Book Review: The Lonely Hearts Hotel by Heather O’Neill

The Lonely Hearts HotelThe Lonely Hearts Hotel by Heather O’Neill
Publisher: Riverhead Books
Release Date: February 7, 2017
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Publisher’s Description:

The Lonely Hearts Hotel is a love story with the power of legend. An unparalleled tale of charismatic pianos, invisible dance partners, radicalized chorus girls, drug-addicted musicians, brooding clowns, and an underworld whose economy hinges on the price of a kiss. In a landscape like this, it takes great creative gifts to thwart one’s origins. It might also take true love.

Two babies are abandoned in a Montreal orphanage in the winter of 1914. Before long, their talents emerge: Pierrot is a piano prodigy; Rose lights up even the dreariest room with her dancing and comedy. As they travel around the city performing clown routines, the children fall in love with each other and dream up a plan for the most extraordinary and seductive circus show the world has ever seen. 

Separated as teenagers, sent off to work as servants during the Great Depression, both descend into the city’s underworld, dabbling in sex, drugs and theft in order to survive. But when Rose and Pierrot finally reunite beneath the snowflakes – after years of searching and desperate poverty – the possibilities of their childhood dreams are renewed, and they’ll go to extreme lengths to make them come true. Soon, Rose, Pierrot and their troupe of clowns and chorus girls have hit New York, commanding the stage as well as the alleys, and neither the theater nor the underworld will ever look the same.

This is going to be one of those reviews where I gush nonsensically because I don’t want to give away too much of the plot. The Lonely Hearts Hotel is a cross between a film noir and a fairy tale. It’s an odd combination but it works beautifully in this case.

Rose and Pierrot grew up in an orphanage together where life was miserable and they were both abused. It became somewhat better when the nuns discovered that they were each child prodigies in their own way. Pierrot was a master pianist and Rose a gifted performer and dancer. They started performing together for patrons of the orphanage to wild success. However, when they started to get too close to each other, they were shipped out to separate benefactors and lost touch.

More than once, when I thought the characters were going down a particular path, they chose a different one – sometimes for the good and sometimes not. But I never stopped rooting for them. Rose and Pierrot were both complex and utterly likeable even though they were deeply flawed. O’Neill’s light tone and beautiful prose kept what could have been a very depressing story from getting too heavy. I hope the author’s previous books are this good. I want to read them all now. I highly recommend The Lonely Hearts Hotel and thank my friend Kelly for recommending it to me.


  • HeatherAnne Norbury

    This sounds intriguing… in between you’re barely saying anything! LOL

  • S.G. Wright

    Oh wow nice review! I definitely wanted to know about this book because I read her last novel “The Girl Who Was Saturday Night” which was also very good. She writes in similes but her stories are interesting. Very glad you liked this one, I will get to the book.