2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Time has changed this book
I first read DM Thomas's novel The White Hotel when it was published in the early 80s. I loved it but found it extremely disturbing. This week, after 27 years, I read it again. My second reading was profoundly different from the first. It was still rewarding and disturbing. I cried pretty steadily for the last hour of reading and a while after. But the world has changed...
Published on Dec 13 2008 by R
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The White Hot Hit of the 80's
First of all, I will confess that I have only read this book once, and just finished it moments ago. I had heard that you weren't well read in the 80's unless you had read this book, so I picked it up at a used bookstore expecting a great read. This novel seems to be a myriad of subplots on the one hand, and a story told over and over, chapter after chapter, on the...
Published on April 20 2001 by Jinny McCormick
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Time has changed this book,
I first read DM Thomas's novel The White Hotel when it was published in the early 80s. I loved it but found it extremely disturbing. This week, after 27 years, I read it again. My second reading was profoundly different from the first. It was still rewarding and disturbing. I cried pretty steadily for the last hour of reading and a while after. But the world has changed so much in 27 years that it's a different book.
The White Hotel (don't read on if you don't want to know what happens) is about several things, but is essentially about Freud's article Beyond the Pleasure Principle, in which he posits that humans are motivated by the life instinct (creativity, harmony, sexual connection, reproduction, and self-preservation) and the death instinct (destruction, repetition, aggression, compulsion, and self-destruction) - by sex and death.
In the novel, the historical Freud is helping a young woman who has debilitating pain that doctors think is psychosomatic. As part of her treatment she writes Freud a poem, followed by a narrative explaining the events in the poem, in which she describes a passionate tryst she has in a hotel in the Alps (which she calls the White Hotel) with a man she identifies as Freud's son. She has never met Freud's son. In this fantasy, while the lovers have sex other guests are killed in all sorts of horrific ways. Bodies fall outside their window.
The poem is meant to be shocking: it's obscene, erotic, sometimes gross, and jarringly personal in the way she keeps referring to her lover as "your son". When I read the book in 1981, the sex section at the beginning of the story balanced the shocking death scene at the end. However, in the intervening 27 years our measure of what is sexually shocking has changed markedly. Now the sex can't provide that ballast, and the brutal violence at the end of the book doesn't fit as well - it might almost, to a first-time reader, feel a little tacked-on.
The story could be read as a novelization (and hence sort of proof) of Freud's theory of sex and death as the two great motivating forces. It's also a repudiation of Freud, as in the story Freud has let the young woman read his papers, and then she creates a fantasy that perfectly proves his theory. But also, in the novel the character Freud believes in clairvoyance, by which he means the ability to read minds and see into the future. (I don't know if the real Freud believed this, but he probably did, given Thomas's scholarship.) Given that Freud believes that, all his explanations for his patients' problems are turned on their heads, because he was treating mainly young Jewish women 30 years before the Holocaust, which would profoundly affect all of them: if they had any clairvoyance at all, it surely would explain their hysteria.
At the end of the story our heroine is killed, along with thousands of others, by German troops at Babi Yar. Thomas was criticized for lifting some of the description of the massacre directly from the text of a survivor (although he credits him on the copyright page), but I thought it was appropriate. Certain things are so horrific that they shouldn't be fictionalized. Thomas' handling of this portion of the book is extraordinarily sensitive.
The book has a coda in which all the characters (Jewish or not) are in heaven, which takes the form of Palestine. I don't see how the book could exist without this coda. It's like Thomas is taking the reader by the hand and leading us to the end of the experience, helping us cope, reminding us that although many died, life continued.
In one sense, things feel a little over-explained in the book: explanations are a bit too pat. I think Thomas was trying to write for a wide audience that wouldn't necessarily be able to fill in gaps. But I also feel after my second reading that I need to read it many more times. I don't understand the purpose of the various perspectives (different narrators and the disturbing second case in "your son") or the reason the plot unfolds as it does, or why our heroine spends so much time on trains.
Not that you need to understand any of the mechanics of the novel to feel the emotional impact. In an ironic twist, the book leaves me thinking about Freud's rival Jung. The novel has added to our collective unconscious this image of a large, stately hotel in the mountains, a place we might unexpectedly find ourselves while on a journey somewhere else. If it hadn't been for the coda I might have thought of the White Hotel as heaven, but instead I see it as our inner life (maybe the id). The lulling sound and motion of a train might hypnotize us into a visit to the White Hotel, deep in our psyche, where every character is an aspect of ourselves and events show us - well, that's the mystery.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The White Hot Hit of the 80's,
First of all, I will confess that I have only read this book once, and just finished it moments ago. I had heard that you weren't well read in the 80's unless you had read this book, so I picked it up at a used bookstore expecting a great read. This novel seems to be a myriad of subplots on the one hand, and a story told over and over, chapter after chapter, on the other. The first two or three "chapters" are interesting in a fairy tale sort of way, however, it seems that there is no plot in sight. The latter half of the book is quite confusing at first. At the start of every chapter it is unclear who the author is writing about. He also changes the name of the heroine, which is fine, but he chooses to confuse you first. I greatly agree with the reviewer above who says that the last chapter is an unneccessary add on. Throughout the entire book there (again) is no plot insight until the last two chapters, where the book is very loosely tied together. Basically, as is written above, the first three quarters of the book are an individual account of pyscoanalysis told through different characters, which was intriging on it's own. The last two chapters are a look inside the holocaust through the eyes of the characters involved. As seperate books, all of these chapters would have made a great series about the main character (if expounded on), but as one book, it is all over the place. I will say that I did understand the undertones that the reviewers above mention, however I still find the book to be loosely put together. In a week or two, I may read it again, and who knows? Maybe I will have a better opinion of this book.
One other thing, before I go, is that I think that the book is the author's self exploration into his own neurosis. I think he may have had an Oedipus complex. He is quite obsessed with the mother child bond.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A quarter of a million White Hotels in Babi Yar,
A demandingly-structured work whose parts I didn't connect until the second or third time I read it. Frau Anna G. is treated by Freud for hysterical pains in her womb and breast; Freud assumes all this arises from incidents in her childhood and from her repressed sexuality. A point he does not pick up is that Anna G has second sight. As the story unfolds, we discover that her pains are indeed the expression of pain, but pain arising from events in her future.
I read The White Hotel in '82, the paper back emblazoned with the promise "soon to be a major film". 18 years on I gather that major film is finally in hand, again. Frankly I'd say this book was unfilmable. Is it genius? Maybe, if genius can be a one-off occurrence. D. M. Thomas' other fiction (mostly out of print now) is distinctly second-rate compared to this, the only work in which his faux-naif narrative style works properly.
That said, the depiction of Anna G as a symbol for Europe literally buried by barbarism is superbly achieved, and 18 years on I'm still reading it; if this isn't brilliance then it's not far off. Profound, disturbing, extravagantly sexual.
4.0 out of 5 stars Disturbing, yet Beautiful...,
This novel on the surface seems to be a shocking exploitation of human sexuality and historical violence. However, the reader takes more away from this novel than an uncomfortable silence; this book beautifully weaves Virgin-Christ and Freudian imagery into a deeply introspective look into the mind -- the place where desires, memories, and even the capacity for the future lay. The heroine, Lisa Ergman, is treated by Freud and is the basis for his notorious "Anna G." case study. Thomas delves more deeply into this woman's life, illuminating the discrepancies and the events which lead up to her debilitating condition. Then he ties her suffering in the mind into the suffering of all humanity in the Holocaust. This is a book from which the more concerned and deeper reader can take away a valuable lesson in the human roots of psychoanalysis and the inner workings of humanity -- the torture and ecstasy from within and without. "The White Hotel" raises serious concerns about the validity of our own memories and the value of dissecting it. I would have given it five stars, but the last section of the novel seems tacked on and inappropriate.
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best books ever written,
By A Customer
I had a warning before reading this book, it was that nothing would ever seem the same and my awareness of my own femimine sexuality would escalate. Well he was right on both parts.
This book is so beautiful and so hard to explain. It's one story told in three ways: Poetic, symbolic and narrative. Some people do find it confusing, but it is absolutely necessary to re-read the book many times, only then will you see how each part is intertwined with the other, how the devastating end is actually told in each of the first two parts, told in those different ways. It makes you look at yourself in different ways too.
I read this book on holiday (in Israel!). I didn't put it down, reading it from cover to cover 8 times. I dreamt the story for many nights over the next two months. My heart and soul soar just thinking about it. I changed after reading this book. If you understand it, if you let your soul be touched by it, you will change too. Luxuriate in its warmth, and wrap yourself in its imaginary.
Finally, The White Hotel is one of only a handful of books I could not imagine living without.
4.0 out of 5 stars a difficult work on all fronts,
As an astute reader will notice, opinions vary greatly about this book
from those who feel it's the greatest 20th century novel to those...who feel it's an exploitative piece of junk.
After having read the book and most of the reviews below, I'm
undecided. I agree ... about the nature of
the Babi Yar narrative, yet on the other hand I found it one of the
most riveting Holocaust scenes I've ever read. There's no doubt that
it has a complex narrative structure and strong writing throughout --
it's still hard to judge it for its overall merit. The experience of
reading the first part ... reminds
me of the experience of reading the first section of Faulkner's The
Sound and the Fury -- in the latter example, once you realize that
it's written from the perspective of a 33 year old retarded boy, you
can start to piece together what's happening. The opening poem has
much of that same power but we don't find out the meaning until much
later. I liked the Freudian analysis and exchange. For those who
have read Freud's actual case studies, the analysis will seem quite
authentic and on target. No matter what you ultimately think of the
novel, you have to appreciate its complexity and ambition. I tend to
come out on the side of great novel. Parts of it are very disurbing,
but fitting to the subject matter. Certainly worth reading.
5.0 out of 5 stars If Schlienk Could Write this Well and Oprah had Reviewed it,
I could throw around superlatives and they would not have much impact. Too many reviews are written about mediocre books that one would think them, from the reviewers reaction, modern masterpieces. "Flawlessly-rendered scenes of incomparably lyrical, powerful, acute, seamless, ineffable, gorgeous, unassailable, tender, dynamic, lush, titillating, cerebral, divine, a libidinous, self-revelatory paean to the inexpressible in art and life that packs an emotional wallop!," or some such phrase.
Sometimes a person just has to come right out and say "This one grabbed me by the rear," and let it go at that. This is a book that really has to be experienced first-hand. My only word of advice is not to give up on the book too soon. It's absolutely unclear in the first 40 or 50 pages where Thomas is taking you and he doesn't present too promising a train ride at that stage. Settle in for the journey. Look out the window and watch as the landscape starts becoming more recognizable. The landmarks with which you thought you were earlier familiar, start revealing themselves in entirely new patterns. For this is a novel about revelation, more than anything else. Readers just have to trust that "all will be revealed" by novel's end, and it is, magnificently.
Thomas performs a near-miraculous feat in this novel. Reading The White Hotel is akin to looking through a an extremely high-powered telescope and what at first looks likes fuzzy, indiscreet blurs, become unbelievably colorful and complex nebulae and galaxies as the instrument's focus is adjusted. The book begins with a long poem, full of erotic imagery and near-incoherent description, that we are startled to learn is written by a woman. Following this is a prose version of the story that we learn is written by a young woman who is a semi-successful Opera-singer who comes to Sigmund Freud for analysis as she suffers from acute psychosomatic pains in her left breast and her womb. She will become the Frau Anna G. of Freud's famous case-study (Freud's "Wolfman" also appears as a peripheral character in the novel). Thomas lets us in on Freud's analysis, as well as his ambiguous feelings towards his patient. At several stages, Freud is ready to throw up his hands and tell her that he won't continue his treatment as he feels she is not forthcoming enough to make any real progress. He always relents, however, because he senses that "Lisa" (the Opera-singers real name) has enough redeeming attributes to warrant his time.
As the novel progresses, we learn more and more about Lisa's past and the seminal childhood incident (occurring when she is 3-years-old and vacationing with her parents in Odessa) that estranged her from her mother, and more particularly, from her father. This will be the central motif of the novel as well as Lisa's Cassandra-like ability to see the future through her dreams and her imaginative powers. If this begins to strike you as psychological clap-trap, rest assured it isn't. The novel at no point devolves into psycho-babble or pretentiousness. Everything in the novel, we come to learn, is there for a reason. There is absolutely nothing amateurish about the master-plan and the sublime architecture that Thomas erects (no Freudian pun intended). This is as carefully-constructed a novel as anything I've ever read.
I am certainly not going to spoil the read for anyone by giving away the novel's ending, but suffice it to say that it's as powerful as anything-written in the past 30 years, at minimum. The only drawback to this book is that I didn't give it enough of a chance on first-encounter. Hopefully, that won't be the case with those reading this review.
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the greatest novels in the last 20 years,
By A Customer
The White Hotel is a work of such genius that it deserves to be read by all. The story which connects a nuerotic opera singer in the 1920's who is treated by Sigmund Freud and the holocaust of world war two is both deeply moving and shocking. The first half, through the use of poetry, letters, pschological analysis and dreams gives the reader great insight into the main protagonist's mind and life. The second half sets her life among the many who are trapped in the winds of hell that was the holocaust. Thomas shows us that each life is valuable and by focussing on one who would perish in the murder at Babi Yar he reenforces the truth that terms such as "holocaust" leave us unconnected with the reality of the horror, and thus allows us to forget. By depicting one persons fragility and inner thoughts the reader cannot dissasociate themselves from her death. The novel leaves the reader gasping for breath and led me to stare blankly afterwards lost in the possibilty that such inhumanity towards fellow human beings is possible. This novel, Solzhenitsen's work and others such as Primo Levi ensure that the mass murders of millions this century will never be forgotten. It is a great read, poetical and at times frankly realistic, and most importantly, it is a work which (something so rare nowdays) deserves to be read
5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliantly disturbing story on humanity's darkest hours.,
His greatest literary work to date has taken the most reprhensible crimes against humanity and conveyed them through a sexual psychosis background/dialogue. The disturbing brilliance of that provokes the reader to examine oneself individually, and to judge humanity corporately. This book is not for the light-hearted. It is profound and deeply intellectual while at the same time subtle and emotionally challenging. One cannot read this book and not have some kind of emotional reaction to it. Upon my first read-through (this is a book that takes several reads to fully absorb all the nuances and insights), I was disturbed by its presentation. On the second read-through, I was amazed by the artistry of the picture painted by the words written. This novel will have a forceful impact upon the reader. You will come away fully embracing the writing or standing in judgement of the writer. There are no inbetween views. This novel takes the story of a young woman as she lives life in the midst of the Holocaust, and conveys the depravaties, the dehumanizing activities, the destructions that were exerted against humanity. A unique combination of massive war crimes and psycholanalysis makes this a book near impossible to put down. If you want a true challenge in your reading, if you want to be provoked out of your personal comfort zone, if you want something to deeply ponder, then look no further than The White Hotel. You'll go to that place and not return the same individual.
5.0 out of 5 stars haunting and beautiful,
By A Customer
It is the story of a lovely, very neurotic Jewish girl named Lisa Erdman who goes into therapy with Freud himself because she suffers from a chronic psycho-somatic pain in her left breast and pelvis. He sort of cures her so she can go on to lead a more or less normal life before being killed by the Nazis in a lime pit. Thomas' goal in writing this book was to show that any individual human life, no matter how seemingly insignificant or inconsequential, is priceless. The first half of the book basically chronicles Freud's sessions with Lisa. She retells this recurring dream of hers in which she meets a man on a train going nowhere. They go together to a fluid, serene white hotel, where they make love every night and day, amidst a series of horrible accidents and tragedies that befall many of the other guests staying there. After revealing this dream, Lisa tells Freud about things she remembers from her childhood, and other events, tragic and mediocre, that shaped her life. Freud then interprets the dream, using the things she told him about her life. The result of this deciphering is a great self- revelation for Lisa, as she begins to understand her failed relationship with her father and why this resulted in her ruined marriage; she "learns" of the adulterous relationship between her mother and her uncle, knowledge she already had but had repressed for so long she practically forgot about it. These stresses in her life had caused her neurosis, and confronting these memories makes her pain disappear. Reading Freud's diagnosis becomes almost tedious halfway through the novel, but the length and intricacy of them, as well as the attentive whole-heartedness with which Freud renders his treatment, force the reader to appreciate the amount of work that can go into the betterment of one human life. It is this work, this creation of memories, that gives life its inestimable value. And Thomas very clearly makes the point, at the end of the book, that! every single person killed in the Holocaust, every person that ever lived, has a tale to tell that is just as interesting, just as amazing, just as precious, as Lisa's. This book strengthened a deep appreciation that I already had for life. And this appreciation has dramatically shaped my behavior and thoughts, not only those towards myself, but towards others. As a result, I try to be kind and considerate. I want the people I touch to develop the same appreciation that I have for life. If everybody had this appreciation, there would be no such thing as racism, bureaucrats would help the starving children in Africa with a greater sense of urgency, we wouldn't see the news of senseless violence splattered across the headlines, and there would be no need for the sin we call war.
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White Hotel by D. M. Thomas (Mass Market Paperback - March 1982)
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