Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Book Review: HOTEL ANGELINE: A NOVEL IN 36 VOICES, by various authors

Hotel Angeline: A Novel in 36 Voices, by various authors

Published by Open Road Media, 2011
General fiction


This review courtesy of NetGalley.com.

My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars.

The idea behind Hotel Angeline: A Novel in 36 Voices, brainchild of Garth Stein and Jennie Shortridge of Seattle7Writers, is as fascinating as the book promises to be: a cadre of 36 well-known writers gathering in Seattle in October of 2010 to write a complete novel in six days. Before a live audience. Each writer completing one chapter in two hours.

How cool is that?

As an experiment in literary creation, the book accomplishes three very ambitious goals: first, the rendering of a (mostly) cohesive story and, second, proving that the act of creative writing doesn’t always have to be a solitary process carried out in private. The 60,000-word genre-spanning novel is remarkable for its uniqueness and for its display of (raw) talent. The final goal was to raise funds for literary organizations and, indeed, ten thousand dollars was collected to promote literacy.

The story follows fourteen year old Alexis, who inherits the thankless job of running a residential hotel in Seattle when her mother falls ill. It’s an interesting premise and one ripe with potential. One can imagine the storyline veering unexpectedly into any number of tracts. Unfortunately, it does, sometimes a bit jarringly. I’m not sure if the over-the-top feeling is a result of some unconscious need by the authors to infuse everything they think about the story and its characters into their one chapter (something normally spread out over the course of the entire book, or at least with greater restraint), but it felt a bit excessive at times. It was almost like watching the character(s) reinvent and reintroduce themselves over and over again, with the result feeling somewhat…schizophrenic.

Having said that, in many places the writing absolutely sings, and it’s in these moments that the beauty of the book—and the skill of the individual writers—shine forth. There were other times, however, when the writing tended to flag or felt self-congratulatory. Not surprising, given the number of voices involved. And so it is remarkable that despite these caveats the story is as cohesive as it is.

This is, however, not to say that the story doesn’t work and that it and the characters don’t engage the reader. They do a fairly decent job of it, though certainly not with the seamlessness one is accustomed to with a single-author book. Some transitions were more disruptive than others, especially those where the entire format changed. Knowing the book’s history does prepare one to expect this. In fact, the transitions become a part of the character of the book, propelling the reader onto the next chapter in expectation of finding something new. Special props go to the organizers and the writers for bringing the story to a satisfying conclusion.

I think it behooves the authors to continue talking up the book’s conception and creation, both as a literary experiment and a literary device, especially for readers interested in more than reading-for-pleasure, readers who are more attuned to style and voice and language. Readers who simply want to completely immerse themselves in a good story will probably find Hotel Angeline a bit like a subway ride, with far too many stops and starts.

This review is also posted on the Amazon product page here.

View my GoodReads reviews

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