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Novel set in Los Angeles (a sumptuous quality of writing)

16th August 2013

The Pink Hotel by Anna Stothard, novel set in Los Angeles and Venice Beach (LA).

Stylish…captures an outsider’s gape at sun-drenched Los Angeles” The New York Times


Lily Harris has died in Venice Beach and her estranged 17 year old daughter flies out from London to acquaint herself with her Mother’s life, and meet some of those who formed part of it during her recent years on the West Coast of America.

1846882974.01.ZTZZZZZZThe daughter (who has no name) arrives in Venice Beach, which is a unique place, and is a monumental change from London. It is full of quaint and extraordinary people from the elderly ladies in vast sunglasses knitting on the beach, to pumped-up body builders, from the rollerbladers, to the tourists wearing bum bags over big pastel T-shirts (all beautifully described by the author). Wonderfully evocative of locale the reader tours Los Angeles, out to the desert and back again, and over to the Griffith Park Observatory, the view from which is stunning: ‘The city and the Santa Monica mountains stretched out glinting below us like a saucepan of water that was just about to boil’. Descriptions and beautifully turned writing are the hallmarks of this novel.

This is the story of a young woman, ‘the daughter’, who has spent her childhood without her Mother; although she does have Daphne, her Dad’s partner. But there is quite a sense that Dad and Daphne have ‘found’ each other and the daughter’s needs and sensibilities aren’t a priority for them, and that she is very much excluded from their tight union. She goes to Los Angeles, where again, she is on the outside, and desperately tries to elbow her way in, to find someone with whom she can have an attached connection.

Thus, this poor young woman heads off into unknown territory to put some pieces of the jigsaw back into place. Lily, the Mother, fell pregnant very early in her life, and seemingly couldn’t take the responsibility of caring for her daughter, and simply abandoned her. Now that she is dead, her daughter is trawling through her life, starting with a suitcase, which she takes from her late Mother’s bedroom, and which contains some of the memorabilia of her life, to wit letters and clothes, which offer up fragments of a colourful life, well lived.

Lily’s daughter has no real sense of her own ‘person’ (reinforced, of course, by her lack of name) and starts to try on her Mother’s purloined clothes – something, of course a small child will do when dressing up. On a 17 year old, however, this just has a touch of being a bit indecorous, a bit weird. A boundary begins to be crossed. After a while the daughter tracks down August… and Richard…and David… some of Lily’s past partners. Then the boundaries really blur and it gets even more uncomfortable, as she hops in and out of bed with them: this is the daughter sleeping with her Mother’s lovers. For sure, this can be the daughter’s convoluted and unconscious way of connecting with primitive attachment issues, damaged and ruptured no doubt by her Mother’s sudden departure. But the psychological side is never really explored, it is just a stream of experience as the daughter moves from one situation to the next. She sleepwalks through her encounters.

The whole novel has a dream-like quality, which can feel quite disengaged – some images are stark and brightly coloured, others are blurred and inconsequential. It has a meandering feel to it which, in the end, lacks resolution. But what has stayed is the sumptuous quality of writing, it flows and glides across the pages, and that is a real gift. As Helen Dunmore says of Anna Stothard on the cover “The quality of her writing is remarkable”. Indeed it is.

Tina for the TripFiction Team

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