Category Archives: Book I’ll Forget I Read

The White Hotel: In which ChatGPT writes my review and/or This Book Is Extremely Weird

What a strange, strange book. I must have started – and stopped – D.M. Thomas’s The White Hotel (first published in 1981, so don’t worry if you haven’t heard of it) fifteen times. Why did I persist you ask? Because m. named it as one of her favourite books, and loaned me a copy with Please Return underlined and so I thought, okay, okay. I’ll try again.

And why did I keep giving up? The intensely erotic (pornographic?) opening sections (say the first 100 pages) was A Lot to get through and I kept thinking is the whole book this… smut? (lol – it’s not smut. But also so much fisting and adults breastfeeding). Anyway, I kept reminding myself this is meant to be read by Freud (as Freud, our opening character has sent this account of his patient, Anna G, to a friend) and so keep it together, Erin.

Does it improve? I don’t know. The elaborate sex scenes diminish in the later sections that are narrated from the perspective of the patient – actually Lisa – a kinda mediocre singer and her prophetic visions. It ends – somehow – in the mass murder of Jews at Babi Yar with Lisa/Anna in attendance. And then maybe Palestine. With some letters to Freud in-between. And a confirmation that Lisa/Anna is an extremely unreliable narrator being interpreted by… Freud.

It is A Lot. And unlike anything I’ve read before. I am very certain ChatGPT could not dream this one up, and so cause for some hope for the future of the novel. Though Freud interpreting The White Hotel would be neat.

And so I leave you with this:

Erin to ChatGPT: “write me a review of The White Hotel in the style of Freud”

ChatGPT : “As a psychoanalyst, I find “The White Hotel” by D.M. Thomas to be a fascinating exploration of the human psyche. The novel tells the story of Lisa, a patient of mine, as she recounts her past experiences and memories to me. Through her recollections, we are able to delve deep into the workings of her mind and uncover the complex and often disturbing elements of her psyche.

The novel also explores the relationship between Lisa and myself, and how this relationship is both therapeutic and destructive. The author masterfully portrays the transference process, and how it can be both beneficial and detrimental to the treatment.

The writing style of the novel is unique and poetic, which adds to the intensity and emotional impact of the story. The novel is not only intellectually stimulating, but it also evokes a wide range of emotions in the reader, from empathy to horror, as it delves into the dark and disturbing aspects of the human mind.

Overall, I highly recommend “The White Hotel” to anyone interested in the workings of the human mind and the complex relationship between patient and therapist. It is a novel that will stay with the reader long after it is finished, as it forces us to confront our own inner demons and the fragility of the human mind.”

Like I said. Extremely weird.

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Ask Again, Yes: In which I read some things and then forgot them

I’ve read at least three novels since posting last, but can I remember what they are? I cannot. Gone are the days of coming back to a post three weeks later with a somewhat clear memory of what I read, let alone the title. Ah well. In this case I finished the book last week and the kids are still sleeping (at 7:09am!) so I’ll get this out to you without more meandering.

Mary Beth Keane’s Ask Again, Yes is a warm fuzzy sort of socks and blanket book. Following Peter and Kate across their soul-mate lives together, the book (tries to) explores how people enter relationships not as individuals but within constellations of relationships, and that any romance is both between two individuals and those intersecting networks of people. In this case, the families of Peter and Kate have an incredibly fraught relationship after a “explosive event” (so says the book jacket) that changes the trajectory of the families and the individuals within. Whether the two can – or should – find one another again is the subject of much of the middle half of the book.

The other set of questions – beyond that of how and whether a loving relationship is possible amid family drama – is around if and how people can change because of or despite their childhood, and – strangely? – the role of the medical or penal systems in enabling and limiting this change. I say strangely as the book doesn’t seem conscious of the ways doctors, hospitals, rehab centers, courts, police and prisons are represented as uncomplicated in their ability to help. It’s worth saying – if it’s also obvious – that these systems are… not uncomplicated in their ability to help.

[SEVERAL DAYS LATER]

And then the last thing to say is that the book seems unable to let anyone suffer without that suffering meaning something, having that suffering both eventually resolve and in the resolution imparting something decent on the suffers. It is maddening, even while it is… cozy. What a triumph of escapism to imagine that All of This could eventually lead to something… better. Something… meaningful. So maybe not fiction after all, so much as cozy fantasy.

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Five Carat Soul: Failure of Focus

I had to look up in my library borrowing history the title of the book I read on an off for the last month and then eventually put aside. And it’s Five Carat Soul by James McBride. Would I have ever remembered that on my own? No. I remembered the cover was kind of bright. NOT HELPFUL And no fault of the book, which is, on its own, great – smart writing and unique premise and funny – but each chapter was its own thing – loosely connected by the Five Carat Soul band and their stories – and from one night to the next I couldn’t keep them all connected and in focus. So don’t not read this one on the account of my lagging attention span. Go get it and read it when you are not exhausted or have an hour so you can read it in focus and enjoy the romp.

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The Last Chance Library: Snuggly and soothing and aren’t libraries the best

There is nothing but cozy feelings in Freya Sampson’s The Last Chance Library. It borders on the saccharine and pat (in the way of A Man Called Ove or The Hundred Year Old Man) but perhaps because its is also an ode to the library as essential public institution, or perhaps because the world is terrible and we all need the occasional reprieve, I enjoyed it.

The book opens with June, 27 years old and working as a library assistant in the tiny town of something that starts with a C. If you were drawing the plot arc of this book, alongside the character development it would go something like this: (1) June is timid/still lives in childhood home/can’t connect with others because of her grief (2) library is threatened with closure/June encounters man from childhood who also loves books and is incredibly kind/June is timid and now aware of how her grief and timidity are preventing her from living her life (3) a series of escalating moments of decision force June to take tiny steps to connect with others and to be brave and a series of obvious but nevertheless endearing obstacles get in the way of June dating the man (4) climax where we see June and the library get what we hope (5) very tidy ending.

The whole time you know exactly that everything is going to work out, and that all of the little challenges – will they get enough people to the protest? – are manageable and quaint and so even if somehow things go wrong… nothing will explode. Identity, politics, the fate of the world, none of them are implicated here. Just… will the library be saved, will June move on in her life, and the whole time we all know: yes, just the question of how.

I shouldn’t say politics aren’t involved at all. The library is threatened because of government spending cuts, and part of the argument the townspeople mount is how the library is the one remaining space where people of all ages and backgrounds can come for a safe place to be, to connect with one another and to receive service and care. And to use the washroom and get out of the heat or cold. I appreciated the way the book tried to figure out what it was that makes libraries so special – is it the place, or the people, or the librarians, or the programs, or the books, or the history – but ultimately allows that it has to be all of those things, and that we will each have special resonance with the library.

I do love the library. And if nothing else this book reminded me not to take it for granted. But mostly, it reminded me – as I’ve always known and still forget – that beyond baking shows, I can also be soothed by a completely gentle and utterly enjoyable book.

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Filed under Book I'll Forget I Read, British literature, Fiction