With echoes of The Night Circus, a spellbinding story about two gifted orphans in love with each other since they can remember whose childhood talents allow them to rewrite their future.
The Lonely Hearts Hotel is a love story with the power of legend. An unparalleled tale of charismatic pianos, invisible dance partners, radicalized chorus girls, drug-addicted musicians, brooding clowns, and an underworld whose economy hinges on the price of a kiss. In a landscape like this, it takes great creative gifts to thwart one’s origins. It might also take true love.
Two babies are abandoned in a Montreal orphanage in the winter of 1910. Before long, their talents emerge: Pierrot is a piano prodigy; Rose lights up even the dreariest room with her dancing and comedy. As they travel around the city performing clown routines, the children fall in love with each other and dream up a plan for the most extraordinary and seductive circus show the world has ever seen.
Separated as teenagers, sent off to work as servants during the Great Depression, both descend into the city’s underworld, dabbling in sex, drugs and theft in order to survive. But when Rose and Pierrot finally reunite beneath the snowflakes after years of searching and desperate poverty the possibilities of their childhood dreams are renewed, and they’ll go to extreme lengths to make them come true. Soon, Rose, Pierrot and their troupe of clowns and chorus girls have hit New York, commanding the stage as well as the alleys, and neither the theater nor the underworld will ever look the same.
With her musical language and extravagantly realized world, Heather O’Neill enchants us with a novel so magical there is no escaping its spell.
I’ve read over a thousand books. None of them were like this one.
And that, perhaps, is the biggest compliment that I can give a book at this point.
Set in Montreal during the depression, this book is…hard to describe. It’s not one of those that I would rush out and recommend to everyone, because it’s not really an easy read. First off, it opens with the incestuous rape of a minor. It’s mentioned almost offhand, in just a sentence or two, which could be offensive to most, but in this book it actually fits with the story telling and the mentality of the characters of that time.
This rape results in an unwanted pregnancy. The child that comes of it is delivered to the nuns that run an orphanage in the city. This is where we meet our two MCs, Rose, and Pierrot. Their lives are miserable. Think Angela’s Ashes level misery. They are underfed both physically, and mentally. The nuns are cruel, prone to viciously punishing the children for even the slightest perceived offense. And that’s not the worst of what they do.
Rose and Pierrot are something of star-crossed lovers. Somehow, amidst all this pain and misery, they form a bond. They find laughter and music together. And then everything goes to hell. What follows is one hell of a love story. I would try and describe it to you, but honestly, in this case, part of the book blurb says it all:
“The Lonely Hearts Hotel is a love story with the power of legend. An unparalleled tale of charismatic pianos, invisible dance partners, radicalized chorus girls, drug-addicted musicians, brooding clowns, and an underworld whose economy hinges on the price of a kiss. In a landscape like this, it takes great creative gifts to thwart one’s origins. It might also take true love.”
So, if you’re looking for a beautifully told story filled with the full range of human emotion, set in a time period that roared and raged, give this one a chance.