Customer Review

39 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Don't Neglect This Masterwork, 30 Nov 2002
This review is from: The White Hotel (Paperback)
I could throw around superlatives and they would not have much impact. Too many reviews are written about mediocre books that one would think them, from the reviewers reaction, modern masterpieces. "Flawlessly-rendered scenes of incomparably lyrical, powerful, acute, seamless, ineffable, gorgeous, unassailable, tender, dynamic, lush, titillating, cerebral, divine, a libidinous, self-revelatory paean to the inexpressible in art and life that packs an emotional wallop!," or some such phrase.
Sometimes a person just has to come right out and say "This one grabbed me by the rear," and let it go at that. This is a book that really has to be experienced first-hand. My only word of advice is not to give up on the book too soon. It's absolutely unclear in the first 40 or 50 pages where Thomas is taking you and he doesn't present too promising a train ride at that stage. Settle in for the journey. Look out the window and watch as the landscape starts becoming more recognizable. The landmarks with which you thought you were earlier familiar, start revealing themselves in entirely new patterns. For this is a novel about revelation, more than anything else. Readers just have to trust that "all will be revealed" by novel's end, and it is, magnificently.
Thomas performs a near-miraculous feat in this novel. Reading The White Hotel is akin to looking through a an extremely high-powered telescope and what at first looks likes fuzzy, indiscreet blurs, become unbelievably colorful and complex nebulae and galaxies as the instrument's focus is adjusted. The book begins with a long poem, full of erotic imagery and near-incoherent description, that we are startled to learn is written by a woman. Following this is a prose version of the story that we learn is written by a young woman who is a semi-successful Opera-singer who comes to Sigmund Freud for analysis as she suffers from acute psychosomatic pains in her left breast and her womb. She will become the Frau Anna G. of Freud's famous case-study (Freud's "Wolfman" also appears as a peripheral character in the novel). Thomas lets us in on Freud's analysis, as well as his ambiguous feelings towards his patient. At several stages, Freud is ready to throw up his hands and tell her that he won't continue his treatment as he feels she is not forthcoming enough to make any real progress. He always relents, however, because he senses that "Lisa" (the Opera-singers real name) has enough redeeming attributes to warrant his time.
As the novel progresses, we learn more and more about Lisa's past and the seminal childhood incident (occurring when she is 3-years-old and vacationing with her parents in Odessa) that estranged her from her mother, and more particularly, from her father. This will be the central motif of the novel as well as Lisa's Cassandra-like ability to see the future through her dreams and her imaginative powers. If this begins to strike you as psychological clap-trap, rest assured it isn't. The novel at no point devolves into psycho-babble or pretentiousness. Everything in the novel, we come to learn, is there for a reason. There is absolutely nothing amateurish about the master-plan and the sublime architecture that Thomas erects (no Freudian pun intended). This is as carefully-constructed a novel as anything I've ever read.
I am certainly not going to spoil the read for anyone by giving away the novel's ending, but suffice it to say that it's as powerful as anything-written in the past 30 years, at minimum. The only drawback to this book is that I didn't give it enough of a chance on first-encounter. Hopefully, that won't be the case with those reading this review.
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