Longlisted for the Baileys Women’s Prize For Fiction 2017 Longlist The Lonely Hearts Hotel by Heather O’Neill is a different kind of love story. One full of passion, seduction, abuse, drugs, prostitution and…clowns.
O’Neill’s protagonists – Pierrot and Rose – were both born in miraculous circumstances with one abandoned in the snow and the other still-born. This sets the tone of the novel right off the bat.
Both end up in an orphanage where the children ‘had never been taught words of affection‘ most likely due to the fact that the Mother Superior ‘was of the opinion happiness always led to tragedy‘. Pierrot is sexually exploited and abused by one of the sisters and Rose is beaten mercilessly due to her being a bit different from the other girls. Despite the lack of love and affection shown to the pair Pierrot and Rose form an unbreakable bond through entertaining social circles through a dance and piano routine where the patrons found that the pair ‘were so in sync that it was hard for anyone in the audience to discern whether Pierrot was playing along to her dancing or whether she was dancing to his music’.
This bond is ends up forming into love between the two. As one would expect, the pair are split up and when their lives finally do coincide after a much awaited reunion they see their lives were more entwined then they first considered. The reader is then taken through acts of passion, jealously, revenge, heroin addictions and a spectacular circus show.
I won’t ruin the story by setting out what happens but I will discuss the comparisons this wonderful story has had to The Night Circus. Whilst both have a theme of the spectacular about them – circuses and the like – The Lonely Hearts Hotel is an altogether different novel. Almost like an adult version of The Night Circus which deserves to stand alone from comparison.
I found the narrative around the protagonists survival through their time at the orphanage a difficult read on the basis that there was all manner of abuse captured in such a few chapters. As the novel later progresses I noted how neither ever ends up actually living in a house as they continue to reside in hotels – almost a half-life existence. First the hotels have positive names such as ‘Sweetheart‘ or ‘Honeymoon‘ reflective of the part of the story at the time of residence but later turning into more hopeless names such as the name of the book: ”Lonely Hearts Hotel’. I enjoyed this added nuance to the narrative as it added to the transience of each of Pierrot and Rose’s stability in love and life.
Overall, a sublime novel with some incredibly evocative passionate scenes O’Neill’s prose is poetic and easy for the reader to delve into. I devoured this book within a weekend – I urge you to do the same.
Recommended for: If you liked the sound of this you will like The Golem and the Djinni by Helene Wecker
Favourite quote: ‘Being a woman was a trap. Something would bring you down before you turned twentythree. The only time the world shows you any favour, or cuts you any slack, is during that very brief period of courtship where the world is trying to fuck you for the first time.’
Thanks to NetGalley and Quercus Books for the EARC in exchange for an honest review.