Books, Review

Book Review: The Lonely Hearts Hotel – Heather O’Neill ***

book review the lonely hearts hotel heather o'neill

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.

Trigger warnings for abuse and rape.

If you’re thinking about picking up this book, hoping to be swept away into a magical world of circus acts, you are going to be disappointed. This is a very dark story about two young people who grew up in dire circumstances. They fall in love but are separated before they can act on their feelings. In the years that follow, they both make terrible decisions that nearly destroy them. Through it all, they keep thinking about the other, missing them, hoping to one day be reunited.

On Goodreads, someone asked whether this is YA or adult fiction. It’s definitely adult! There are several explicit sex scenes, recurring acts of rape and a lot of abuse. This is not the love story the cover makes it out to be, it’s a dark fairytale about what it’s like to have loved and lost.

While I was reading this book, I did enjoy the story. It’s very well written and the language managed to let the sadness and yearning jump off the page. It made my heart ache. As this story develops, with The Great Depression distinctly present on every page, there’s hunger and death all around our characters. You just want them to be alright.

But what I appreciated most of all was how immensely flawed our main characters were. Pierrot and Rose are both addicts in their own way. They both make choices that have a huge impact on those around them. They don’t get the easy way out. They have to fight to survive.

A lot of people absolutely love this book. Unfortunately, I wasn’t completely convinced. Maybe I wanted too much? Who knows.. It was a great read, while I was reading it. But I have to admit that I had to look up a lot of the details while I was writing this review. It’s not one that will stay with me. BUT a really good book nonetheless.

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