On the cover, Hotel Paradise is called “utterly engaging”: I’d say that is true and not true at the same time. The novel is definitely a slow burner, and for the first few chapters I was not engaged. In fact, I was confused. I could not understand where and when the story was set. The narrator is Emma Graham, a 12-year-old girl who lives in a faded family hotel set in a small town. Details of the villagers’ lives and past are all seen through her eyes, and it took some getting used to. Emma is both very naive and very wise, and all along the book there are some bitter truths that she will learn. The novel is categorized as a mystery, and it couldn’t be further from the truth. Yes, some people died, and Emma has decided to get to the bottom of it, but except for her, people don’t really care nor do they treat these deaths as suspicious. Nor is the ending a tidy resolution that provides all the answers.
But by page 50 I was definitely engaged. I liked the quirky perspective of Emma. I perversely enjoyed all the little details of small town villages and the gossips. But what kept me most is the language, it was witty, visual and sensitive.
Mrs Souder is a silent and unfriendly old woman, but I think she is rather proud of her ice cream artistry. She looks as if she enjoys holding the chocolate-sauce ladle high over the glass so that the sauce forms swirls and dribbles ribbons; she enjoys making those high white peaks with the whipped cream and then displacing the peak by the drop of a cherry. As she comes to the end of her maneuvers, her grumpy silence gives way to the hint of a painstaking smile, the barest raising of the corners of the mouth. In her tea-colored eyes is an expression almost of delight, quickly extinguished if she sees me watching her.
Personally, it made me quite curious about ice-cream soda and what it actually tastes like (it’s one of these cliché American things that I’ve never had). Another quote:
My mother made no bones about the beans coming out of a can, which surprised everybody for they tasted homemade. “Doctored” was what my mother came these vastly improved canned vegetables. As far as I was concerned, my mother should have run a vegetable hospital, the way she took hold of limp, pale, unhealthy-looking green beans and peas and cabbage and with her seasoning and a little wrist action had them walking through the swinging doors looking like they’d spent all their days in the sun and never even seen the inside of a can.
I’m not sure I will read the sequel soon, because you need to be in the right mood and unhurried (I read the book during winter break, that may help). I was definitely under the spell of Emma, and I enjoyed this slow travel into the depths of small town America. I’m very grateful to Danielle for making me discover this author.