Anne Rivers Siddons, Heartbreak Hotel (1976)

A defiant Southern Belle in 1956, who goes against her parents’ and social circle’s expectations to push for integration right as the first African-American students try to enrol into an all-white Alabama college… This program looked great to me, but…

But I’m not an American. I’ve never studied in an American college. And in the US I’ve never been south of… New York, which doesn’t account to much, right?

I can stretch my imagination and do a little research, but much of Anne Rivers Siddons’ novel is over my head, both as a European and as a woman of my generation. A whole range of vocabulary in the novel escapes me, either because it’s about US colleges, or about Southern states, or about the 1950s. When the novel starts, the heroine arrives as a senior student in her deserted college campus preparing for fall registration, and we readers are meant to be filled in with the background information by playful dialogues with her classmates, but I didn’t get much of it.

It took me a while to understand that references to Greek stuff meant fraternities and sororities. My knowledge of them is quite vague, and except that there are a lot of cute young girls and guys, universal TV culture is apparently not enough to inform me in details on the subject. Once I got the trick about Greeks, I got confused between “Delta” as a sorority name, and the Mississippi Delta. It sounds funny but because of difficulties like this I couldn’t bother with the story, a rather standard coming-of-age period piece.

It’s certainly good (many people wrote raving reviews, but readers mostly seem to have a link with the Deep South – or at least have visited the place that inspired the book), but I’m not the right audience. Too bad!

2 thoughts on “Anne Rivers Siddons, Heartbreak Hotel (1976)

  1. Before I read you review it had not occurred to me how unfamiliar some U.S. college practices would be to an outsider. I was in college in the 1950s. Some schools (not all) permit private student clubs called fraternities or sororities. Each is identified by a Greek letter combination with Sigma Chi or Delta Phi Epsilon. Consequently the members are called “Greeks”. See if you can find the old sentimental college song “The Sweetheart of Sigma Chi.”

  2. Dear Silverseason – yes, it was highly distracting and I always worried I’d miss something important in the plot.
    There was pins, and obviously they seemed important to the characters, there was a lot of talk about who would be the house mother, the homecoming queen, of what to do for rushing, pledging, or whatever… it was all too much for me.
    I understand that elitist schools (or groups within) have their own lingos (in France too), but it should be presented in a way that all readers would understand!

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