Friday, November 7, 2014

Review: The Grand Hotel by Scott Kenemore

Scott Kenemore is an author that up until now I wasn't familiar with. He penned a few zombie novels, as well as a humorous nonfiction series, The Zen of Zombies, but it's with The Grand Hotel that Mr. Kenemore leaves the zombie genre to try a different kind of novel.

The Grand Hotel is a dark fantasy novel with elements of horror and humor sewn throughout. The frame story is narrated by the night clerk of a mysterious, labyrinthian hotel. The man, much like The Grand Hotel, is much more than he appears to be, and it's this mystery that forms the skeleton of the novel, although it's the meat on the bones which is truly interesting.

When a tour group arrives, the clerk takes them on a tour of the hotel, meeting several hotel inhabitants along the way. The bulk of the book is comprised of these episodes, in which different hotel guests, each eccentric and special in their own way, narrate their personal stories. These stories vary in content, but almost all involve the supernatural in some way. The stories are akin to fables, and the clerk makes a game out of the tour with a young girl in the tour group, asking her after each story what the true point of the story is.

Some of the stories are stronger than others, but overall will fail to pierce the armor of the hardened horror reader. Some are weird enough to be memorable, but others are rather forgettable, and the hotel's guests are the same way, although they are often more interesting than their stories. One old lady spends her time alone in a ballroom with a variety of tuxedo'd mannequins on wheels in which she dances with, although her story doesn't live up to this interesting set piece, and is instead a forgettable yarn about a young nobleman and a mysterious gypsy girl she was friends with. A former television chef tells a story about a haunted Scottish castle where his ghost-hunting cooking show had it's last show. The narrative voices used for the stories seem a bit forced as well. While Mr. Kenemore may have been going for a more natural feel with how the speakers tell their tales, I couldn't help but find myself straining to immerse myself in the individual stories.

Kenemore's novel mixed dark fantasy elements with some whimsy, and while it can be an entertaining read it doesn't hit it's potential. Many of the twists in the frame story are spotted early on, leading to a lackluster conclusion. Kenemore did make interesting use of the Indian collection of stories Vetala Panchavimshati (or Baital Pachisi) which gives an interesting bent to the novel, but not enough to make the book a standout. I'm not saying the novel is bad, because I don't believe that's the case, and I see a lot of potential in Mr. Kenemore. The novel is worth a read, but there's nothing there that warrants a revisit either. Regardless, I will be paying close attention to Scott Kenemore's future books.

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