From the two-time Giller Prize shortlisted author, a dazzling circus of a novel set in the seductive underside of Montreal and New York between the wars
Two babies are abandoned in a Montreal orphanage in the winter of 1910. One is a girl named Rose; the other, a boy named Pierrot. Each display rare gifts that bring them adoration and hatred. As they are made to travel around the city performing clown routines to raise funds for the orphanage, they make plans for a sensational future. They are separated as teenagers and sent off to work as menial servants, but both soon find themselves escaping into the criminal world, participating in the vicious and absurd and perverted underbelly of Montreal and New York City between the wars. They search for each other, and one night, under the snowflakes, they reunite, and the underworld will never look quite the same. With all the storytelling skill and magical language for which she is known, Heather O’Neill dazzles us with a new tale of motherless gangsters, drug addicted pianists, radicalized chorus girls and a city whose economy hinges on the price of a kiss.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Take the unluckiest orphans you can imagine, and picture them hitting rock bottom. As she did with her previous novels (Lullabies for Little Criminals, The Girl Who Was Saturday Night), Heather O’Neill takes us to the gritty demimonde of Montreal (and this time, to New York as well). The Lonely Hearts Hotel is set in the early 1900s and features broken children and adults, all unwanted for one reason or another. Part fairy tale, part circus, O’Neill’s fictional world is a place where misfortune is plentiful, love tries hard, and art saves—or saves as much as it can.
In a love story of epic proportions, O'Neill's (Daydreams of Angels) excellent historical novel plumbs the depths of happiness and despair for two orphans determined not to let the world get them down. Stepping into the minds of children, circus performers, prostitutes, gangsters, and into the dismal days of the Great Depression, the world on these pages is unforgettable and larger than the moon. Pierrot and Rose are abandoned to an orphanage in 1914 Montreal, where they grow up together and discover their talent for absurdist, Vaudevillian-style performances in front of the other orphan children, then later in front of rich patrons in the city. Pierrot, with his mesmerizing piano, and Rose, with her invisible dancing bear, make lavish plans for their artistic career, fall in love with each other, and are inseparable until they are forced apart as teens. Through the ensuing years, each holds on to their dreams of extravagant circus shows and of finding each other again, while entering a dark world of drugs, sex, starvation, and survival. At the very end of the tunnel are floodlights to the stage, sad clowns, gigantic moon props, chorus girls, and the one thing that time and distance cannot diminish true love grander than any circus act. This novel will cast a spell on readers from page one.