cover image Hotel


Joanna Walsh. Bloomsbury, $16.95 trade paper (176p) ISBN 978-1-6289-2473-2

Walsh's (Vertigo) tangled, evocative book, the latest in Bloombury's Object Lessons series, juxtaposes her present time writing hotel reviews against her former time in a collapsing marriage. "Home," as representative of her earlier marriage, is described as a cuckoo clock where "one is in when the other is out." In contrast, her current, roving time in hotels defines these places as being without time ("Endings do not arrive in hotels") or consequence ("Everyone goes on and on repeating just what they did before"). Walsh's "hotel" is depicted as an emotional waypoint between the unhappiness of her marriage and a future that's not clear yet. Much of the book is spent breaking down films and literature, including Grand Hotel and the Marx Brothers' Room Service, as well as Katherine Mansfield's In a German Pension and Freud's relationship with his patient Dora. Behind Walsh's penetrating, nearly clinical analysis, the reader senses a nervous, searching need to understand where she's been and where she's ended up. Walsh is less interested in the anecdotal (readers get little more than snatches of hotel and marriage description) and more interested in the representational (etymology of the word "dwell"; what does Grand Hotel's denouement mean, really?). Occasionally she gets ahead of her readers and goes too far into the weeds, but sometimes the writing and feeling behind it perfectly align%E2%80%94a fragment about looking through her husband's pockets is particularly memorable ("Whatever I found there, it never told me anything about you"). Walsh's strange, probing book is all the more affecting for eschewing easy resolution. (Sept.)