Tuesday 28 May 2024

Keep passing the open windows

'The Hotel New Hampshire' by John Irving came from a brief visit to the charity shop when I popped in to return a couple of puzzles. I have to say that he is redeemed in my eyes now because I loved the family in this book almost as much as Owen Meany. The Berry children are born in quick succession and they become a close knit group of siblings, their shared history becoming important for their future. The Berry parents meet at a hotel in Maine where they have summer jobs, and the tale of their meeting is part of the family mythology. The story is told by John, the middle child, so mostly they are referred to as Mother and Father and it is the relationships between the children that is central, particularly that between John and Franny. The story follows the family as their father tries to run a hotel, first in New Hampshire, then in Vienna, and finally back in Maine. And I felt on reflection that Lilly had something of Owen about her, in her smallness, which endeared her to me. The supporting cast includes Freud the diminutive animal trainer, Earl the bear, Coach Bob, Sorrow the family dog (who hangs around longer than he should have done), Rhonda Ray, Susie the other bear, the radicals and the Viennese prostitutes. I don't want to recite the story, because it was by turns entertaining, surreal, and heart-breaking, the trials and traumas they endure, so here are a few quotes to create the atmosphere.

From the beginning, the family gathered the hear the 'story':
"'Frank, tell us what sex is,' Franny would say, but Father would rescue us all by saying, in his dreamy voice, 'I can tell you: it wouldn't have happened today. You may think you have more freedom, but you also have more laws. That bear could not have happened today. He would not have been allowed.' And in that moment we would be silenced, all our bickering suddenly over. When Father talked, even Frank and Franny could be sitting together close enough to touch each other and they wouldn't fight; I could even be sitting close enough to Franny to feel her hair against my face or her leg against mine, and if Father was talking I wouldn't thing about Franny at all. Lilly would sit deathly still (as only Lilly could) on Frank's lap. Egg was usually too young to listen, much less understand, but he was a quiet baby. Even Franny could hold him on her lap and he'd be still; whenever I held him on my lap, he fell asleep." (p.15-16)

Here Father decides their future:
"Remember: it was night, and the night inspired my father. He had first seen Freud and his bear at night; he had fished with State'o'Maine at night; nighttime was the only time the man in the white dinner jacket made an appearance; it was after dark when the German and his brass band arrived at the Arbuthnot to spill a little blood; it must have been dark when my father and mother first slept together; and Freud's Europe was in total darkness now. There in Elliot Park, with the patrol car's spotlight on him, my father looked at the four-storey brick school that indeed resembled a county jail - the rust-iron fire escapes crawled over it, like scaffolding on a building trying to become something else. No doubt he took my mother's hand. In the darkness, where the imagination is never impeded, my father felt the name of his future hotel, and our future coming to him.
'Wutcha gonna call it?' asked the old cop.
'The Hotel New Hampshire,' my father said." (p.90-91)

This one is because of 'Weltschmerz', and thinking of how much I enjoyed some good German words during my A to Z (and only Frank ever learns to speak German very well):
"Lilly's Weltschmerz, as Frank would come to call it. 'The rest of us have anguish,' Frank would say. 'The rest of us have grief, the rest of us merely suffer. But Lilly,' Frank would say, 'Lilly has true Weltschmerz. It shouldn't be translated as "world-weariness,"' Frank would lecture us, 'that's much too mild for what Lilly's got. Lilly's Weltschmerz is like "world-hurt,"' Frank would say. 'Literally "world" - that's the Welt part - and "hurt," because that's what the Schmerz part really is: pain, real ache. Lilly's got a case of world-hurt,' Frank concluded, proudly." (p.303-304)

I loved them and loved their love for each other, it renewed my faith in siblings, and despite some of the more outlandish events the whole saga felt real. I needed that book.

1 comment:

  1. It's fun when you find books that speak to you, characters you c an relate to. Sounds like you really enjoyed Hotel New Hampshire.


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