Today I’m pleased to welcome Emylia Hall to the blog. Emylia is the author of The Book of Summers, A Heart Bent Out of Shape and The Sea Between Us. Her latest novel, The Thousand Lights Hotel was published by Headline Review on 13 July 2017.
Today Emylia discusses her favourite hotels in fiction.
My favourite hotels in fiction
In novels, as in life, hotels make for intriguing settings. There’s the forced intimacy of shared spaces, and inevitable interaction at mealtimes. There’s the liberation that people feel in being away from home, the possibility for reinvention once somewhere new, when the baggage of everyday life is left behind. There’s the dynamics between staff and guests, encompassing warmth, charm, servility, condescension. For a reader, and for a writer, hotels also offer a tangible, bricks and mortar setting in which to take up residence: open the pages, and check in. Here are some of my favourite hotels in fiction – I doubt that my own Hotel Mille Luci would have existed without them.
Les Oeillets (The Greengage Summer – Rumer Godden)
Les Oeillets sits in a ‘green and gold’ landscape of vineyards, cherry trees and abundant greengage orchards. The hotel is a seductive setting; inside it’s a place of marble floors, chandeliers and winding staircases, while outside, beyond the tended formal gardens, is a wilderness running to the river bank, a playground for the temporarily parentless children of the Grey family. To me, Les Oeillets feels like everything a rural French hotel should be. To the Greys, as narrator Cecil says, it becomes indelible, ‘If I stop what I am doing for a moment, or in any time when I am quiet, in those cracks in the night that have been with me ever since when I cannot sleep and thoughts seep in, I am back; I can smell the Les Oeillets smells of hot dust and cool plaster walls, of jessamine and box leaves in the sun, of dew in the long grass…’ The characters are as vivid as the hotel itself; Joss, sixteen and immaculately beautiful, on the cusp of womanhood; the silver-tongued, relentlessly smooth, ultimately errant, Eliot; the glamorous, eccentric hotelier, Madame Zizi; and the winsome Cecil, surely the spiritual sister of Cassandra Mortmain. I can’t imagine a more charming country retreat than Les Oeillets.
Hotel Côte d’Azur (Rebecca – Daphne du Maurier)
Hotel Côte d’Azur is a grand old dame of a place: rich, snooty, with an army of suitably condescending staff. Our nameless narrator’s employer, Mrs Van Hopper, is tastelessly drawn there by the celeb spotting opportunities, ‘for many years now she had come to the Hotel Côte d’Azur, and, apart from bridge, her one pastime which was notorious by now in Monte Carlo, was to claim visitors of distinction as her friends had she but seen them once at the other end of the post-office.’ For our heroine, the Côte d’Azur is something of a trap; a place where she must endure further knocks to her already acutely-felt inferiority. It’s only when she meets Maxim de Winter and enjoys his favour that her confidence rises, and she can take some genuine pleasure in her environment. Their relationship draws whisperings among the gossipy guests, and gives her a new-found status with the fickle staff. For all its snobbery and unwritten rules, the Côte d’Azur is an uncomplicated paradise compared to what awaits her at Manderley.
Hotel du Lac (Hotel du Lac – Anita Brookner)
Romantic novelist Edith Hope, on a self-styled sabbatical from the disarray of her love-life and the disapproval of her friends, has taken refuge at the Hotel du Lac. There’s a pervading air of melancholy about Edith, her choice of lodgings, and the out-of-season location on the shores of Lake Geneva. Her ambitions for her stay are modest – to keep her head down, and write – and the surroundings in which she finds herself, however stuffy and uninspiring, seem at first to be conducive: ‘turning her back on the toneless expanse beyond the window, she contemplated the room, which was the colour of over-cooked veal.’ The assorted other guests prove, to the reader’s delight, to be inescapable, from interfering Mrs Pusey and her daughter, to the eventually amorous Mr Neville; while Edith fails to write, she finds herself falling into their company. Would I want to stay at Hotel du Lac? No. Did I love reading about it? Yes.
Pension Bertolini (A Room With a View – E.M. Forster)
The novel begins with cries of disappointment and mild outrage over the Pension Bertolini. Lucy Honeychurch, the green girl, and her dowdy chaperone cousin, Miss Bartlett, feel the view is inferior, and the Englishness of the proprietor undesirable. They continue to be dismayed by the fellow guests, the décor, and the quality of the food. Altogether the Bertolini presents as a microcosm of English society; not what Lucy wanted from their Italian adventure. Whether at the dinner table, in the drawing room, or bumping into one another across the city, the Bertolini and its guests are prime material for comedy and poignancy. When Lucy retires to her room, alone at last, she exults in the view that she has after all been gifted. We feel something of her hope, and dare to believe that more might come of this trip after all, ‘…when she reached her own room she opened the window and breathed the clean night air, thinking of the kind old man who had enabled her to see the lights dancing in the Arno, and the cypresses of San Miniato, and the foothills of the Apennines, black against the rising moon.’
Hotel Adequate View (Beautiful Ruins – Jess Walter)
In a story that moves between present day Hollywood and Italy in the ‘60s, the Hotel Adequate View, and its lovable proprietor Pasquale Tursi, are the starting point, and beating heart. When we first meet Pasquale, at his hotel on the shores of the Ligurian Sea, he is a man ‘chest-deep in daydreams’, hopeful that tourism will come to flourish in his rocky, backwater village, and that he’ll be at the vanguard when it does. Rising above the vitriol of his witchy Aunt Valeria, and the crudity of the local fishermen, the eternally good-natured and always endearing Pasquale stays true to his ambitions. He works hard, looks after people, and takes pleasure in the company of loyal returning guest Alvis Bender, a ‘failed writer but successful drunk’. And then one day Dee Moray arrives at his door; a glamorous but sickly American actress who, against all odds, takes up residence at his humble abode. This novel has a special place in my heart, and I’d stay at Pasquale’s place tomorrow if I could.
About the book
When Kit loses her mother in tragic circumstances, she feels drawn to finally connect with the father she has never met. That search brings her to the Thousand Lights Hotel, the perfect holiday escape perched upon a cliff on the island of Elba. Within this idyllic setting a devastating truth is brought to light: shaking the foundations upon which the hotel is built, and shattering the lives of the people within it.
A heartbreaking story of loss, betrayal, and redemption, told with all the warmth and beauty of an Italian summer.
About the author
Emylia Hall was born in 1978 and grew up in the Devon countryside. She is the author of The Book of Summers, which was a Richard & Judy Summer Book Club pick in 2012, A Heart Bent Out of Shape, The Sea Between Us and The Thousand Lights Hotel. She lives in Bristol with her husband, the writer Robin Etherington, and their young son.