It’s probably hard to understand the cultural significance of Arthur Hailey in the 1960’s. His big, block-busting novels were best-sellers and he was the undisputed king of the pae-turning commercial thriller, captivating readers around the world with his movie-worthy plots.
Hotel did in fact became a highly successful TV show in the ’80s produced by Aaron Spelling and starring James Brolin. He has sold over 150,000,000 books world-wide. No mean feat.
Hotel could have been written with television in mind. Hailey was famous for his meticulous research and prior to writing Hotel Hailey lived for two months in the Roosevelt Hotel in New Orleans and – with the consent of the owner – spoke to all staff on all aspects of hotel life.
His resulting novel juggles many plot lines and for the most part, Hailey keeps them in the air with skill.
The St Gregory Hotel in New Orleans is in danger of becoming a relic.
The grand hotel has been privately owned by Warner Trent for years, but now, due to bad management, staff corruption and complacency, the hotel is under mortgage and Trent is desperate to find a buyer. Enter Curtis O’Keaffe, head of the O’Keaffe chain of assembly-line hotels who is keen to get a foothold in New Orleans and thinks he can get the St Gregory at a rock-bottom price. The hotel is managed by young, handsome Peter McDermott who has ideas to save money and update the hotel, but he isn’t getting the opportunity to implement them.
The novel is set over five hot and humid days, in which the St Gregory will be saved or sold. But that is not the only drama going on in the corridors and lounges of this fine hotel.
What exactly are the esteemed Duke and Duchess of Croydon trying to hide as they pace in their private suite? Is sweet, aging Albert Wells – a yearly regular of the hotel – going to be able to pay his bill after he takes ill? And what of Keycase Milne, an inveterate thief, who sees the St Gregory as a site of rich pickings over the coming days.
Trust me, that’s not even the half of it. There are attempted sexual assaults, love triangles, fatal car accidents, deaths and a race row packed into the pages, ensuring that, even if some of this is at times unconvincing, the pace never lets up.
Hotel is clearly a product of it’s time and it has issues. The incessant detail on how a hotel is run is a great chance for Hailey to show off his research, but can bog down the action at times. The female characters are ciphers, constantly described by their looks and their figures and there are some really disconcerting references to the ‘childlike’ beauty of an eighteen year old, which wouldn’t have raised an eyebrow in ’65 but is pretty unpleasant to read today.
Some of the African- American characters suffer the same fate as the women, but to Haileys credit, he handles the story line about the Civil Rights Movement and the necessity of desegregation within the hotel in a relatively nuanced way.
Aside from that, there isn’t a lot of nuance to be found, but that’s not why you read Arthur Hailey. The action never lets up and the ending makes heavy-handed use of a deus ex machina to save the day.
This style of novel is obviously dated, but there is a lot to admire in the sheer skill of structuring a book with so many plot lines, none of which are left hanging. It’s an entertaining read, and one I think I would have enjoyed more had I read it as a teenager!
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Number Read: 265
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20 Books of Summer: 4/20
I am a 40 something book buying addict trying to reduce the backlog one book at a time!