‘Hotel Silence,” the latest novel from Icelandic author Auour Ava Olafsdottir, is a quirky, uplifting book about suicide and depression. That’s right: Did I mention it was quirky?
Set in present-day Iceland, the book opens with Jonas Ebeneser, a 6-foot-tall, 185-pound middle aged handyman getting a tattoo of a white lily on his chest. “We’ll have to shave the hair first,” the tattoo artist says to him. “Otherwise your flower will be lost in the darkness of a forest.”
After learning from his ex-wife that his daughter isn’t his, Jonas falls into an existential tailspin. Getting a tattoo doesn’t help. Neither does visiting his senile mother in the nursing home — she’s obsessed with war and death — or chatting with his friend Svanur, a man who monologues about two topics: motorized vehicles and the deplorable status of women in the world.
“Did you know that women do 90 percent of all the work on earth but only own 1 percent of its assets? And what do men do in the meantime?”
He doesn’t wait for an answer and continues.
“They dawdle, get drunk and wage war.”
Convinced of the meaninglessness of it all, Jonas decides on suicide. But to spare his family the chore of finding his body he buys a one-way ticket to an unnamed country where war is a recent memory and land mines pepper the tourist sites. Armed with just a change of clothes and a toolbox, Jonas gives himself one week to complete his task.
But at the hotel he meets Fifi and May, a brother/sister duo who run the war-torn facility on sheer gumption, as well as May’s young son, who runs up and down the corridor, often in and out of occupied hotel rooms, with a makeshift cape around his neck.
Together they form a motley crew united in their quest to refurbish the hotel, as well as their lives, and Jonas begins to see his scars in a new way.
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A charming, heartfelt novel about one man turning back toward the light, “Hotel Silence” is a memorable work.