Book Review: Strange Hotel by Eimear McBride

Strange Hotel – Eimear McBride (McClelland & Stewart, 2020)

I received an Advance Readers’ Copy of this book. It will be on sale May 5, 2020. All opinions are my own.

This is a strange little book. If you’ve read Eimear McBride before that might not surprise you. (And if you haven’t previously read McBride I probably wouldn’t recommend starting with this one.)

In less than 150 pages we follow an unnamed woman through five hotel rooms. Five different cities. Some hotels that she’s visited before and some she hasn’t. She’s somewhere in middle age though the hotel visits progress through time. There is a sadness in her past, a lost that becomes clearer as we follow her. Not wanting to give too much away it’s hard to say much about what this book is about.

Perhaps it’s more of a character study than anything else. There is almost no plot to speak of, only slightly in the final section do we get a bigger picture of this woman’s life outside of hotel rooms or a hint of present drama. Instead this is a glimpse into the mind and habits of a woman reeling from loss, a woman searching for something that remains opaque to the reader. Something that she herself doesn’t even quite understand.

I’ve read only one book previously by McBride, The Lesser Bohemians, and it was tempting for me to read Strange Hotel as some sort of unorthodox sequel. I’m not sure if that is McBride’s intention or not; the book itself certainly works as a stand-alone although it won’t be for every reader. While the style of writing here isn’t the stream-of-consciousness featured in McBride’s other work, it isn’t entirely straightforward either. Like The Lesser Bohemians, it wasn’t a book that was easy for me to dip in and out of. Here again McBride plays with language, making unexpected connections, and continuously forcing the reader to look closer, look again.

As I found before with reading McBride, she makes the reader work but the pay-off is worthwhile. If you’ve read and enjoyed her other writing then Strange Hotel is for you. If you are new to McBride, I would recommend her but start elsewhere.

21 thoughts on “Book Review: Strange Hotel by Eimear McBride”

  1. I’m a big McBride fan and I’m so looking forward to this! Interesting what you said about her prose – I had also heard that it wasn’t her usual fragmented style, but it makes sense that it’s not entirely straightforward either. Glad you enjoyed it!

    1. I’d be willing to bet you’ll like this book! For previous readers of McBride, the prose will probably seem pretty normal. But if you weren’t used to any sort of experimental or stream-of-consciousness style then it would stand out as unusual.

  2. Great review! I read and very much appreciated A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing last year, so I’m definitely intrigued by this one. It’s particularly interesting to hear that her prose style differs this time around.

    1. Thanks! I think her choice was wise here since this is such a shorter work than her other two novels but it’s also really interesting to compare how she handles each.

  3. Ooh, excellent review! I’m so looking forward to this one after loving A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing. Everything about the premise appeals- the character study, the hotel rooms, the past grief, the unusual prose style… I have such high hopes, and am so glad to see this one paid off for you!

  4. I read a girl is a half-formed thing by her a few years ago after having to introduce her at an event. She was lovely, and quite honestly I can’t remember a thing about her book, other than it was challenging. However, we need books like hers, and this latest sounds like it will appeal to quite a few people actually (espeically because it’s short!).

    1. I’ve read Lesser Bohemians and would describe it as challenging but worthwhile. This one is definitely easier to read. I’d hesitate to recommend it willy-nilly because I think it’s still rather off the beaten track of fiction but it is a really interesting look at a woman aging, which is something that still isn’t portrayed enough!

    2. I’ve never read Butala but that’s good to know about her. The first time the woman’s age is mentioned in Strange Hotel, she’s 35 so I was feeling kind of miffed that the book described her as middle aged but she ages as the book progresses and it makes more sense.

    3. I was rolling my eyes so hard but it does kind of make sense in the larger story. Also, I double-checked and McBride seems to be in her 40s so I’m sure she’s not viewing 35 as decrepit!

    4. Also, I’m always intrigued to hear stories of or meet writers like this in real person. I expect them to be so eccentric and bizarre because of their writing but they’re usually really normal and unassuming.

  5. It’s wild how you quickly can adapt to steam-of-conscious writing, but you’re right — it’s not easy to pick up and put down. I found that when I read Moll Flanders, originally published in the 1720s. The editor kept the original use of punctuation, and all the splices become part of a rhythm instead of problematic. Not necessarily stream-of-conscious, I know, but it leans that direction.

    1. I don’t know if this is normal or not for you, but I just noticed your avatar is blank. Didn’t you used to have a picture of you? Just giving you a heads up in case there is a tech problem 🙂

    2. Perfect, thanks! The previous picture seems to have vanished and the original is on a different computer so this is a temporary to make sure it worked!

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