For some reason I have been going through my library of books this winter and re-reading some old favorites. I love picking up a book I remember loving years ago and reliving where and when I read it – kind of like visiting an old friend. Perhaps it is like a comfort food, which may explain why winter has brought this on.
Anyway, I just finished reading The Hotel New Hampshire by one of my literary idols, John Irving. This was the first book by Mr. Irving that I read and I have pretty much read everything he produced before and since. I have loved many of his works (The World According to Garp, The Cider House Rules, A Prayer for Owen Meany, et al) but it is The Hotel New Hampshire that is still my favorite. I was in high school back in the 1980’s when I first read this book and remember having a sort of awakening – this was an adult literary book and I found it accessible and amazing. I haven’t been the same since.
About The Hotel New Hampshire: “’The first of my father’s illusions was that bears could survive the life lived by human beings, and the second was that human beings could survive a life led in hotels.’ So says John Berry, son of a hapless dreamer, brother to a cadre of eccentric siblings, and chronicler of the lives lived, the loves experienced, the deaths met, and the myriad strange and wonderful times encountered by the family Berry. Hoteliers, pet-bear owners, friends of Freud (the animal trainer and vaudevillian, that is), and playthings of mad fate, they “dream on” in a funny, sad, outrageous, and moving novel by the remarkable author of A Prayer for Owen Meany and Last Night in Twisted River.”
Mr. Irving, much like Charles Dickens, manages to create an amazing cast of characters described vividly and doing interesting things, with plots seemingly incidental against his creative backdrop. I am not sure if the Dickens comparison have been used before by literary critics or if others think it is apt, but it is how I see Irving’s work, after all he does make reading about orphans entertaining.
Anyway, The Hotel New Hampshire is a great entrée in the work of John Irving. I found the book as enchanting as I did all those years ago. The world he creates and the people living in it are funny, damaged, tragic and everything else that makes us human – and there is a great dog to boot!
It has occurred to me that my love for this book could be partly due to the fact that “New Hampshire” (my home state) features prominently in the title and story. I think back in the day that was something that intrigued me and made me pick it up in the first place. However it was that I found this book I am just so glad I did as a whole new world opened up for me. I developed a lifelong love for the work of the author, and more importantly, rediscovered the joy of reading I thought I had exhausted as a child.
The Hotel New Hampshire is available from Amazon and other booksellers.