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CBR4 #46: The Hotel New Hampshire by John Irving

There are some books that I read and by the time I'm finished with the final page, the tale is already slipping out of my head. I intellectually know I read it, and if prompted I could probably give a reasonable summary of the action, but that's about as far as it goes. Then there are other books that stick with me. Books that I find myself thinking about days, weeks, months, or even years later. Books whose characters become like old friends, about whom I find myself thinking at the oddest times.

The Hotel New Hampshire falls into the latter category.

It's the story of the Berry family, a group of odd ducks led by patriarch Win. Win is a dreamer, who leads his family on an epic journey from rural New Hampshire, to Vienna, to New York City, and back again. The family consists of Win, his wife, his father Iowa Bob (football coach and weight-lifting enthusiast), eldest son Frank (lover of uniforms), spitfire Franny, narrator John (who is in love with his sister), gentle soul Lily, oddball Egg, and flatulent dog Sorrow. They have experiences both comic and tragic, meet a cast of bizarre, fantastical characters, and grow together as a family.

This is the kind of story that makes me wish it were a million pages long so I could know everything that ever happened to the Berrys. Even after I finished it, I found myself thinking of them, imagining the things that occurred outside the edges of the novel. The writing was wonderful, and I loved Irving's turn of phrase. John's narrative voice is distinct and likable, even if some of the things he does are disturbing at best.

I managed to find a copy of the 1984 film starring Rob Lowe as John and Jodie Foster as Franny. While it was fairly faithful to the source material, the tone seemed wrong, somehow. It seemed like the director couldn't decide if it was a broad comedy or a drama or a fairy tale or a mix of genres. I think it would be a great project for Wes Anderson to take on, actually. The Berrys are like a New England version of the Tenenbaums, and Anderson is a master of mixing tones and genres. While it's maybe a little different than his usual work, I think he could really pull it off. Besides, it'd be nice for him to stretch himself a bit--his latest, Moonrise Kingdom, was disappointing to me in that it felt extremely repetitive and altogether too reminiscent of his earlier works.

On the whole, I'd highly recommend this, though I suspect it may not appeal to everyone--it requires a certain whimsical world view, and an acceptance of some of the wilder aspects of the story.

Comments

Mike said…
I read this one over a spring break back in undergrad and I couldn't agree more with your assessment--much of the novel still sticks with me today. I also agree about the film, which I saw much more recently. Far too silly (particularly the sex scene) to do the story justice.

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