It’s been a while since I’ve listened to audiobooks, but after deciding I needed a bit of a break from my usual podcasts, I downloaded OverDrive and got some good stuff to listen to while commuting. The first book I chose to get was The Lonely Hearts Hotel by Heather O’Neill, and wow that was a bit of a trip.
Based on the little I knew of the book (and since I’m not usually one to read the synopsis before diving into a book), I was expected a sweet French Canadian story of first loves between both people and art. However, I got a book full of harsh abuse, sex work, drug addiction, and painful mistakes.
The Lonely Hearts Hotel follows the lives of two orphans, Rose and Pierrot, as they grow up together in a nasty orphanage where Rose is constantly beaten, and Pierrot is taken advantage of by a cruel nun. As they children grow older, their lives take very different paths while still crossing paths at varying moments.
As I just mentioned, this book was far darker and full of many intensely horrible instances of injustice, but it was still a great read. Heather O’Neill’s characters are all vividly real people in very real situations, bringing an intense level of empathy for young women forced into sex work by their hunger and for lost young men who turn to drugs in an attempt to forget their hardships and feel something other than hopelessness even if only for a little while. She also goes into great detail regarding the intelligence of all of these lost souls and how the more affluent people around them take them for granted.
Despite how difficult some part of the story were to get through (especially the sexual abuse and exploitation of children), it was a really solid story that was incredibly read by Julia Whelan. It may be far darker than I was looking for, but at the end of the day this is a story about love and family and accepting the good along with the bad. I truly enjoyed this.
Author: Heather O’Neill
Published: February 7, 2017
Publisher: Harper Collins
Synopsis: Two babies are abandoned in a Montreal orphanage in the winter of 1910. One is a girl named Rose; the other, a boy named Pierrot. Each display rare gifts that bring them adoration and hatred. As they are made to travel around the city performing clown routines to raise funds for the orphanage, they make plans for a sensational future. They are separated as teenagers and sent off to work as menial servants, but both soon find themselves escaping into the criminal world, participating in the vicious and absurd and perverted underbelly of Montreal and New York City between the wars. They search for each other, and one night, under the snowflakes, they reunite, and the underworld will never look quite the same. With all the storytelling skill and magical language for which she is known, Heather O’Neill dazzles us with a new tale of motherless gangsters, drug addicted pianists, radicalized chorus girls and a city whose economy hinges on the price of a kiss.