Friday, May 14, 2010

Book Review: Lost Girls And Love Hotels by Catherine Hanrahan

Lost Girls And Love Hotels - Catherine Hanrahan

Margaret’s life has never been easy. As a child, she was overweight, invisible to her father and never felt as though she could win her parents’ approval. Things didn’t improve when she reached her teenage years- although she lost her baby fat, she soon gained a reputation among the boys in her high school, using her body as a way of dealing with her insecurities. Throughout this growth period, Margaret’s older brother Frank slowly began to lose his mind, gripped by the invisible hands of a severe mental illness.
After a terrifying event forces her to leave the family home, Margaret moves to Japan, hoping to start over anew.
Working as a ‘native English speaker’ at the Air-Pro Stewardess Training Institute by day, Margaret’s nights are spent with her flatmate Ines- trawling the bars in search of alcohol, narcotics, and a new man to spend time with, at one of the many three-hour love hotels that exist in Tokyo.
While these actions temporarily help her to forget home, Margaret finds herself holding on to fragments of her past. She has two voicemail messages on her phone, which serve as constant reminders of what she has left behind, and which she can not bring herself to delete. Adding to her personal demons are the posters of a blonde-haired Western girl who has gone missing in Tokyo, and whose eyes seem to haunt Margaret everywhere she turns.
When Margaret embarks on an affair with a mysterious gangster (still hoping to forget everything from home), she learns that it is harder to leave the past behind than she had originally thought, and finds herself set on a path of infinite destruction and nihilism- one that she may not survive.

What I gained from reading this book:
In this novel, Margaret and her friends often lose themselves in their vices as a way of coping with their personal problems. Indulging in binge drinking, illicit substances and sexual encounters at love hotels with strange men, Margaret tries to forget about all of the negative things that have happened in her life- the betrayals, the teenage traumas, her family’s disintegration and her brother’s mental illness. She immerses herself in a hedonistic yet dangerous lifestyle and, through the changing of the narration from first person to ‘you’, the author is able to show Margaret’s detachment from the world.
This destructive behaviour is often a common denominator in people who have lived fractured lives and who are seeking to find an escape from all that they know. This novel serves as a reminder that these people often need help to find a new, healthier way of approaching their problems.

Hanrahan’s debut novel is full of strong imagery that sets the scene for Margaret’s new life in Asia. She describes the backstreets of Japan (with their hidden love hotels and dingy little bars), and contrasts them with the neon-strewn city landscapes that most people are familiar with. Mixing the seedy with the chic, Hanrahan is able to portray the cultural yet modern city of Tokyo in a way that people can instantly picture in their minds.

Margaret’s downward spiral into melancholy and substance abuse may be slightly off-putting for some readers. This novel is not meant to be a light, fun read- it is slightly disturbing, and really makes you think about how our earlier experiences in life can shape our future prospects. So if you’re looking for light-hearted entertainment, this novel is probably not a good choice.

Rating: 8 out of 10

Genre: Family/ Relationships

Recommended for: People who are interested in reading about one girl’s efforts to lose herself in a foreign country.

Australians can buy the book by clicking the picture below:

Lost Girls and Love Hotels

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