You know how at a dinner party there’s one person who talks a lot, is impressively erudite and eloquent, demands centre-stage as a right, and then there’s another person who speaks less but exudes so much charm that everything they say lifts the entire mood at the table? Well, this novel is that latter individual.
It reminded me a lot of All the Light we Cannot See – history as fairy story. Like in Doerr’s book we have a loveable motley crew of characters persecuted by a single malevolent foe (the hotel manager here) who single-handedly personifies an entire evil regime. The wisdom is perhaps mostly of the commonplace variety; the relationships mostly idealised with little or no conflict; the appeals to the heart rudimentary in character – orphaned children drafted in to tug at the heartstrings. I’m not sure how old the count is at the beginning of the novel but he seems the same age throughout, about sixty. He is both ideal father and ideal grandfather – two archetypes we all love. Just about everything in this novel is too good to be true. It’s escapist fiction, but escapist fiction at its most charming.
It’s a seamlessly paced novel. Rarely a dull moment. A remarkable achievement for a novel which wholly takes place within a confined space. All good novels have a distinctive rhythm they impose on the reader; they make you perform the mind’s equivalent of tapping your feet to the beat without realising it. I’ll miss the exuberance with which my feet tapped along to this.