Image Credit: fishcotec on flickr
Ah, the New Year dawned brightly, filled with sunshine! Very poetic, I know, but that’s what I woke up to :) I finished my last book of the year yesterday and that rounds up the list to a grand total of 70! I had expected to read about 100, I guess that was too tall an order. I will do a separate post on the books that I liked, which ones emerged my favorites and the ones that I was glad to have just finished.
For now, let me come to the review of The Grand Babylon Hotel by Arnold Bennett. Thanks to Vishy, who kindly lent me the book, I got to read this out-of-print classic written in 1902. The novel revolves around the events that unravel due to one incident. Theodore Racksole, an American millionaire and his daughter Nella whom he is very fond of, dine at the posh upscale Grand Babylon Hotel in London. When Nella demands a dish out of the menu and the waiter refuses to produce it, Racksole decides to buy the entire hotel on a whim. This leads to a series of incidents, like concentric circles, leading to secrets and a big mystery. Needless to say everything ends on a happy note with the mystery being solved.
Though quite a predictable book with regard to the ending, Bennett’s writing keeps you engrossed. The power of his writing is tested more so by the fact that the reader is not kept in the dark about the people involved in events that evolve. We know all along that it is Jules the waiter who is not to be trusted, that Miss Spencer is a vague suspicious sort and that Racksole and Nella will ultimately untie the knots. Unlike other mystery novels, the quest is not as much to find the perpetrators of the events but more so to find the hows and the whys of it.
Having said that, it doesn’t mean that there are no elements of surprise. Nearly every chapter ends on a note of suspense. It’s as if the author is slowly teasing out the story and in the process keeps you hooked.
Another feature I liked was that Bennett gives a lot of strength to Nella. A lot of the plot unfolds because of her adventurous spirit, which sends her on her own bold investigations. Not for her to sit in a chair with smelling salts, recovering out of a faint with people fanning her. Instead, she goes unescorted on a ship, lands on a seedy port in the middle of the night in the process of stalking her quarry and makes split second decisions, though dangerous, to satisfy her curiosity.
I enjoyed Bennett’s novel. At a slim 150 pages this is a quick read. Of course, the pace of the plot helps too. This is a classic mystery, which is also fleshed out with side dishes of romance, humor and adventure.
Thanks again Vishy!
Verdict: Classic read