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It is the summer of 1940, and Lisbon, Portugal, is the only neutral port left in Europe - a city filled with spies, crowned heads, and refugees of every nationality, tipping back absinthe to while away the time until their escape. Awaiting safe passage to New York on the SS Manhattan, two couples meet: Pete and Julia Winters, expatriate Americans fleeing their sedate life in Paris; and Edward and Iris Freleng, sophisticated, independently wealthy, bohemian, and beset by the social and sexual anxieties of their class. As Portugal’s neutrality, and the world’s future, hang in the balance, the hidden threads in the lives of these four characters - Julia’s status as a Jew, Pete and Edward’s improbable affair, Iris’s increasingly desperate efforts to save her tenuous marriage - begin to come loose. This journey will change their lives irrevocably, as Europe sinks into war.
Gorgeously written, sexually and politically charged, David Leavitt’s long-awaited new novel is an extraordinary work.
I'm wondering whether this is a different "David Leavitt". It's a bit painful to be honest. The way in which the main characters meet is a slapstick comedy of sorts, but not a good one. Peter's glasses are stepped on accidentally by Edward. As Peter is short sighted this leaves Peter effectively blind. From that point it's embarrassing how often Leavitt has Peter stumble and fall into Edward's manly arms (I think it's three times within this initial meeting). Once was too cliché. Three times...is pressing the point a little too hard. As this is the opening of the book it is difficult to forgive and move on.
The rest of the book has comedic elements with plenty of light comedy characters (in particular Iris's dog), but thankfully nothing as bad as that first piece.
The sexual attraction is never quite convincing. It's more awkward than anything else and it's difficult to find what Pete and Edward see in each other. Ditto the friendship between the two couples - they have very little in common & it's hard to imagine them wanting to spend time in each other's company.
The Lost Language of Cranes and Equal Affections are both significantly superior works by Leavitt - each is absolutely engaging and enjoyable. By comparison The Two Hotel Frankfort's is so flat. It picks up right at the very end, but it's too little, too late.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful
The novel is set in a milieu that is ripe for deep consideration of issues of war, home, bigotry, fascism and faith, namely, Lisbon in the late 1930s, a city filled with refugees fleeing Europe and trying to find new countries to accept them. But the novel focuses instead on four shallow, silly people who act like spoiled teenagers out of Gossip Girls. The narrator is a car salesman; the other couple write mystery novels under a pseudonym. The characters are disengaged from the war and nearly oblivious to the tragedies around them, both in Lisbon and in Europe. No doubt there were plenty of dull, disengaged people trying to leave Europe at that time, but it's not something worth reading about. The audiobook narrator had a good sense of voice for the characters.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful
What did you love best about The Two Hotel Francforts?
This is a well-written and well-told story. The overall novel was poorly narrated such that reading it would have been preferable.
Who was your favorite character and why?
The dog, who was the cohesive character, without having a voice to render.
Who would you have cast as narrator instead of Stephen Bel Davies?
Anyone else who knew how to pronounce properly the languages (French, Portuguese) used occasionally, other than English; any other voice actor would likely have done a better job in differentiating the characters from each other with use of a different voice.
Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?
I never listen to any book in one sitting.
Any additional comments?
I rarely write a review, but am moved to do so because of the poor performance of the narrator, whose agent ought to restrict him to books without foreign languages in them. Knowing a few of these languages caused the occasional cringe at his mispronunciation.
Would you try another book from David Leavitt and/or Stephen Bel Davies?
Yes. I've read around and it does sound like some of his earlier novels were good ones.
What didn’t you like about Stephen Bel Davies’s performance?
The narrator gave his performance a rather flippant tone which detracted from the story all together. He tended not to differentiate between characters' voices well enough so that it was hard to tell who was speaking during a dialogue. And worst of all, he couldn't pronounce any words in French or other languages at all. Which was unfortunate since there were times when French was used. He also mispronounced English words often enough that I was distracted and annoyed by it. I don't usually have problems with narrators, but this one I will avoid in future.
Was The Two Hotel Francforts worth the listening time?
I have to say I'm not positive it was worth the listening time. It was an interesting story, but the plot at times just left me wondering about the characters and their emotions. It was hard to understand why they did what they did or why they didn't care more about various things. Really, the story is between 2 and 3 stars, but I suppose that might have been a higher score with a different narrator. The flippant tone just didn't help the story one bit.
What would have made The Two Hotel Francforts better?
Mr. Bel Davies to my mind over-interpreted the dialogue; he forced a characterization that was at odds with my own. Didn't like it
How could the performance have been better?
Less irony, a straighter less inflected interpretation.
You didn’t love this book... but did it have any redeeming qualities?
I admire David Leavitt and have enjoyed his earlier novels and share his interest in the period.
0 of 1 people found this review helpful