I do not think that there can ever be enough books about anything and I say that knowing that some of them are going to be about Pilates.The more knowledge the better seems like a solid rule of thumb, even though I have watched enough science fiction films to accept that humanity’s unchecked pursuit of learning will end with robots taking over the world.-Sarah Vowell

Monday, April 3, 2017

The Lonely Hearts Hotel by Heather O'Neill

Set in the time of the 1920s and 1930s this book begins with the birth of two children who as babies are placed in the orphanage in Montreal.  At this orphanage, all the children are given the name Mary or Joseph, though to counter confusion the children have nicknames.  The girl is Rose and the boy is Pierrot.  As soon as they meet as young children they seem to hit it off. But at the orphanage friendships between girls and boys are discouraged because they can lead to romances later in life which can lead to more babies. So the two are kept far apart.

Life in the orphanage is hard. They are not treated with any kind of love or kindness. Sometimes the nuns hit them for no real reason at all.  Rose is often locked up in the closet for hours at a time, or even on occasion days.  Pierrot becomes protected by a young nun named Eloise who molests him.  He feels guilty about the protection and guilty and confused about the sexual acts happening between them.  He doesn't know how to tell her no.  

Then one day Pierrot who is a self-taught piano player sits down to play a song he made up during dinner and Rose begins to dance to it and the two notice each other again. Pierrot seeks her out and at the Christmas concert for the public Pierrot begins to play his song and Rose sneaks on stage to dance.  The two are a hit. Donors to the orphanage want these two to come to their house to perform and they will pay handsomely for it.  So the Mother Superior agrees to it because the orphanage needs the money.  Eloise, however, is not happy about this. She is burning up with jealousy.  Pierrot ends up having sex with her and promising to marry her to get her to calm down.  But he says they won't do anything else until they are married.  

Rose and Pierrot's act is a smash around town. This is when Rose writes down a plan she has for "The Snowflake Icicle Extravaganza".  It's an act she plans to put on stage using their talents and others and make a lot of money doing it.  But the happiness between the two cannot last. A rich old man decides that he wants to adopt Pierrot because he loves his piano playing as it makes him happy and Eloise beats Rose so bad she winds up in the sick ward for weeks.  Pierrot leaves a letter behind for her, but Eloise burns the letter and every other letter he mails to the orphanage from his new home. So Rose begins to believe that Pierrot has forgotten her and Pierrot believe the same thing about Rose since she doesn't return his letters, though he keeps sending them for years.  

Rose winds up working as a nanny for two wild children of a gangster and his wife who generally stays in bed all day.  Rose is a wild as the children, but they keep her because she makes the children happy and because the wife doesn't believe she has anything to worry about with Rose and her husband. And years pass and the husband who is rarely at home is not someone who is interested in Rose or vice versa. Until they are.  Then things become complicated. 

Pierrot, meanwhile, becomes screwed when the old man whom he had been taking care of dies, and his relatives who cared nothing for him sweep in and take everything, burning the new will that left a sum of money to Pierrot. Pierrot is trained to do nothing.  He is heartbroken over the loss of the old man and runs into a prostitute named Poppy who tells him he can get a job at a theater as an usher. She also gets him hooked on heroin.  At this theater, they still have a piano at the front from when they showed silent pictures and Pierrot asks if he can play it during intermissions and they let him and everyone is amazed by his playing. Soon no one is leaving their seats during intermission. Of course, he uses all of his pay to get high.  

Both of them are searching for the other one and just barely miss catching them.  But their love is strong and they will keep on trying.  And Rose hasn't given up on her Icicle Extravaganza dream.  Life has always been hard for the two of them, but they are survivors.  This book is so beautifully written.  Some examples: "The soft sound of the rain on the rooftop sounded like young girls sneaking off in stockings to elope.""The waves made a sound of someone biting into an apple. When they crashed, they were a hundred thousand chorus girls raising up their dresses at once. And then the water receded again like the train of a jilted bride walking off into the distance." There's a bit of sadness to this book as Rose and Pierrot cannot seem to find each other and their lives without each other are rather unhappy.  But give it a moment before you throw the book against your wall. I'm not saying this book has a happy ending. I'm not saying it doesn't. It has the ending it is meant to have. I truly loved this book and I believe you will too. 


If there was one thing responsible for ruining lives, it was love.
-Heather O’Neill (The Lonely Hearts Hotel p 10)
A young girl’s body is the most dangerous place in the world, as it is the spot where violence is most likely to be enacted.
-Heather O’Neil (The Lonely Hearts Hotel p 28)
Perhaps the most dangerous people in the world are the ones who believe in right and wrong but what they ascribe to as “right” and “wrong” is completely insane.  They are bad with conviction that they are good. That idea is the impetus behind evil.
-Heather O’Neil (The Lonely Hearts Hotel p 40)
“I find that I can’t help being bad. I promise and promise and promise myself that I won’t be a bad person. But then I just do something bad.” “That’s because we’re girls. We’re supposed to only have emotions. We aren’t even allowed to have thoughts. And it’s fine to feel sad and happy and mad and in love—but those are just moods.  Emotions can’t get anything done. An emotion is just a reaction. You don’t only want to be having reactions in this lifetime. You need to be having actions too, thoughtful actions.”
-Heather O’Neil (The Lonely Hearts Hotel p 74)
Being a woman was a trap. Something would bring you down before you turned twenty-three. The only time the world shows you any favor, or cuts you any slack, is during the very brief period of courtship where the world is trying to fuck you for the first time.
-Heather O’Neil (The Lonely Hearts Hotel p 133)
It’s sort of impossible to be absentminded and vacant and daydreamy during sex. You are either enjoying it intensely or you are in a state of high stress.
-Heather O’Neil (The Lonely Hearts Hotel p 144)
But although he was paying for her whole life, McMahon still wasn’t sure whether he truly possessed her. To make certain that he did, he tried to make Rose miserable. This was the only real proof that a woman belonged to you. Anybody could make a girl happy. It was only when a girl was in love with a man that he could ruin her self-esteem.
-Heather O’Neil (The Lonely Hearts Hotel p 168)
A girl’s desire is like a pretty butterfly. And a man’s desire is like a butterfly net. His desire captures and kills her.  He turns her into an object to be pinned on a corkboard.  I don’t think I’m interested in the tyranny of the couple. I’m more interested in what a person does when they’re forced to be by themselves.
-Heather O’Neil (The Lonely Hearts Hotel p 200)
Isn’t it an obvious fact that the pursuit of happiness always makes a person miserable. So do you think that if we went out of our way to look for things that made us miserable, we would find ourselves perfectly content in the end?
-Heather O’Neil (The Lonely Hearts Hotel p 207)
All fear is dependent on context.
-Heather O’Neil (The Lonely Hearts Hotel p 209)
Nothing can really happen when you are dreaming.
-Heather O’Neil (The Lonely Hearts Hotel p 230)
This Depression was deeply humiliating. Since women were taught that they were worthless, they took poverty and hardship less personally.
-Heather O’Neil (The Lonely Hearts Hotel p 266)
You couldn’t really achieve happiness as an adult. It was something that belonged to children. It was a fool’s errand to try to experience it as a grown-up. Once you were old, all you could do was make others happy, and that gave you some sense of fulfillment.
-Heather O’Neil (The Lonely Hearts Hotel p 336)
Childhood is such a perverse injustice, I don’t know how anyone survives it without going crazy.
-Heather O’Neil (The Lonely Hearts Hotel p 343)
That’s all you get in life—a childhood. And you get a mommy, and if you’re real lucky, you get a daddy. And that time is filled with all these feelings of love, even if you get the worst parents in the world. And then as an adult you always have to go around trying to find fake ways to get that feeling. You have to do the dirtiest, most lowlife things to find that feeling. That feeling is always in the most strangest of places.
-Heather O’Neil (The Lonely Hearts Hotel p 347-8)
Many of them, like him, would never grow old enough to understand that you only go from one hardship to another. And that the best we can hope from life is that it is a wonderful depression.
-Heather O’Neil (The Lonely Hearts Hotel p 380)
But there’s something eternally lovely about being a girl.
-Heather O’Neil (The Lonely Hearts Hotel p 382)
Link to Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Lonely-Hearts-Hotel-Novel-ebook/dp/B01FEY5C6S/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1491227503&sr=8-1&keywords=the+lonely+hearts+hotel

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