Books May 2001

New & Noteworthy

Hotel Honolulu

Although Paul Theroux's latest book bills itself as a novel, it proves to be another example of the self-reflexive whimsy that has come to dominate the author's work. The Theroux titles My Secret History and My Other Life could have served just as well for this effort, in which a fifty-something novelist (whose career bears a distinct resemblance to a certain Paul Theroux's) moves to Hawaii, where he abandons writing for a job as a hotel manager. In a narrative as laid-back as a riff of slack-key guitar, he marries the daughter of the in-house hooker and spends his days dealing with bumptious guests, enigmatic employees, and his larger-than-life boss, Buddy Hamstra.

The writing is at its best when Theroux is sketching a side of Hawaii that tourists might see but never understand—the service-industry workers and expatriate landowners who try to find some sort of permanence in this most temporary of states. The book brims with eccentric characters and their wild, usually morbid tales. Philandering honeymooners, priapic Japanese businessmen, a shoe fetishist, and a 650-pound pop star make raucous cameo appearances, but it is the characters that hang around, such as a mail-order Filipina bride, a venomous journalist known as Madam Ma, and the bibulous Buddy, who linger in the reader's imagination.

Theroux is less successful with his narrator, whose voice is merely a half-hearted attempt at exploring the sort of literary counterlife that so interests the author. The reluctant manager remains too anemic a presence to unite the novel in a coherent fictional scheme; the demons that keep him from writing are never satisfactorily conjured. His wife, Sweetie, who is supposedly the illegitimate daughter of JFK, and their wild child, Rose, are querulous and underdeveloped in comparison with the other residents. Theroux would have been wiser to check himself out of Hotel Honolulu and let it become the short-story collection it clearly longs to be.

Presented by

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well. Bestselling author Mark Bittman teaches James Hamblin the recipe that everyone is Googling.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well.

Video

Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.

Video

The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.

Video

Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.

Video

Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses

Video

Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in Entertainment

More back issues, Sept 1995 to present.

Just In