“All children are really orphans. At heart, a child has nothing to do with its parents, its background, its last name, its gender, its family trade. It is a brand-new person, and it is born with the only legacy that all individuals inherit when they open their eyes in this world: the inalienable right to be free.”
The Lonely Hearts Hotel follows the lives of two orphans in Montréal in the early twentieth century. Rose and Pierrot are gifted children living in an orphanage where being different is punished by being locked in a cupboard. They are drawn to one another and begin performing together at a young age but are ultimately forced apart. The novel tells their life stories as they navigate addiction, their sexual awakenings, and the Great Depression.
Heather O’Neill is a powerful storyteller and offers something for every reader in this literary masterpiece. The language is rich in metaphor and imagery as she describes the setting and the characters, who are all uniquely complex and realistic. Rose and Pierrot are not the type of characters that readers want to be like. They are a reflection of the tragic reality of the world. I criticized these characters, rooted for their success, hated their decisions, and loved them for their mistakes.
This is the type of book that I will end up rereading. I was deeply moved by the outcome of the story and took the opportunity to examine my own life and what decisions I was making. I think this book will offer an entirely different experience when I read it again in the future.
I recommend the audiobook version of The Lonely Hearts Hotel. It is read by Julia Whelan, who has also narrated The Great Alone, The Wife Between Us, Gone Girl, and many others. She is dynamic and engaging and portrays every character in a unique way. See her full list of audiobooks here.