To commemorate the launch of João Gilberto Noll’s Atlantic Hotel (tr. Adam Morris) this week, we assembled a list of various international books that take place in hotels. Atlantic Hotel begins with an unnamed narrator checking into a hotel where a murder has just taken place, claiming he’s just arrived from the airport, and the story unfolds from there….
In researching for this post it was hard to ignore the patterns that unite fictional works set in hotels: anonymity, mystery, unsolved murders, clandestine romances, hauntings, and protagonists either lost or in a state of constant wandering. You’ll certainly find some of these features in the pages of Atlantic Hotel, of course with the bizarre twist we’ve come to expect from Noll.
Honeymoon by Patrick Modiano, translated from French by Barbara Wright
Several Modiano novels take place in the mysterious, shabby hotels littering Paris. This one is about a traveling filmmaker, Jean B., who is passing through Milan when he learns that a woman he once knew has killed herself. Jean B. leaves his family and holes up in a Paris hotel, trying to uncover what happened to the woman since he last saw her.
Hotel Iris by Yoko Ogawa, translated from Japanese by Stephen Snyder
The protagonist of this novel is a seventeen-year-old girl who works at a seaside hotel situated along the coast of Japan. It is there that she becomes enchanted by the voice of a middle-aged man, a Russian translator, with whom she begins a troubling relationship.
I Served the King of England by Bohumil Hrabal, translated from Czech by Paul Wilson
Called “an extraordinary and subtly tragicomic novel” by James Woods, this novel tells the story of a foolist but ambitious waiter at a luxury hotel in pre-World War II Prague.
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
I couldn’t leave Nabokov’s 1955 novel off this list. Humbert Humbert and Lolita’s road trip epitomizes the shadiness and romance of the hotel novel all too well.
No-Tell Motel by Florencia Werchowsky, translated from Spanish by Heather Cleary
While the full novel has not yet been published in translation, Heather Cleary published an excerpt in Two Lines, issue 23. Set in a small town in Patagonia, the book tells the story of a young girl whose father owns a seedy pay-by-the-hour motel.
Ocean Sea by Alessandro Baricco, translated from Italian by Alastair McEwen
A “postmodern fable of human malady,” Baricco’s novel takes place at the coastal Almayer Inn, where its inhabitants include a painter, a lovesick scientist, an adulteress, and a sixteen-year-old girl with a mysterious condition.