The Lonely Hearts Hotel by Heather O’Neill

I was drawn to this book for two reasons – the fact that it was on the Bailey’s Prize long list and its striking cover. I know that you should never judge a book etc – BUT something has to make you pick it up, and for me a good cover goes a long way. As it turns out, this cover was also a wonderful representation of the story.

Having no idea what this book was about when I started it, I was happily surprised by what unfolded. Set in the beginning of the 20th Century in Montreal, we are introduced to Pierrot and Rose, who meet at the orphanage they grow up in. They fall in love at young age but are torn apart when they leave the orphanage.

Although not together, there is a wonderful symmetry in their lives – from financial circumstances to the point that they decide to find each other again and their unwavering passion for making their childhood dream come true – putting on a fantastical stage show with performers, clowns and dancers: The Snowflake Icicle Extravaganza.

They are both natural performers – Pierrot is a talented pianist and Rose can dance and capture an audience like no other. Making a career from being professional clowns or performers is what they want to do. It quickly becomes clear that Rose is the leader of the two, with the ideas and ambition. Pierrot is a dreamer with an addictive personality. However, as is often the case, these opposites attract.

The above may sound whimsical and charming – and it is – but there is a dark, pulsing tone running through this book and it’s one of the more sexually explicit novels I’ve read in recent times. The pace was perfectly pitched, and although it takes a while for our protagonists to finally link lives again, it is worth the wait. I really enjoyed the character progression of Rose and – in contrast – the relative static of Pierrot. In their own ways they are both highly likeable characters that I really found myself rooting for.

There are enough little twists and turns to keep this interesting – from Rose’s surprising career to the ending that contained three different elements I was not expecting, but still came to a satisfying conclusion.

Reading this book felt like a refreshing change from other’s I’ve picked up recently, and one that I’ll remember for a while to come.

Rating: 4/5

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