Sunday, 9 May 2010

Hotel De Dream - Emma Tennant

In a seedy, decaying boarding house in London, the lodgers dream. Not exactly the best pitch you may have heard for a novel. But the Westringham and its locale are the sort of places one would wish to escape. And for many, dreams are their only refuge. Private worlds where they are in control. Sadly, for these lodgers, even that is denied them. Because the dreams begin to merge and they each other wandering in and out of their sanctuaries, disrupting events and fraying the edges of reality.

Emma Tennant handles all this with wit and a deliciously dark humour. Like an 80% chocolate, it is creamy, strong, with that bitter edge, but ultimately so satisfying you just have to have more. And it is a chocolate with an extra ingredient, because into the mix is thrown an author having problems with her characters who are plotting to kill her. And here, too, the demarcation between reality and fiction shows signs of breaking down. Because the below stairs staff (a vile, Beckettian character called Cridge) seems to be both real and a character from a book. Which of course he is.

It will be clear from previous observations that I enjoy surreal work that refuses to stay firmly on the page. Stories that leak into the real world, whether they are surreal like this or alternative histories, offer a great platform for exceptional stories as well as introducing questions about the nature of reality, about what makes us human. Entertainment and philosophy in one glorious package. And when produced by someone with a mischievous sense of humour, you end up with a book like this - one that proves that the intellectual can be fun; that entertainment need not be vacuous.