Saturday 19 November 2022


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Hotel by Joanna Walsh  {Reviewed by THOMAS}
As a relief from an unhappy marriage, Walsh got a job as a hotel reviewer and spent a period of time living only in places that are intended to be alternatives to home (places in which ‘staying’ means not remaining but merely deferred leaving). In this series of short pieces, with occasional appearances by Freud, Dora (the subject of Freud’s early work on hysteria), Katherine Mansfield, KM (her alter ego), and the Marx brothers, Walsh plays rigorously with the idea of the hotel and with the idea of home that is its complement and shadow. Throughout the book, she does such a thorough job of picking away at ideas that vertiginous spaces open up within them, terrifying emptinesses in what had seemed like smooth and continuous thought. She is, understandably, intent on the mechanisms and ellipses by which her marriage has disintegrated: is the fault in the idea of marriage, in her husband or in herself, or is this “only ordinary unhappiness”? Walsh is adept at the re-flexing of banal tropes into fresh and sturdy thought: “We went into marriage to fulfil our individual desires, but we found ourselves required to be fulfilled by what we found there. The marriage problem is the same as the hotel problem. I have second-guessed your desires, and those of others. I have made myself into a hotel.” She is under no illusion that thinking can provide resolution (indeed the benefits of thought are magnified when resolution is impossible or eschewed), aware that problems will remain problems (we may at best hope for them to be problems we to some extent understand): “Plot is good in books but bad in life. There is no plot in a hotel. When I am in a hotel, the bad thing is in abeyance but it is waiting to happen outside the hotel nevertheless.” 

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