A very special hotel…

  Title: ”Hotel Silence”

Writer: Audur Ava Olafsdottir

Publisher : Grove Atlantic

Publication Date:  23 February 2018

Rating : 4 out of 5 stars

‘’Will the world miss me? No. Will the world be any poorer without me? No. Will the world survive without me? Yes. Is the world a better place now than when I came into it? No. What have I done to improve it? Nothing.’’

When we need to place a name next to the word ‘’pessimism’’, Jonas’ will be ideal. Our main protagonist stands on a crossroads, the most crucial in his life. His marriage is broken, shadows are cast over the paternity of his beloved daughter and he feels there is no purpose left in his course on this planet. So, he decides to put an end. Permanently. To kill himself. Observing the people who marked his life for what he intends to be the last time, he decides to travel abroad to lessen the pain for his child.

The story is set in Iceland, a place of immense, wild beauty, a land of darkness and mystery. Jonas’ moos matches the melancholic nature. A nature that hides flames inside, a country of volcanoes, of fire and ice. And Jonas is like a volcano about to erupt while the series of disappointments from his own family have turned him into ice. Instead of fighting, he gets tires and tries to find the best way for his ‘’exit’’.

I read page after page waiting for Jonas’ end. I was hooked. At first, you may think that not much happens but this depends on what each reader considers as ‘’happens’’. There is not an emphasis on ‘’action’’, but on Jonas’ mental state, the state of depression that has covered his life. Reading his thoughts was an adventure in itself and Olafsdottir manages to create anticipation out of everyday interactions.

‘’Do you think you can glue back together a broken world?’’

Jonas finds himself a guest in ‘Hotel Silence’, a dilapidated hotel in a country torn and bled by war. It remains unnamed but the descriptions of the natural environment and the emphasis on a recent conflict brings many places to mind. The Balkans, the Eastern Europe, Israel, it could be anywhere and it doesn’t matter. Whatever the writer’s inspiration may have been, 

the setting is extremely vivid. The city is devastated, the people full of wounds that are impossible to heal, struggling to leave the past behind and rebuild their lives. Jonas becomes a part of this community.

‘’And if there was silence, you knew that it would all start again tomorrow.’’

Mae, the young woman who runs the hotel along with her brother, is an astonishing character, the jewel of the book. Having survived a Hell on Earth, she shows Jonas that there is always something to fight for even if the tunnel seems to have no end. Mae speaks in some of the most beautiful, heartfelt quotes and provides hope and light in a dark world. The rest of the characters are vivid, well-drawn and quirky enough to enjoy.

The writing is extremely interesting. There is the distinctive, minimalistic Nordic tone that never becomes dry, but contains worlds within a few short sentences, even though this is a translation.The dialogue is well-structured, the voice of Jonas is clear and complex. There are many bookish reference centred around troubled writers. In fact, books are everywhere in the story. Novels, poetry, Non Fiction. I found ‘’ Hotel Silence’’ to be much more bookish and literary than other novels which wished to be advertised as such and ended up being devoid of any significant reference. Yes, ‘Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore’’ , I am looking at you and your big, stinking pile of nothing… There are also references to the singers’ curse of ‘’27’’ and emphasis on tattoos and scars, whatever consists a tortured soul.

The ending, though…It was…I don’t even know how I feel about it…It causes questions and interpretations. You’ll have to read it to understand what I mean. It was unexpected and fitting to the tone of the story, but I can’t say that it was wholly satisfying on a personal level. In my opinion, it leaves room for a second book which I would be more than happy to read.

‘’Hotel Silence’’ is a special book. If you have an issue with so-called depressing themes, then you may find it difficult to read. However, life is full of difficult subjects and to avoid them means to live inside a pink bubble, but that’s just me. It’s special and demanding, in tone, in themes, in images and characters. It is a work that showcases once again why Nordic Literature is arguably the most interesting in our literary world.

Many thanks to Grove Atlantic and NetGalley for the ARC in exchange of an honest review.