The Two Hotel Francforts by David Leavitt

The two Hotel FrancfortsThe Two Hotel Francforts is an elegant novel of individual concerns set against a background of desperate times.

In Lisbon in 1940, two American couples meet up in the chaotic city as they join other exiles desperate to flee to the United States. The story is narrated by Pete Winters, one half of a middle-class expatriate couple fleeing their comfortable life in Paris:

The reader might have observed that to the conversation recorded above, my wife contributed not a word. I can assure you, however, that she was listening. I could tell by the way she ran her pearls through her fingers, like worry beads

Of all the ironclad arguments I had made against her staying in Europe, the one she had the hardest time refuting was that she was Jewish.

The Winters meet the Frelengs, Iris and Edward, bohemian sophisticates and independently wealthy, and their schnauzer, Daisy. Edward’s interest in him intoxicates Pete, who quickly adapts to a new and tantalising lifestyle while his wife languishes in their Lisbon accommodation. Iris Freleng befriends Julia, seemingly to protect her frailties but in reality covering up for much more.

As Pete becomes entangled in Edward’s fantasies and expectations, he looks at his own history and the story of his marriage. Behind her torpor Julia remains an enigmatic figure, much discussed in the novel, but barely through her own words or actions.

Edward circles around Pete and inveigles him into his world and the two begin a relationship. The time that they can have together is determined by Irene, who seeks to shelter Julia from the implications of the closeness of the two men. Pete gradually realises however that Irene and Edward have been down this path before, that he is one in a line of many, and that the Frelengs need him in order for their own relationship to thrive.

Pete is smitten and becomes quickly dependent on Edward, at which point the power switches in the relationship. Iris tries to gently advise Pete about how he should behave and to whom he owes his loyalties, but Pete is too obsessed to listen. He tells us the story of Julia and their courtship and their life together in Paris, but is too wrapped up in himself and his own obsessions to consider the impact of his own behaviour upon his wife.

Pete’s and Edward’s assignations, accompanied by Daisy, distract us from the real story, which explodes in the last chapters of the book, when Julia encounters her aunt Georgina, an important figure from her past, another exile, and seemingly the family black sheep. Julia flees the hotel lobby and runs to her room, rather than speak to Georgina.

From Georgina’s memoirs:

Much as I might wish the best for Alice, [Julia] I could not tolerate her … My mistake, I see now, was to think that she had the goods to lead the life I longed for her to lead – that exciting life of the aviatrix, the brave lady lawyer, the saloniste – when really, like her mother, she was mediocre through and through. In my own eagerness to nurture a young version of myself, I had given Alice more credit than she deserved.

Her aunt’s arrival in Lisbon finally spurs Julia out of her lethargy, and the consequences are shocking for both Pete and the reader. How can we have ignored Julia and her situation? Would this have happened if Pete had been paying more attention, rather than him being dismissive of his wife?

Julia’s actions now offer Pete redemption, an offer he seizes, and Leavitt ties the pieces up nicely in this well thought out and crafted novel of constraints, morals and behaviours, secrets and restraint. In this elegant and mannered novel Leavitt pushes forward themes of individual gratification and concerns against a backdrop of desperate times as thousands of refugees with Jewish background clamour to get on the ship that will take the Winters and the Frelengs back to the USA and to safety. I will not be the first person to think that Leavitt is the successor to E M Forster in style and themes; this could almost be Forster’s lost World War II novel.

David Leavitt The Two Hotel Francforts Bloomsbury 2013 PB 272pp $29.99

Into the Still Blue (Under the Never Sky #3) – Veronica Rossi

into the still blueWorlds kept them apart. Destiny brought them together. Outside the dome of Reverie, Aria and Perry are struggling to keep their people from tearing each other apart. Their situation is desperate, and with the Aether storms worsening time is running out for them to rescue Cinder from Hess and Sable. Cinder is both the key to unlock the Still Blue and their only hope for survival, so Aria and Perry assemble an unlikely team to attempt a daring rescue mission. They know that in a dying world, the bond of friendship is what matters most.

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Through the Ever Night (Under the Never Sky #2) – Veronica Rossi

through the ever nightAria has struggled to build a life for herself outside Reverie. It hasn’t be easy adjusting to life in the wilderness but the struggle has been worth it with Perry by her side. But Perry has other challenges. His people are looking to him for answers. Answers about what happened to his nephew and what’s happening to their world. And they don’t trust the privileged Aria, one of the enemy, in their midst. Soon Perry’ll be forced to chose between the tribe that looks to him for leadership and the girl that looks to him for love.

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Acid – Emma Pass

acid2113. In Jenna Strong’s world, ACID – the most brutal, controlling police force in history – rule supreme. No throwaway comment or muttered dissent goes unnoticed – or unpunished. And it was ACID agents who locked Jenna away for life, for a bloody crime she struggles to remember. The only female inmate in a violent high-security prison, Jenna has learned to survive by any means necessary. And when a mysterious rebel group breaks her out, she must use her strength, speed and skill to stay one step ahead of ACID – and to uncover the truth about what really happened on that dark night two years ago.

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Allegiant (Divergent #3) – Veronica Roth

allegiantWhat if your whole world was a lie? What if a single revelation – like a single choice – changed everything? What if love and loyalty made you do things you never expected?  The faction-based society that Tris Prior once believed in is shattered – fractured by violence and power struggles and scarred by loss and betrayal. So when offered a chance to explore the world past the limits she’s known, Tris is ready. Perhaps beyond the fence, she and Tobias will find a simple new life together, free from complicated lies, tangled loyalties, and painful memories.  But Tris’s new reality is even more alarming than the one she left behind.  Old discoveries are quickly rendered meaningless. Explosive new truths change the hearts of those she loves. And once again, Tris must battle to comprehend the complexities of human nature – and of herself – while facing impossible choices about courage, allegiance, sacrifice and love.

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Insergent (Divergent #2) – Veronica Roth

insurgentThe thrillingly dark sequel to New York Times bestseller, Divergent.

I have done bad things. I can’t take them back, and they are part of who I am.

Tris has survived a brutal attack on her former home and family. But she has paid a terrible price. Wracked by grief and guilt, she becomes ever more reckless as she struggles to accept her new future.  Yet if Tris wants to uncover the truth about her world, she must be stronger than ever! because more shocking choices and sacrifices lie ahead.

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Fuse (Pure #2) – Juliana Baggott

fuseThe next part in the epic PURE trilogy, for fans of Cormac McCarthy, Justin Cronin and Suzanne Collins. Partridge has escaped the safety of his father’s empire and left the Dome, where his people – the Pures – have sheltered for so long. He has ventured into the destroyed world inhabited by the Wretches, who live crippled by their injuries. Pressia, a Wretch, is desperate to decode the secrets of the past and, together with Partridge, she must seek out the answers that will save all their futures. But Partridge’s actions will not be forgiven. As the Dome unleashes horrifying vengeance upon the Wretches, Partridge has no choice but to return to face the darkness that lies there, leaving Pressia to continue searching for the truth that will change the fate of the world for all time.

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Pure (Book #1) – Julianna Baggott

pureWe know you are here, our brothers and sisters. We will, one day, emerge from the Dome to join you in peace. For now, we watch from afar, benevolently. Pressia Belze has lived outside of the Dome ever since the detonations. Struggling for survival she dreams of life inside the safety of the Dome with the ‘Pure’. Partridge, himself a Pure, knows that life inside the Dome, under the strict control of the leaders’ regime, isn’t as perfect as others think. Bound by a history that neither can clearly remember, Pressia and Partridge are destined to forge a new world.

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Creepy and Maud – Dianne Touchell

Charts the relationship between two social misfits, played out in the space between their windows. Creepy is a boy who watches from the shadows keenly observing and caustically commentating on human folly. Maud is less certain. A confused girl with a condition that embarrasses her parents and assures her isolation.

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The Edge of Nowhere – Elizabeth George

The first novel in Elizabeth George’s Young Adult series. This genre-bending work combines Elizabeth’s flair for mystery and suspense with the paranormal.

Becca King and her mother are on the run from her stepfather who has used Becca’s talent for hearing ‘whispers’ to make a large and illegal sum of money. Now their options for safety are running out. In the town of Langley on Whidbey Island, Becca finds refuge in the home of her mother’s childhood friend while her mother continues on to Canada in search of safety.

But on her first day in town Becca meets sixteen years old Derric Nyombe Matheson a Ugandan orphan who was adopted as a ten-year-old by the town’s Deputy Sheriff. Derric has a secret that no one on Whidbey Island knows. Derric and Becca form an un-severable bond. Becca is convinced that she’s the only person who can truly help him, and just maybe Derric can convince Becca that life is too short to live on the run.

 

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