Ah Mr. Bennett. You’ve done it again. Crafted a novel that took me in unexpected directions, imagined characters that will stick — Paris & Oenone — in a place that will likewise remain indelible.
I really like ancient mythology and how echoes appear so often in contemporary work. But it is not always successful and can be downright clumsy. Happily, Jonathan Bennett has managed it quite well.
This is a brave book — a kind of retelling of Helen and Paris and Oenone, one that Bennett twists and shapes into a series of first-person narratives to explore…well, what does he explore here? “The Colonial Hotel” takes an intriguing look at colonialism, at good intentions, at privilege in a world it doesn’t properly understand. Corruption. Power. Deception. Love. Longing. Betrayal. Sacrifice. And he explores the resiliency of women. And recovery — socially and personally. Very cool.
There is a lot of “rescue” in this book but motivation is not left out of that equation. Nor is consequence. And that’s what I think I enjoyed the most (though given the circumstances of those consequences, enjoyed may not be quite the right word here.)
“The Colonial Hotel” is such a slim volume — 227 pages hard cover in paperback dimensions. But man, it packs a heck of a lot into such a small space. Yes, it is a love story — all kinds of love and devotion set against…well, you’ll just have to read it. And then you’ll know.
I loved the book so much that I meted out the last few chapters like a ration. I finished it last night, reluctantly. It was a satisfying ending and I suspect I’ll come back to “The Colonial Hotel” sometime in the future. This one’s a keeper on my bookshelf.