12 November 2015

Conversations with Ghosts: Joanna Walsh's Hotel

Posted by Rachael Beale

As the offspring of a geologist working in oil exploration, hotels played a significant part in my childhood. Every two or three years, it would be time for a new country, and a new home, and inevitably a period – sometimes days, sometimes weeks – of hotel living while we sorted out a more permanent residence. I eked out peppermint creams hoarded up from dinners in Wellington's Town House hotel for months after we left it, flavouring the disorientating early days post-move with memories of bacon for breakfast every morning and clean sheets every night.

Joanna Walsh's Hotel, the latest entry in Bloomsbury Academic's 'Object Lessons' series, doesn't have much to say on the subject of peppermint creams specifically. But chocolates, from the slightly sweaty ones left discreetly on a pillow to the expensive ones offered for sale in 'boutique' ("I’d been under the impression that ‘boutique’ referred to the size of the place and its independent style, not to the fact it sold things") hotels, play their own part in her book, part-memoir of the collapse of her marriage and part-meditation on the strange liminality of hotel life.

Here's Walsh, excerpted in Granta, being taken on a tour of that 'boutique' hotel:

‘We didn’t want to be like the big hotels,’ the French-accented hotel manager tells me. ‘We have only seven suites. In this space, we could have had fifteen. Big hotels are sometimes a bit . . . impersonal. We wanted to do something more personal. We want the ghosts (she modulates the vowel in ‘guests’) to feel at home . . . not like in a ghosthouse. But the hotel is also not somebody’s home. We want ghosts to be left alone – or to have conversations with other ghosts if they want to.’

Melissa Harrison in the Financial Times called it "densely patterned, deeply personal...[Walsh] uses the idea of the hotel as a jumping-off point for something unique... a boldly intellectual work that repays careful reading", while The Rumpus was delighted by "aphorisms you want to copy onto a postcard and send to your unhappiest smart friend" (postcards, incidentally, have a key structural role in the latter half of the book). We're pairing it with another "startlingly original" (Financial Times) work, Claire-Louise Bennett's story collection Pond.

Joanna Walsh and Claire-Louise Bennett discuss Hotel and Pond at the Bookshop on Tuesday 17 November, chaired by Katherine Angel. Book tickets here.