If David Lynch wrote a book about grief, it would be this book.
Laura van den Berg’s, The Third Hotel, is captivating, surreal, haunting, and frustratingly disorienting. Clare is an elevator sales rep who is still grieving the recent death of her husband, Richard. On a whim, she decides to follow through on a trip they had planned to Cuba, only to see Richard wandering through the streets of Havana. In a world where the line between real and imaginary is both blurred and unsettling, we join Clare on a journey through her past and her psyche, as she stalks Richard around town.
Is this Richard’s twin? Is this Richard’s ghost? Is this an alternate reality? Or is Clare simply becoming unhinged with grief? Richard’s death has ripped apart the internal compass necessary for Clare to navigate the real world. We keep turning pages to uncover the truth, only to find that we have lost our own internal compass, necessary to navigate this story.
Through a series of flashbacks, we are given a glimpse of Clare’s childhood and her early years of marriage. These scenes introduce more mysteries and perplexing secrets to Clare’s past. What is contained in the white box that Richard was carrying when he was killed by the hit-and-run? What message was revealed within the envelope sent to her by her father? What mystery does the red notebook hold, that paralyzes Clare with fear?
I found it difficult to empathize and connect with Clare. She is secretive and intensely private. She is a pathological liar, stalking her dead husband through the tropical forests of Cuba. She is mildly fixated on nail clippings found within her hotel room night stand. And she seems content to have eels swimming beneath the outer layers of her skin. Not exactly someone you can easily relate to, or trust as a narrator.
And yet the reader is pulled along, desperately trying to connect each of the pieces of the puzzle. We fiercely seek to find singularity in the fractured nature of the story. And yet like a ride in the elevator, for which Clare has devoted her professional career, each mystery is presented as an elevator stop — the doors open up, revealing a new nugget of information, only to be stifled as the doors slam shut, the mystery still lingering like stale perfume.
If you are looking for a mystery that is bound up in a nice package tied with a big red bow, then this book is definitely NOT for you. If you enjoy a deliberately obtuse mystery that is beautifully written and rich in narrative, then I encourage you to pick up a copy. The Third Hotel transcends all boundaries.
Click below to find a local bookstore where you can purchase this perplexing title. And if you figure it out, please let me know.