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22gigantes.com - After the Second World War, bizarre characters from across the ruined continent have gathered at the ‘fourth-rate’ Hotel Swiss-Touring by Lake Geneva. Some are residents, while other guests have come for the season. In the claustrophobic atmosphere of the little hotel, their eccentricities and their desperation—their jealousies and vindictiveness—are all too apparent. First published in 1973, shortly before Christina Stead’s return to Australia, The Little Hotel is a sharp, witty satire of changing lives in postwar Europe. Christina Stead was born in 1902 in Sydney. Stead’s first books, The Salzburg Tales and Seven Poor Men of Sydney, were published in 1934 to positive reviews in England and the United States. Her fourth work, The Man Who Loved Children, has been hailed as a ‘masterpiece’ by Jonathan Franzen, among others. In total, Stead wrote almost twenty novels and short-story collections. Stead returned to Australia in 1969 after forty years abroad for a fellowship at the Australian National University. She resettled permanently in Australia in 1974 and was the first recipient of the Patrick White Award that year. Christina Stead died in Sydney in 1983, aged eighty. She is widely considered to be one of the most influential Australian authors of the twentieth century. ‘One of Australia’s greatest novelists puts together…a crew as sad, funny and perverse as any ever gathered.’ Time
Most helpful customer reviews 4 of 4 people found the following review helpful. “If you only knew what goes on in the hotel every day!” By Mary Whipple Though London’s Times Literary Supplement has placed Christina Stead in the company of Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Ibsen, and Joyce, she still remains unknown to most readers in the United States, despite her deliciously twisted sense of humor, her pointed social satire, and her vividly depicted characters. In this novel, set in a small hotel on Lake Geneva in the immediate aftermath of World War II, Stead introduces an assortment of bizarre guests currently living at the small Hotel Swiss-Touring. Though most of them are accustomed to more elegant accommodations, the twenty-six-year-old hotelkeeper, Selda Bonnard, and her slightly older husband Roger do their best to meet their guests’ needs.In this first person narrative, told by Selda Bonnard, the various guests at the hotel come alive for the reader. One, who claims to be the Mayor of B in Belgium, appears to be certifiable, creating numbered documents about his stay in the hotel and traveling to “the clinic” daily for “injections” and shock treatments. Mrs. Blaise, whose husband comes to visit every other weekend from Basel, claims to have millions of dollars and packets of jewels safely stowed in New York banks. Mrs. Trollope, a dark woman from “the East,” lives with her “cousin,” Robert Wilkins, who is constantly following the exchange rates and suggesting that his “cousin” move her accounts out of England closer to him. A strange English woman named Miss Abbey-Chillard, who appears to have almost no money, also appears to have serious health issues and demands special foods.These five permanent guests form the core of the novel, and as they reveal themselves through their conversations and interactions, they begin to resemble characters in a dramatic comedy of manners. The hotel employees resent them and their frequently high-handed demands, and an undercurrent of cruelty by the employees toward the guests emerges. The Mayor of B provides unintentional comic relief throughout, and when he begins to imitate the strip tease dancer who lives upstairs, his deep-seated problems become public. Gradually, through the characters’ conversations, the reader learns the nature of the relationships among all the other characters, with most of the action eventually focused on the relationship of Mrs. Trollope and her “cousin,” Robert Wilkins.All of Stead’s characters are flawed, and since all are shown in intimate scenes in which they reveal themselves, at least to the reader, they inspire a kind of empathy – and even a pervading sadness – which does not often happen within social satire, which is usually characterized by sterotypes. Even Mme. Bonnard, the hotel keeper, has her problems, and though she is the main unifying character, her inflexibility regarding aspects of the hotel management make her less than sympathetic, at some points. The novel as a whole is elegant and consummately literary, building an intense, darkly humorous, and sometimes claustrophobic atmosphere as the characters try to live their straitened lives and survive to live another day in a changed world. Christina Stead, a superb novelist who can easily hold her own with contemporaries Beryl Bainbridge, Fay Weldon, Penelope Lively, and Muriel Spark in England, and Thea Astley and Elizabeth Jolley in Australia, deserves much more recognition in the US. 2 of 2 people found the following review helpful. Christina Stead is a treasure By Socratic Eclectic The book starts off a bit slow but the last half is wickedly funny. Always perceptive, Christina Stead brings the bizarre life of a little hotel to the reader in a way that is impossible not to recognize if you have ever been there. The restaurant scene in Chapter 5 is a tour de force only matched by the incredible chapter in The House of All Nations where the two couples have dinner. I am going to read every one of her books. See all 2 customer reviews...
The Little Hotel provides an in-depth examination of the longings and dreams of the hotel owners, workers, and guests at a "fourth rate" Swiss hotel shortly after World War II. Through Selda, one of the owners, a woman "always astonished at how people can muddle their lives," we learn about the guests and the staff as well as how she keeps order and calm amid clashing personalities. There is an English woman of fifty, slowly dying of boredom; the "Mayor of B" from Belgium, constantly issuing unnecessary documents he keeps in the hotel safe; the wife of a doctor who is sure her husband is trying to kill her with prescription drugs. The hotel staff includes fifty-year-old Clara, who has worked there many years and vies for power over the other staff and guests; Luisa and Lina, sisters from Italy; and Rosa, a young German waitress who wants to be an actress. The staff tries to decipher the whims of the guests and deal with their own situations, and while many of the guests see the staff as friends, it is not an equal relationship - and that difference is not lost on the staff. Irony, humor, and sadness emerge as this unlikely mixture of people goes about the art of living. -- For great reviews of books for girls, check out Let's Hear It for the Girls: 375 Great Books for Readers 2-14. -- From 500 Great Books by Women; review by Holly Smith About the Author Christina Stead (1902–1983) was an Australian writer regarded as one of the twentieth century’s master novelists. Stead spent most of her writing life in Europe and the United States, and her varied residences acted as the settings for a number of her novels. She is best known for The Man Who Loved Children (1940), which was praised by author Jonathan Franzen as a “crazy, gorgeous family novel” and “one of the great literary achievements of the twentieth century.” Stead died in her native Australia in 1983.
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