Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
Arthur Hailey has been able to pierce and expose various industries over the course of his illustrious career like few others could have hoped. In Hotel (a novel adapted into a television show as well as a movie) he takes us through five fateful days at New Orleans’ largest hotel as the lives of its guests, workers and managers intersect in unpredictable ways.
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Arthur Hailey Opens the Doors to Human Drama
Hotels are a part of life many of us have been accustomed to since childhood, even if we didn’t get to stay in them all that often. They’ve likely been integrated into popular culture as much as real life, giving artists of all kinds the perfect canvas on which to paint rich and diverse characters mixed with the nearly-occult aspect of management. In his bestseller of the 60s titled Hotel, Arthur Hailey shows what a true virtuoso can accomplish with the concept.
Adapted into both a television show and a movie, the story takes place over the course of five intensely-charged days at New Orleans’ most expensive hotel, where the uppermost and eccentric crust of society tends to mingle. Contrary to outward appearances, the property is in financial difficulty, and the owner has only four days to come up with a solution.
The slacking employees and distracted management aren’t making things any easier, and in a final desperate (and likely foolish) bid the owner brings in Peter McDermott, a gifted and experienced hotel manager, but with a few scandals following him wherever he goes. A wild card if there ever was one, but beggars can’t be choosers.
As the hours go by the job seems to prove increasingly difficult and stressful, with one crisis making itself known as soon as the previous one has been dealt with. Between his unenthusiastic staff and the strange guests he is constantly forced to accommodate, Peter might just be in over his head, and the hotel might have to close its doors for good.
On the other side of the curtain though, the people are still coming and going, including a professional thief, several attractive women, a union president with a malicious scheme up his sleeve, a hotel detective and even actual royalty, though they behave like anything but what they claim to be. The lines of all these people intersect and converge on the hotel, mixing with the lives of its staff and managers, teaching each and every one of them a thing or two about life.
A Slice of Managerial Life in Hotel
If you aren’t familiar with the types of novels Arthur Hailey tends to write, then you should know he tends to follow a similar type of setup quite often, putting normal people (relatively speaking) working inside a specific industry in a pressure cooker sort of situation. As you might have guessed, this approach is also used in Hotel.
Compared to some of his other novels, it does feel like he placed a little more emphasis on the professional side of the hotel business, dedicating quite a bit of time in showing the inner workings of our hotel in question. Before long we become acquainted with the chain of command as well as the daily routine, and then just like a new hired face, we get to see some of the problems hiding under the rug.
While some of the crises did seem a little over-the-top and somewhat unlikely to happen, to say the least, many of them felt realistic enough, to the point where you could imagine actual hotel employees having to deal with this sort of scenario. Personally, I found it helped me develop some sympathy for the staff and to understand the source of their general crookedness, at least when it came to doing their job.
Thankfully, Arthur Hailey never seeks to make a documentary out of it, integrating his exposition of the hotel throughout the scenes, showing rather than explaining wherever possible. Even if you’ve never worked in any sort of service industry, he knows how to make you feel, on a basic level, what the workers and the management are going through.
Ultimately, I think most will agree the hotel itself becomes a character before long, a living and breathing entity teetering on the edge between live and death. Arthur Hailey made it a whole lot more than just the building where his story took place, and I found myself caring for its fate as much as I would for any protagonist. A remarkable achievement, to accomplish such a feat with a character who has no dialogue.
…a private hell was something you lived with alone, even when someone else’s casual questions nudged old, raw wounds within yourself.― Arthur Hailey, Hotel
Convergence of Eccentricity
Speaking of the cast of characters gracing the hotel, along with the building itself, the make up the heart and soul of the story, each and every one having their own distinct plot to follow. As you might have imagined, many of them bump into and influence each other, lives changing for both better and worse.
There is one thing I must say about how Arthur Hailey deals with the sprawling web of storylines he created in Hotel, and it’s that I was quite surprised at how light and simple he managed to keep the narration. Now, don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t mean the novel lacks depth (on the contrary, there is enough of that), but that Hailey trimmed as much fat as he possibly could from the carcass of his story.
As a result, we have a large number of unique characters who have an appreciable amount of complexity to them, just enough for what the story requires. Considering how many people we meet, I think this was the perfect approach, especially since it leaves some things up to the imagination, an element which I believe makes these types of stories a little more interesting, and of course, more reminiscent of the real world.
By today’s standards, I think some readers might find this novel to be a bit quaint, but in my opinion, it holds up marvelously, especially for those who are looking for something a little more relaxing they can sink into. It’s not an exciting action-packed romp, but rather a drama with some well-timed comedic elements to enhance the experience.
On the whole, I’d say the novel has a very warm atmosphere to it, taking us back to a time when things felt a little simpler and people’s problems seemed a little smaller. There’s no great evil to vanquish nor world to save; just a small, hermetically-sealed five-day story about a failing hotel and its many occupants.
The Final Verdict
Hotel by Arthur Hailey is rightfully considered a classic bestseller of the 60s, presenting a charming story in an expertly-developed setting, populated with unique and engaging characters who make for some truly memorable moments.
If you’ve enjoyed Hailey‘s other works, or an entertaining and heartwarming novel taking place in a hotel setting with a limited cast of characters sounds like the kind of thing you’d enjoy, then I wholeheartedly recommend you give this novel the attention it still very much deserves to this day.
(April 5, 1920 ― November 24, 2004)
Arthur Hailey was a British-Canadian novelist whose novels tended to centre on specific industries. Many of his novels ended up being bestsellers which were subsequently adapted into television series, including Hotel, Airport, Wheels and The Moneychangers.