Review

Hotel Honolulu: A Novel

by Paul Theroux

A
burned out author ducks out on life and responsibilities and hies
himself to Hawaii to recharge his batteries. He vows never to write
again, spends a profligate year on the beaches, and within a year
finds he has somehow acquired a bride and a child. Back to reality.
Since he never quite hit the lofty bestseller echelon, he finds
himself in an awkward state: he must hunt for a day job --- a new
experience in his 49 years.

The Hotel Honolulu is a down-at-the-heels Waikiki Beach
establishment that caters to residents and vacationers; near
downtown and, as the brochure says, "only blocks from the beach."
It is run by a wealthy eccentric named Buddy Hamstra who has fired
himself as the manager for corruption and lewd behavior with
guests. Our writer finds himself in the hotel bar, musing over his
wasted life with Buddy, and before he knows it, he's the new
manager.

"The staff is great," Buddy said. "They'll do your job for you, and
the rest is oh-jay-tee. But I need someone who looks like he knows
what he's doing."

"I'll try," I said.

"It's not rocket surgery," Buddy said. "And you've got the basic
qualification."

"What's that?"

 

"Reason being, you're a mainland howlie."

Buddy talks in fractured Hawaiian pidgin --- he's a "howlie"
(haole) himself, but fancies himself a native. He fills the
hotel with his outrageous language and self-indulgent lifestyle,
attracting in-laws and friends from his nefarious past, who circle
his physical decline like vultures on an updraft over road
kill.

Our hero's bride, Sweetie, is purported to be an illegitimate
daughter of JFK, the result of a bathtub encounter between a
vacationing pre-White House Kennedy and an Island girl helpfully
easing his back pain. Sweetie's mother, the generous Island girl,
is now simply a working girl with permanent resident privileges in
the hotel. Sweetie is unaware of her Patrician heritage, but her
daughter Rose (named after her great-grandmother of course) becomes
a precocious and cynical child who bedevils some of the more
boorish residents of the Hotel Honolulu under the doting eyes of
her parents.

The hotel is frequented by a number of fascinating residents and
guests, and therein lies the plot of HOTEL HONOLULU. Paul Theroux
is a well-established travel writer who has produced 23 prior
novels and several nonfiction travel books. No doubt he has met a
plethora of characters --- enough to populate several novels ---
and many show up here. The short chapters often are but a vignette;
a brief character sketch of a transient guest whose visit touches
the other guests and main characters in some way. Others portray
longtime residents or annual returnees, and Theroux treats us to
insights into these quirky characters, bringing them to life on the
page.

The book seemed erratic and disconnected at first, but then the
thread of the larger plot line began to weave through the separate
stories. Despite himself, our burned out author finds himself
concocting an outline for a book and pulling his own loose threads
of life together.

All in all, a pleasant summer read for people watchers and armchair
travelers.

Reviewed by Roz Shea (HOST BKPG ROZ) on January 22, 2011

Hotel Honolulu: A Novel
by Paul Theroux

  • Publication Date: May 15, 2002
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books
  • ISBN-10: 0618219153
  • ISBN-13: 9780618219155