum is a richness of theme and an abundance of detail. Van den Berg’s previous work, her short stories in particular, are prized for their thoughtfulness and descriptive intensity, and this book seems to me a refinement and intensification of those skills ... The Third Hotel is at its best when it makes no claim to psychological realism. It is in its weirdest passages that a reader is most likely to accept, even embrace, these instances of arch self-consciousness; at these times the book is thrilling ... Don’t take the bait when The Third Hotel starts voguing like a thriller. Instead, read it as the inscrutable future cult classic it probably is, and let yourself be carried along by its twisting, unsettling currents.
Strange, unsettling, and profound from start to finish, The Third Hotel is a book teeming with the kind of chaos that can only emanate from the mind. It could be fairly described as a meditation on grief, or marriage, or travel; fresh insights on each materialize regularly, at enviable levels of nuance ... Laura van den Berg channels genre masters like Hitchcock and such evocative literary works as, particularly, Juan Rulfo’s Pedro Páramo. She gets under your skin and hits bone. Hers is a terror tale as mercurial as life, veering between the grisly and the gentle ... An award-winning writer of short fiction, van den Berg is a storyteller of astonishing detail. Her descriptions — whether concise or elongated — simply demand attention ... Van den Berg can be heavy-handed with the parallels she draws, the big ideas she’s confronting, but it’s all in service of this masterpiece of life and afterlife.