Summer reading special: take the Booker Prize… to the seaside
From solitary escapes to idyllic resorts, join us on a trip through literature’s most compelling coastal tales with these Booker Prize-nominated novels
From hotels with unusual proprietors to the settings for passionate affairs, join us as we check in to some of literature’s most memorable establishments
‘When I dream of afterlife in heaven, the action always takes place in the Paris Ritz,’ Hemingway once wrote, to his friend A. E. Hotchner.
The relationship between writers and hotels runs deep. Many have penned their works in these confines: New York’s Hotel Chelsea housed an array of creatives, including Allen Ginsberg and Dylan Thomas, whereas F. Scott Fitzgerald had a love affair with the uptown Plaza - so much so, that he included it in the final scenes of The Great Gatsby.
Away from such decadence, hotels in literature often exist as a hinterland, a place where the outside world ceases to exist and time stands still - a perfect setting for the weird and the wonderful to happen.
With that in mind, we’ve chosen a list of Booker-nominated novels that are the perfect accompaniment to any hotel visit, from tales of forbidden love to unconventional ghost stories. So pack that overnight bag, it’s time to check in.
‘A dignified building, a house of repute, a traditional establishment, used to welcoming the prudent, the well-to-do, the retired, the self-effacing, the respected patrons of an earlier era.’
It’s here that Edith Hope, a novelist with a head full of dreams and a heart full of hope, has been banished by friends while on a ‘curious interlude in her life’, refusing to sacrifice her ideals to 1950s constraints. But instead of a quiet, restorative retreat, Edith descends into a chaotic world of wild characters, all existing in an end-of-season limbo in the hotel. From the rich to the beautiful, the ageing to the obnoxious; most are casualties of love. Here, Edith begins her recovery, with her romantic desires renewed by the charming Mr Neville.
Brookner’s wit shines throughout Hotel Du Luc, which is ultimately a muse on womanhood and an observation of life. Her evocative character descriptions make you feel part of day-to-day life at the hotel, as do the small details, from the mundanity of the menu to the background clatter of cutlery.
A prolific writer as well as an art historian, Brookner penned a huge 24 books over 28 years. And when she learned of her nomination, she declared, with her trademark wry humour, ‘I think I shall go out and get a pair of shoes resoled. That will help me keep my feet on the ground.’
In Elizabeth Taylor’s 1971 Booker-shortlisted novel, staying at the Claremont Hotel is far more than a jolly vacation for the eponymous Mrs Palfrey. With a plan to stave off the loneliness, boredom and the looming threat of the Grim Reaper, she moves into the hotel to live out her final days.
The menagerie of elderly residents at her new central London home are wildly eccentric and, despite the bedpans and zimmers, it’s a world of gossip, scandal and constant curiosity. Visitors are social currency and when Palfrey strikes up a friendship with young writer Ludo she becomes the envy of her fellow guests.
Taylor’s peek into a now-bygone era is at times sombre and dark, but always laced with a poignancy and humour that elevates her portrayal of old age far beyond misery. Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont was her last published novel before her death in 1975, and Taylor is increasingly recognised as one of the best British writers of the 20th century.
There’s no place quite like a stately hotel for the scene of a chambermaid’s gruesome death in a dumb waiter. No, this isn’t Cluedo, it’s Ali Smith’s Hotel World, the first of the author’s four Booker-nominated novels.
While it may sound chilling, Hotel World is not a traditional ghost story. The plush Hotel Grand is a conduit to tell the overlapping stories of five women whose lives intersect: ‘Five people: four are living, three are strangers, two are sisters, one is dead.’
Smith does what she does best and, through clever chapter sectioning, each character’s voice is unique and distinct. She adopts more experimental techniques, such as stream-of-consciousness narration, to really allow us to get under their skin.
‘… I don’t know why it made me frightened that the earth was full of dead people even the earth round the flowers outside in the garden though I didn’t say anything I was in bed you were in the other bed you said what’s wrong are you scared you knew I was without me having to say anything’.
While inventive, the novel remains accessible and invites the reader to reflect on the complexities of both life and death. It’s the perfect read to sink into when you’re tucked up in that crisp hotel bed… just make sure you avoid the dumb waiter during your stay.
Our next check-in is less ‘mint-on-your-pillow’ more ‘what’s-that-questionable-stain-on-the-bedsheet’. J.G Farrell’s literary answer to Fawlty Towers takes us to the faded glamour of the ironically named Majestic Hotel. A confused Major Brendan Archer, recovering from shellshock after the First World War, has travelled there to find the woman who wrote him cryptic letters, signing them off as his fiancée.
Set during the Irish Wars of Independence, the hotel is a character in its own right, a decaying giant with hundreds of rooms and overrun by chaos: herds of wild cats have curiously taken over whole floors, while piglets stampede the grounds. The hotel’s plants have started to cannibalise the building’s foundations. And all the while the inhabitants sip tea, play cards and pass the summer away. The hotel is, of course, a metaphor for the crumbling rule of the British Empire, with a satirical nod to the violence of the Troubles, which swells outside its front doors.
It was well-received on publication, though it wasn’t until 40 years later that Troubles went on to receive its Booker accolade, winning the 2010 Lost Man Booker, a special prize awarded to honour the books that missed out in 1970 due to an eligibility change that year.
William Trevor’s tale of a once plush establishment that has fallen into disrepute is a joy to read, and a reminder that most of the hotels the literary world holds closest to its heart would also be Tripadvisor’s worst one-star nightmares.
A professional photographer travels to Dublin to visit O’Neill’s Hotel after hearing about its fall from grace, convinced she will uncover a beautiful tragedy beneath its seedy facade. There, she meets its unusual proprietor, a ninety-odd-year-old deaf-mute who silently communicates with her guests through a series of notebooks. Her residents are an unlikely band of misfits and rogues whose inner workings are laid bare through this note-passing; we learn their hopes, dreams, fears and disappointments. It packs a punch.
Trevor’s 1970 Booker Prize-shortlisted novel is beautifully written and ultimately a morality tale. Though at times bleak, it has a staunchly funny core. The author was nominated a whopping five times for the Booker, and in 2002 he was knighted for his services to literature.
What better place than the City of Love to delve into one of the Booker library’s steamier hotel encounters?
In The Doctor’s Wife, a chance meeting leads to an emotional, and sexual, awakening as a woman ground down by a loveless marriage embarks on an impulsive affair with a younger man, on what was intended to be a romantic return trip to Paris with her husband.
‘How did I get so bogged down in ordinariness that even this once I couldn’t do the spontaneous thing, the thing I really wanted to do. The future is forbidden to no one. Unless we forbid it ourselves.’
The novel’s Parisian backdrop is conjured through Moore’s detailing, from the shuttered hotel rooms to the wicker-chaired continental cafes. You can almost hear the clatter of coffee cups and sense the cigarette smoke spilling out onto the cobbled streets.
The author was commended by People magazine, which declared that The Doctor’s Wife was written from ‘inside the consciousness of a woman’. At its heart a love story, this is also a feminist tale of escape by one of Ireland’s finest writers.