The Belle Hotel Paperback – 21 Feb 2019
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About the Author
Craig Melvin holds an MA in Creative Writing from Sussex University and works as restaurant consultant in London and Brighton. The Belle Hotel is his first book.
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The book opens with a description of a truly terrible day for Charlie. The Hotel which has been his life, and that of his immediate family, stands ready to be repossessed by the bank unless he can find £10,000 by noon. To add to the confusion, his ex girlfriend, ex childhood sweetheart Lulu stands ready with her business partner to buy control of the Hotel where she too spent her time. He makes every effort, some of them quite daft, to raise the money; he borrows money, he gambles, he tries to rob a fruit machine. As he tries to get some money to the hotel in time, the narrative returns to his grandfather’s original opening of the Hotel in the early 1970s, supported by some money from “Larry”, a well known actor. He is a showman, a chancer, and he is determined to make Hotel Belle a popular venue for food and more. His son, Johnny, who actually works at another hotel, and his wife Janet are drafted back to help out. It is Charlie, however, that Franco decides will become a chef, carefully trained, sent to various restaurants, suppliers and colleges to learn everything about food and its serving. As Franco’s fame increases and the Hotel becomes a huge success, he collects recipes, receipts and other items of record in his unique book. Charlie seems to be set to continue in his footsteps, but before long the cracks begin to show. Can Charlie get everything together before he loses everything on one day?
This is a funny, affectionate and honest picture of life in a unique hotel during the later part of the twentieth century. The cheeky inclusion of real celebrities and actual events keep the book moving; the realistic dialogue and frank language can sometimes be a bit shocking but always comes over as truthful. This book maintained my interest and I was loathe to put it down; I feel that it conveyed a realistic picture of a fairly recent time in an often painfully human way. The characters were terrific, funny and sometimes touching. Franco is a real hero, whereas Charlie is often understandable and totally human. It appears that Melvin, the author, has a lot of experience in the hotel trade, and it shows throughout this novel. Whether you are a foodie, interested in a fictionalised history, or are simply interested in a funny and interesting read, I recommend this book.
This is clearly an author who knows about food and the restaurant/hotel business. It's not an easy life and the job is most definitely a lifestyle - not the kind of job you can leave behind when it's time to clock off. I found Franco Sheridan is an immensely likeable character and one who knows how to charm. He is already late on in his life when we meet him in 1973 (a very good year - the year I was born). His story is incredibly intriguing. We join him when he is head steward on the Brighton Belle train serving the one and only Sir Lawrence Olivier, or Larry as Franco calls him, as he travels to and from London. Before long Franco, (with a little help from Larry) opens Belle Hotel and has his sights on earning the restaurant a Michelin star. Always reaching for the top, Franco passes on everything he knows to his grandson Charlie. Franco tells Charlie he was born a chef and expects only the very best for him and the Belle Hotel. The pair are completely driven but when Franco suddenly dies Charlie finds it hard to fill his shoes.
A novel full of flavour and interest, we watch Charlie living the dream with women, drugs and the attention that someone being on top invites. Famous names litter the pages with guest appearances from Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair, Noel Gallagher, Jamie Oliver and the Carry On cast to name but a few. Sizzling with sex, drugs and good food this is a scintillating read. I wondered on more than one occasion how Charlie was ever going to pull himself out from the hole he had dug but I admit I was rather cheering for him towards the end and hoped that he found away.
Poised on the edge of losing everything that matters to him, Charlie has to reassess how he has ended up here and what he can do to rectify matters before his luck runs out.
Very cleverly drawing a parrallel to the social and econmic hostory across 40 decades, from the 70’s to now, Craig Melvin uses recipes that spark nostalgia and really help the reader reflect on times gone by and food related fashion.
‘The Belle Hotel’ has a very distinctive style and is a striking debut from an author with an instinctive knowledge of exactly what he wants to say.