Ruth Hogan’s third novel Queenie Malone’s Paradise Hotel shows how one little girl’s childhood affects her present-day adult self, and what she does as she learns how incomplete a picture she has of her past and the people in it.
Tilly was a bright, outgoing little girl who liked playing with ghosts and matches. She loved fizzy drinks, swear words, fish fingers and Catholic churches, but most of all she loved living in Brighton in Queenie Malone’s magnificent Paradise Hotel with its endearing and loving family of misfits – staff and guests alike.
But Tilly’s childhood was shattered when her mother sent her away from the only home she’d ever loved to boarding school with little explanation and no warning.
Now, Tilda has grown into an independent woman still damaged by her mother’s unaccountable cruelty. Wary of people, her only friend is her dog, Eli.
But when her mother dies, Tilda goes back to Brighton and with the help of her beloved Queenie sets about unravelling the mystery of her exile from The Paradise Hotel, only to discover that her mother was not the woman she thought she knew at all…
The narrator’s the same but not the same here in that we switch between seven-year-old Tilly and her forty-six-year-old adult self who now goes by Tilda. The book opens with Tilda returning to her dead mother’s home to sort through her possessions and decide what to do with everything.
While doing so, Tilda finds her mother’s notebooks, starts to read them, and begins to see that the memory she has of her mother and her childhood is far from the full picture. Which sets her off on a hunt for answers. It felt a bit odd that this didn’t take us to the Queenie Malone’s Paradise Hotel of the title until late in the book but I promise it is worth the wait.
It’s not always easy to get the balance right between different narrators or timelines but I think Ruth Hogan achieves that. I enjoyed the nostalgia from Tilly’s childhood, her attitude towards ghosts, her funny observations and malapropisms. While with the older Tilda, it was the fact that she decides to use the wine glasses and clothes her mother kept for best now rather than waiting for a time that may never come. That, and how she slowly expands her circle of acquaintances to create a new family of friends.
I loved the people in her past and present equally as much and this being a Ruth Hogan book, there are some great, even colourful, characters in the mix. All the more so here, given the book’s set in Brighton. Apart from the two Tilly/Tildas, I particularly warmed to Eli, Queenie, Ruby and Mrs O’Flaherty, Valentine and Bunny, Austin and Aubrey, Daniel, and Joseph Geronimo. And what brilliant names Ruth Hogan gives her characters.
In Queenie Malone’s Paradise Hotel Ruth Hogan looks at the father-daughter bond and the effect of that being broken; I may have had something in my eye when Tilda receives something he kept for her towards the end of the book. But Ruth Hogan more fully explores the complicated mother-daughter relationship and, in doing so, shows how fraught with misunderstanding it was but also the critical role which mental health issues can play in someone’s life and the impact they have.
There are some heartbreaking moments in Ruth Hogan’s latest novel but she uses her humour to great effect here and tempers those. This ultimately left me feeling optimistic about Tilda’s future and content to leave her and her friends in the world of Queenie Malone’s Paradise Hotel, which I adored.
Queenie Malone’s Paradise Hotel by Ruth Hogan is published by Two Roads, an imprint of Hodder & Stoughton. It is available as an audiobook, ebook and in hardback with the paperback due out in July. You can find it at Amazon UK or buy it from Hive where purchases help support your local independent bookshop.
My thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy through the Amazon Vine programme.