The Lonely Hearts Hotel

Written by Heather O’Neill
Review by Francesca Pelaccia

Spanning from WWI to the start of WWII, The Lonely Hearts Hotel is the story of Rose and Pierrot, two orphans who meet in an orphanage in Montreal. Pierrot is a genius on the piano, and Rose is a born comedic actress. The orphans perform for the wealthy, fall in love, and make dreams together, but they are torn apart by a depraved nun. Turned out into the real world that is being rocked by the Great Depression, and desperate to survive, they are caught up in the lives of gangsters, eccentric philanthropists, pornography, drugs, and crime. When they finally reunite, they begin to realize their shared dream of a musical act, only to discover that their experiences and the circumstances of their world have changed them. What they had always wanted for each other is not what they want now.

The Lonely Hearts Hotel is sad but absorbing. Whereas Pierrot, the dreamer, self-destructs, Rose, the calculating brains of the two, adapts and becomes empowered. Heather O’Neill’s writing pulls the reader in but is unflinching and unrelenting. She writes Rose’s and Pierrot’s stories, along with those of several other major characters, without emotion, leaving readers to decide how they want to feel and to make their own judgment calls. O’Neill, however, does end some passages with analogies that illustrate her own perspective. The novel is not light. All the characters and their stories are disturbing, and hope is hard to find.