literary fiction · review

The Third Hotel, by Laura van den Berg

36348514Grief makes people act strangely, especially when someone has lost someone very close to them. Movies and TV make grief look a certain way: lots of tears, depression, withdrawal from others, and so on. But in Laura van den Berg’s The Third Hotel, Clare follows an inchoate grief into dark places. When we meet her, we know that she is in Havana for a film festival her husband was looking forward to. We also know that he was killed in a car accident five weeks prior. Clare knows this, too, but then she sees her husband in a crowd in Havana.

Clare is not a fan of horror movies. She’s only in Havana, about to watch Revolución zombi, because her husband was a horror movie scholar. While she crisscrossed the United States selling elevators (yes, really), Richard was at home writing articles about Final Girls and Terrible Places. Neither of them are terrible happy. Because of Clare’s travel, however, they don’t get any opportunities to really talk about their problems and misunderstandings. And then Richard is killed and they never get a chance to make things right.

Perhaps this is why Clare goes to Havana and spends her time in something like a fugue state, catching glimpses of Richard, a man who might be following them, and the supposedly missing lead actress of Revolución zombi. We see her wrestle with her memories, her emotions, and a lot of guilt over her avoidance of Richard before his death and her father’s increasing senility.

The Third Hotel is an emotional journey. I don’t know that this book will make readers cry. The book has more of a creepy vibe most of the time, as Clare seeks out her husband to find out of he’s a ghost or if there’s been a terrible mistake. I can say that this is a wrenching read and a very honest one. Laura van den Berg has done a virtuoso job of drawing a woman’s emotional riot after the loss of her husband, the deterioration of her father’s mental state, and her realization of how unnatural her life as a traveling elevator salesperson was. I would strongly recommend this book for readers seeking honest emotion.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration. It will be released 7 August 2018.

Notes for bibliotherapeutic use: Recommended for readers who worry that they’re not grieving correctly or for readers who have someone bereaved in their life who is acting “strangely.”


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