The Third Hotel

Farrar. Aug. 2018. 224p. ISBN 9780374168353. $25; ebk. ISBN 9780374714970. F
A surreal meditation on grief and loss, this latest from van den Berg (Find Me) follows Clare, a traveling elevator saleswoman, whose husband, Richard, was killed after being struck by a car. Richard, a film studies professor, was slated to attend a film festival in Havana, and Clare goes in his place. While wandering the streets of Havana, she spots Richard, or perhaps his ghost, and the unfolding narrative explores the idea of Richard's possible reembodiment in this world. After stalking him for days, Clare finally confronts him. While unable to resolve all the questions from the last year of their marriage, she is able to find some peace and finally face her father's descent into dementia. The novel also asks questions about selfhood, particularly in the course of travel. Do we become someone else when we travel or more our true selves? Atmospheric descriptions of Cuba, and references to horror-film tropes (Richard's specialty) are integrated throughout, providing additional layers of richness.
VERDICT Reminiscent of Kazuo Ishiguro's The Unconsoled, this novel has a dreamlike quality that resists narrative structure and logic. Readers are best served by following where it leads rather than trying to solve the mysteries or find definitive answers. [See Prepub Alert, 2/12/18.]
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