Strange Hotel: A meditation on loneliness, ageing, sex and mortality

Book review: Eimear McBride’s latest novel is a sober affair, set in various cities

 Eimear McBride: Her style inclines towards Samuel Beckett.  Photograph:  David Levenson/Getty Images

Eimear McBride: Her style inclines towards Samuel Beckett. Photograph: David Levenson/Getty Images

Eimear McBride set the bar impossibly high in 2013 with A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing, famously yoking Joycean pyrotechnics to the delight, despair and revulsion of a troubled teenage girl in rural Ireland. Her follow-up, The Lesser Bohemians, attracted a little less attention, perhaps because its jittery music and its subject matter and setting (destructive student-teacher relationship; London) were more familiar. Her latest, Strange Hotel, is an altogether more sober affair, stripped of linguistic exuberance, and for the most part of affect and event. Its rewards are less immediately obvious, although they do become more apparent on a second reading.

The novel opens with a list of cities: London? Paris, St Petersburg, Moscow, Budapest, Bratislava, some of them marked with an ‘x’ whose significance is not immediately apparent. A woman – simmering, impatient – books into a hotel in Avignon, a place in which she has no interest whatsoever, and which reminds her first of Death in Venice and then of death generally: “Displaying its feathers as the always inevitable.” (Death as the thing with feathers?) She has been here before, and recognises a cigarette burn on the skirting board. Everything – registration, key, door opening, checking of wash bag for spilled shampoo – is recorded in detail and in close-up, as if bearing a great deal of narrative weight.

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