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Hotel Silence by Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir

Hotel Silence

by Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1216154,926 (3.57)14
A charming and tender novel about a recently divorced man on a life-changing journey into a war-torn country, where he finds the tools to mend the lives of those he encounters.



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‘’Will the world miss me? No. Will the world be any poorer without me? No. Will the world survive without me? Yes. Is the world a better place now than when I came into it? No. What have I done to improve it? Nothing.’’

When we need to place a name next to the word ‘’pessimism’’, Jonas’ will be ideal. Our main protagonist stands on a crossroads, the most crucial in his life. His marriage is broken, shadows are cast over the paternity of his beloved daughter and he feels there is no purpose left in his course on this planet. So, he decides to put an end. Permanently. To kill himself. Observing the people who marked his life for what he intends to be the last time, he decides to travel abroad to lessen the pain for his child.

The story is set in Iceland, a place of immense, wild beauty, a land of darkness and mystery. Jonas’ mood matches the melancholic nature. A nature that hides flames inside, a country of volcanoes, of fire and ice. And Jonas is like a volcano about to erupt while the series of disappointments from his own family have turned him into ice. Instead of fighting, he gets tired and tries to find the best way for his ‘’exit’’.

I read page after page waiting for Jonas’ end. I was hooked. At first, you may think that not much happens but this depends on what each reader considers as ‘’happens’’. There is not an emphasis on ‘’action’’, but on Jonas’ mental state, the state of depression that has covered his life. Reading his thoughts was an adventure in itself and Olafsdottir manages to create anticipation out of everyday interactions.

‘’Do you think you can glue back together a broken world?’’

Jonas finds himself a guest in ‘Hotel Silence’, a dilapidated hotel in a country torn and bled by war. It remains unnamed but the descriptions of the natural environment and the emphasis on a recent conflict brings many places to mind. The Balkans, the Eastern Europe, Israel, it could be anywhere and it doesn’t matter. Whatever the writer’s inspiration may have been, the setting is extremely vivid. The city is devastated, the people full of wounds that are impossible to heal, struggling to leave the past behind and rebuild their lives. Jonas becomes a part of this community.

‘’And if there was silence, you knew that it would all start again tomorrow.’’

Mae, the young woman who runs the hotel along with her brother, is an astonishing character, the jewel of the book. Having survived a Hell on Earth, she shows Jonas that there is always something to fight form even if the tunnel seems to have no end. Mae speaks in some of the most beautiful, heartfelt quotes and provides hope and light in a dark world. The rest of the character are vivid, well-drawn and quirky enough to enjoy.

The writing is extremely interesting. There is the distinctive, minimalistic Nordic tone that never becomes dry, but contains worlds within a few short sentences, even though this is a translation.The dialogue is well-structured, the voice of Jonas is clear and complex. There are many bookish reference centred around troubled writers. In fact, books are everywhere in the story. Novels, poetry, Non Fiction. I found ‘’ Hotel Silence’’ to be much more bookish and literary than other novels which wished to be advertised as such and ended up being devoid of any significant reference. Yes, ‘Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore’’ , I am looking at you and your big, stinking pile of nothing… There are also references to the singers’ curse of ‘’27’’ and emphasis on tattoos and scars, whatever consists a tortured soul.

The ending, though...It was...I don’t even know how I feel about it...It causes questions and interpretations. You’ll have to read it to understand what I mean. It was unexpected and fitting to the tone of the story, but I can’t say that it was wholly satisfying on a personal level. In my opinion, it leaves room for a second book which I would be more than happy to read.

‘’Hotel Silence’’ is a special book. If you have an issue with so-called depressing themes, then you may find it difficult to read. However, life is full of difficult subjects and to avoid them means to live inside a pink bubble, but that’s just me. It’s special and demanding, in tone, in themes, in images and characters. It is a work that showcases -once again- why Nordic Literature is arguably the most interesting in our literary world.

Many thanks to Grove Atlantic and NetGalley for the ARC in exchange of an honest review. ( )
  AmaliaGavea | Jul 15, 2018 |
The title of Hotel Silence by Audur Ava Olafsdottir (translated by Brian FitzGibbon) in the original Icelandic translates to "scars." That is the heart of the book all the way up to and including the very surprising ending. Each person bears the scars of his life. The scars of physical wounds are visible, but the scars of emotional wounds manifest themselves in different ways. Jonas thinks his path takes him to ending his life. In helping others, he finds himself. Therein lies the lesson of the book.

Read my complete review at http://www.memoriesfrombooks.com/2018/06/hotel-silence.html

Reviewed for NetGalley ( )
  njmom3 | Jun 4, 2018 |
This is my first title from Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir. After enjoying Sjon’s The Blue Fox I was keen to explore more Icelandic fiction and descriptors like ‘charming’ and ‘tender’ have been liberally applied to this and her previous novels. Firstly, I was struck by just how simple the Hotel Silence storyline was. Now plot simplicity is not necessarily a bad thing, if it means greater focus is applied to other story elements, such as character development. But I knew, given his stated intention to end things, it was going to take some first class character development for me to engage with Ólafsdóttir’s protagonist. Read full review >> ( )
  BookloverBookReviews | Mar 14, 2018 |
A quiet and thoughtful read. ( )
  geraldinefm | Mar 13, 2018 |
This is very different from my usual reads. It tells the story of Jónas Ebeneser, a 49 yr. old man who has (in his eyes) lost everything. The last straw was learning from his ex-wife that he’s not the father of his adult daughter. Now living in a tiny flat, he calmly decides there is no reason for him to go on living.

He’s always been a quiet, insular man. After selling his business, his only job these days is visiting his elderly mother. “I don’t know who I am. I’m nothing & I own nothing”. As Jónas considers his options he concludes it would be better for him to end things in a foreign country.

This is the first part of the book & there’s a dreamy, almost surreal feel to it. The prose is poetic & non-linear as Jónas reminisces about his life & the people who have crossed his path. Despite how it may sound, there’s not a drop of self-pity or drama in Jónas’ character. He’s simply reached a point where he has no purpose.

The second part of the story moves to a small village in an unnamed country that is slowly rebuilding after a long war. Jónas takes a room at the Hotel Silence which is decidedly worse for wear. It’s run by a young sister & brother who are determined to bring it back to its former glory. After he makes some small repairs to his own room, he becomes the hotel’s resident handyman. Word spreads quickly & it’s not long before other villagers come knocking.

This section is much more earthbound. As Jónas strolls the safe areas & meets the people, we see firsthand the physical & emotional tolls of war. A man who lived a comfortable if basic life & wants to die is suddenly surrounded by those who have nothing & fight to live. Their stories are poignant & their courage, humbling. And through no effort of his own he forms relationships. With each job, you get the sense he’s also repairing himself as he begins to feel needed & useful again.

This is a book that will appeal to fans of literary fiction, especially if you enjoy that indefinable Scandi vibe. It’s a quiet, introspective read with several running themes. Loss, isolation, self worth, survival, love….all of these are explored through analogy & symbolism. Quotes from well know poets & philosophers take the place of chapter headers. It’s a strange, quirky & ultimately hopeful story about mending what is broken, whether it’s a chair or a human being.

I found it an oddly peaceful, almost mesmerizing read. And in a world where people walk around with faces glued to phones & spend more time in the virtual world, its themes are hauntingly relevant. ( )
  RowingRabbit | Dec 31, 2017 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Ólafsdóttir, Auður Avaprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
FitzGibbon, BrianTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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The formation of a scar is a natural part of the biological process, which occurs when a lesion to the skin or other body tissue grows after an accident, illness or surgery. Since the body is unable to create an exact replica of the damaged tissue, the fresh tissue grows with a new texture and properties that differs rom the undamaged skin around it.
The navel is our centre or core and by that we mean the centre of the universe. it is a scar that no longer serves a purpose.
The body is an open space, a battleground of conflicts. -Julia Kristeva
to all the unknown victims: nurses, teachers, bartenders, poets, schoolchildren, librarians, and electricians. And also to J.
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I know how ludicrous I look naked, nevertheless I start to undress, first my trousers and socks, then I unbutton my shirt, revealing the glistening white water lily on my pink flesh, half a knife's length away from the muscular organ that pumps either thought sand litres of blood a day, finally I take off my underpants-all in that order.
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