Friday, February 26, 2016

Revisiting THE HOTEL NEW HAMPSHIRE by John Irving

More than thirty years after my first disappointed (and abortive) reading of The Hotel New Hampshire, I decided to give John Irving's widely disparaged fifth novel another chance. Perhaps, I reasonably reasoned, my teenage brain missed something brilliant in The Hotel; perhaps the general consensus on this novel was as direly incorrect as general consensuses usually are. Accordingly, I approached the novel with a mind wide open and mental fists readied to defend the book against persistent memories of its negative rep. Part of me wanted to prove that bum rep a bum rap. Part of me just wanted to be surprised by a novel that was better than expected. Sadly, both parts were quickly disappointed. I found the general consensus wholly confirmed in Irving's very first chapter. If The Hotel New Hampshire were a musical composition, it would've been titled 'The Garp Variations.' It reads more like a series of variations on themes from The World According to Garp (a book I liked very much and still value) than an independent imaginative creation. A strained attempt to make lightning strike twice, it's as similar to Garp as one lightning rod to another. So it was surely just what Irving's publisher ordered, and that's another part of the problem: the novel seems yet another example of that very 1980s phenomenon, an unnecessary sequel to a blockbuster. To this reader--as to my teenage self all those years ago--it reads like a rerun. (It does, however, seem to have decisively influenced that most Irvingesque of filmmakers, Wes Anderson, whose Grand Budapest Hotel, while explicitly citing the work of Joseph Roth, probably also owes something to this novel.)

No comments: