Reviews of Nobel Prize winner | Comments on all Shakespeare's plays | Poetry reviews | Multiple reviews of same author | Haiti books |


By Roddy Doyle, Ann Enright, Hugo Hamilton, Jennifer Johnson, Joseph O’Connor and Colm Toibin
San Diego: A Harvest Original, Harcourt Brace & Company, 1997
ISBN: 0-15-600633-2 273 pages

Bob Corbett
April 2016

This delightful and hilarious work was written in 7 chapters by 6 different authors. One of the author’s wrote two of the chapters, but we are not told who that was either. Nor is there any word of what the cooperation among them was, but there had to be some, since appropriate things are said about this or that character in one chapter which had been written by someone else in a different chapter. In any case this was a quite unusual and fascinating adventure for this reader.

“It is the desire of the writers not to disclose authorship of individual stories in the book.”

The stories are all situated in Finbar’s Hotel, a (now) seedy fairly run down hotel near the train station in Dublin, within sight of the River Liffey. It had once been an upscale hotel for many years, but had burned and emerged after some years and work to go on as a hotel, but much of its old luster was gone, and at the time of these stories it was on its last days, and was about to be torn down and replaced by a totally new building.

The stories do, in some of them at least, reflect back to the earlier days of the hotel, while a few of the stories are just situated strictly in the present time and deal with the lives of those who rent a room for a short period of time.

I found the stories quite interesting, at times even gripping. Some were funny, some quite sad. There was no question that this hotel was on the skids and not a very attractive place to stay in Dublin, yet the once-grand status of the hotel hangs in the air over the stories.

Below I just make a few comments on each story, trying not to reveal too much of the plot, but to give some flavor of what sorts of things are dealt with in each story.

Room 101: Benny Does Dublin

Ben Winters is a fairly quiet middle class fellow who’s mainly followed the traditional pattern of a middle class Irishman. He’s married, happy with his wife, has decent kids, a steady job, no real serious problems with the world.

However, he’s 43 now and for reasons he can’t understand, he really wants to once, just once for one day and evening, take off on his own and live like people he reads about in books or sees on the telly.

Thus he concocts a lame excuse to be off for ONE DAY AND NIGHT allegedly with his brother to attend a funeral of an old school mate. He goes to Finbar’s Hotel, an old, but run down hotel in downtown Dublin, only a short distance from Ben’s house. He’s never stayed in a hotel before in his life.

His stay is simply hilarious, but horrible. He is disappointed that he can’t FIND the little bar which he is sure is somewhere in his room, can’t figure out the TV remote control, is lonely and socially inept and gets into more trouble in a single day that most could in several months, yet the telling of it is quite funny.

Room 102: White Lies

Rose lives in London and came back to Dublin because her sister Ivy asked her too. They stay in the hotel but Rose hates it. Ivy is married to Joe. Rose takes some sort of non-medicinal pills when she in the bathroom and Rose is just generally angry and sassy and could never live at home or be sympathetic with living back in Ireland.

The purpose of Ivy’s invitation was, seemingly, to beg Rose to come back home and see her mother and mend whatever issue it was that drove Rose away. Rose is simply adamant and she will not. We readers learn the real reason, but Rose never does. It is a very sad tale, but well told and suspenseful.


Ken Brogan is an electrician and lover of metal music. He has snuck Moggie, a cat, into the hotel which explicitly announces its policy of “no pets”. He wanders around the hotel, seemingly not knowing what to do with himself, but does meet the old porter who is dying with cancer and tells Ken about his desire to get a college degree before he dies.

He has some drinks with Collete at the bar. She is a prostitute and ends up going to Ken’s room where she talks and he rants about all the hate within himself.

There is much more to his having his cat with him than meets the eye, and in the end the story is much more about Ken, the cat and his lover than it is about anything else, yet the visiting prostitute plays an important role in it all. A very nice surprising story.

Room 104: THE NIGHT MANAGER. Pp 115 – 156

John Farrell, the hotel manager tells much of the history of the hotel, including its having burned and been somewhat restored, now about to be torn down and a new hotel, fancier, built on the spot. John’s family was deeply involved in the hotel for two generations and he thinks back on the years and difficulties.

However, the night manager knows the guest in 104, over 40. He is Alfie, the older brother of Roisin, who was the same age as John Farrell and as kids they were inseparable, but she was mentally disturbed. She often wanted to be naked with him, which he liked, but they never had any sorts of sex at all.

Both the night manager and the guest in 104 are aware of the guest in room 107 who was the previous owner of the hotel and is seemingly with two Dutch journalists. These people terrify Alfie and so he finally leaves the hotel, worried about them. So is John Farrell.

This story seems more in the work to give us some history of the hotel and to prepare the reader for the last chapter of the book.

Room 105: THE TEST Pp. 159 – 205

Maureen Connolly, a teacher of literature in a Galway high school, is in a very sad place. She is dying of cancer and is refusing further treatment. At the same time her husband is having an affair with a very young woman who only a couple years earlier was her student in high school.

When her husband thinks she is off having her weekly cancer treatment she is actually just travelling around Ireland and this weekend she is back in Dublin and stays at Finbar’s Hotel.

She meets an American travel guide at the hotel. They have dinner together, seem to hit it off and get into some very serious conversation. She lies to him a good deal, even telling him that she’s actually a nun!

It seems like this is going to be a crazy night for her and that she will have sex with the travel guide whom she invites up to her room. However, she has convinced him that she is actually a nun! The night drags on with some interesting surprises and yet seems to have been a very touching and lovely experience for both of them.

This is really both a fascinating story and was a deeply emotional experience for this reader.

Room 106: AN OLD FLAME Pp. 209 – 236

May just came into Dublin from New Mexico. Central to the story is the fire that brought down the hotel before. May Branock was her name in her Irish days, but now calls herself Mary Breathnach. She some money, mostly from inheriting the house her father had and he has now died.

7 years earlier she lived in New Mexico and married, but her husband died when she was 40 years old. Her father had just died six weeks ago and her Mom earlier, so May has inherited the family home.

She was 16 when the hotel had burned. Her father was there as fireman and had helped put out the fire. May is sort of lost back in Ireland and even tries to make contact with the old boyfriend she had when she was 16 but that just didn’t work out.

She’s a very sad woman, lonely, afraid, even though she is now somewhat wealthy and seemingly planning to return to the states, believing her life will now be different. The reader has the strong sense she will not be much different in the future.

ROOM 107: PORTRAIT OF A LADY pp. 239-273.

Many years ago the narrator had stolen some rare paintings, among them a Rembrandt. Now some seemingly shady Dutchmen want to buy that painting for a great deal of money, but on both buyer and seller side there is simply no trust.

The narrator thief works out his plan for how to pull off the sale and be sure that he both gets his money and is not found out by the police, but he suspects everyone, even the woman next door in Room 107. So, he’s got a plan fully worked out and returns to explain it to the Dutchmen, but in the process he suspects the woman in 106 and everything falls apart when he can’t help but explore than possibility. A fascinating surprise ending!

Bob Corbett


Becoming Reading Thinking Journals


Bob Corbett