Hotel Silence by Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir: A reflective and uplifting novel about second chances – a must-read!
For Jónas, life has not been what he thought it would be. His wife has divorced him, his mother’s dementia is worsening and the emotional distance between himself and his daughter is widening into a chasm. Feeling lonely and directionless, Jónas decides to buy a one-way ticket to anywhere with no intention of returning home. When he arrives on the doorstep of Hotel Silence, a dilapidated hotel in a war-ravaged country, it seems like the perfect place to check out permanently. No food is served at the hotel, the plumbing hardly functions and the hotel staff seem absent-minded. However, life is not ready to let Jónas go just yet. As he begins to forge a relationship with the staff and other guests, he suddenly finds reasons to continue living. The pipes need fixing and rooms need redecorating. Will Jónas take advantage of this second chance or is it too late for him?
Jónas is a peculiar character that I could not help but love for his matter-of-fact approach to life. The first-person narration aids your attachment to him and his amusing comments and observations brought a smile to my face. Ólafsdóttir’s reader will feel sympathy for Jónas because you witness how low and depressed he feels. However, you feel relieved that he is able to find a new purpose in life through helping the hotel staff. This oscillation of the reader’s emotions is assisted by the structure of this novel; the first part is Jónas’ lamentation at his life whilst the second part is his redemption.
The setting of Hotel Silence is described in detail, from bullet-ridden walls to minefields, which creates a very cinematic illustration and brings the book to life. Although the precise location of Hotel Silence is never disclosed, I think this has a more powerful impact; the hotel could be in any country that has been torn apart by war and the few remaining inhabitants are synonymous with all those who have experienced terror and violence.
It is not only Jónas you pity, but also May, May’s son, Adam, and her brother, Fifi; they have spent five years of their lives in fear, with no place to call home and no safety because of the war. They have experienced so much hardship and brutality that they have nothing to help them rebuild their lives.
As the novel progresses, you realise a connection between the war-torn country and Jónas’ desire to kill himself; the country is in pieces and that is how Jónas feels. Furthermore, you discern a link between Jónas restoring the hotel’s appearance and slowly repairing his own life. It is interesting that he discovers a new reason to live when he is on the cusp of ending his life because it demonstrates how when you are in despair, you cannot give up hope completely.
Ólafsdóttir’s Hotel Silence is about life and the problems we encounter throughout it. It is a novel about desperation and the promise of a potential future. But most of all, it is a story about second chances and taking advantage of those opportunities, even if they are presented to you in the most bizarre way.