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The Third Hotel: A Novel (Hardcover)
"[A] future cult classic." —The New York Times Book Review
"There’s Borges and Bolaño, Kafka and Cortázar, Modiano and Murakami, and now Laura van den Berg." —The Washington Post
Named a Best Book of 2018 by The Boston Globe, Huffington Post, Electric Literature and Lit Hub. An August 2018 IndieNext Selection. Named a Summer 2018 Read by The Washington Post, Vulture, Nylon, Elle, BBC, InStyle, Refinery29, Bustle, O, the Oprah Magazine, Entertainment Weekly, Harper's Bazaar, Conde Nast Traveler, Southern Living, Lit Hub, and Vol. 1 Brooklyn.
In Havana, Cuba, a widow tries to come to terms with her husband’s death—and the truth about their marriage—in Laura van den Berg’s surreal, mystifying story of psychological reflection and metaphysical mystery.
Shortly after Clare arrives in Havana, Cuba, to attend the annual Festival of New Latin American Cinema, she finds her husband, Richard, standing outside a museum. He’s wearing a white linen suit she’s never seen before, and he’s supposed to be dead. Grief-stricken and baffled, Clare tails Richard, a horror film scholar, through the newly tourist-filled streets of Havana, clocking his every move. As the distinction between reality and fantasy blurs, Clare finds grounding in memories of her childhood in Florida and of her marriage to Richard, revealing her role in his death and reappearance along the way. The Third Hotel is a propulsive, brilliantly shape-shifting novel from an inventive author at the height of her narrative powers.
About the Author
Laura van den Berg is the author of two story collections, What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us and The Isle of Youth, and the novel Find Me. Her fiction has received the Rosenthal Family Foundation Award from the American Academy of Arts & Letters, the Bard Fiction Prize, an O. Henry Award, and a MacDowell Colony fellowship. Born and raised in Florida, she lives in Cambridge, MA, with her husband and dog.
"Always vivid . . . There's no denying [van den Berg's] skill at rendering this material; her sentences, at their best, are extraordinarily lucid, lodging places and people indelibly in memory . . . Read [The Third Hotel] as the inscrutable future cult classic it probably is, and let yourself be carried along by its twisting, unsettling currents." —J. Robert Lennon, The New York Times Book Review
"There’s Borges and Bolaño, Kafka and Cortázar, Modiano and Murakami, and now Laura van den Berg. The acclaimed author of two story collections and a novel, van den Berg has always been good, but with The Third Hotel she’s become fantastic — in every sense of the word . . . The fantastic plot is elevated by van den Berg’s fantastic writing and unique twists of language . . . ." —Randy Rosenthal, The Washington Post
"This is no Hitchcockian tale of a double life but an insightful portrait of grief’s power to create 'a dislocation of reality.' Mischievous details and winningly bizarre characters . . . help the book avoid melodrama and memorably capture the 'thundering mystery' of marriage and heartbreak." —The New Yorker
"Strange, unsettling, and profound from start to finish, The Third Hotel is a book teeming with the kind of chaos that can only emanate from the mind. It could be fairly described as a meditation on grief, or marriage, or travel; fresh insights on each materialize regularly, at enviable levels of nuance . . . [van den Berg] gets under your skin and hits bone. Hers is a terror tale as mercurial as life, veering between the grisly and the gentle . . . The Third Hotel ultimately probes one woman’s reaction to the senseless." —David Canfield, Entertainment Weekly
"Laura van den Berg is an artist of the uncanny. As with some surrealist painting, devour her work quickly and the trick will not snag . . . Clare’s eerie perceptional wobbles are conjured beautifully by van den Berg, who sees like a painter and narrates like a crime reporter. To read The Third Hotel sometimes feels like following a character based on Joan Didion sinking deeper into a universe whose laws were written by Patricia Highsmith." —John Freeman, The Boston Globe
"The Third Hotel contains all of the ingredients for a classic work of horror . . . Not every author can make a character both fly through supernatural events and remain grounded in a place the way van den Berg does with Clare. The strength of van den Berg’s storytelling comes from Clare’s attempts to solve the mystery of why Richard has hunkered down in a different country, layered with grief from back home that continues to haunt her. She’s a “final girl” whose denouement horrifies in a modern, bloodless way." —Bethanne Patrick, TIME
"Van Den Berg doesn't do neatness. She does elegance. She writes with off-kilter beauty and absolute relaxation; the less peaceful a sentence should be, the more peaceful it is . . . The Third Hotel is a novel that operates in symbols and layers, which means you can read it however you like."—Lily Meyer, NPR.org
"Wonderful, lucid, mysterious." —James Wood, Conde Nast Traveler
"Beautiful and unsettling . . . Julio Cortázar could see himself walking the partially erased and re-inscribed streets of van den Berg’s imagination, but in the end those streets are, without a doubt, van den Berg’s own." —Christian Kiefer, The Paris Review (Staff Pick)
"The Third Hotel sets a creepy, unsettling mood . . . . Steeped in magical realism, The Third Hotel is a dreamy and lushly rendered study of bereavement, the loneliness of travel, and the intricacies of a marriage. This is a gorgeous and layered novel that will haunt you for days after you've finished." —Samantha Irby, Marie Claire
"Eerie and uncanny, layered and sharp . . . Though subtly drawn, what it means to be a woman becomes just as central to The Third Hotel as the mystery of Richard’s reappearance. Powerful and atmospheric, van den Berg’s novel portrays a haunting descent into grief and the mysteries we can’t quite solve while advancing a thought-provoking exploration of marriage, misogyny, and the loneliness that lurks within unwavering privacy." —Lauren Sarazen, Los Angeles Review of Books
"A twisty exploration of grief and perception as well as the ways in which we contribute to our own undoing." —Julia Pierpont, O, the Oprah Magazine
"Reading Laura van den Berg's disquieting new novel, The Third Hotel, is akin to walking out of a dark movie theater into bright sunlight. Part of you is still living in a cinematic dreamscape. The real world is what's imaginary . . . the writing is lovely and fluid. —Nancy Pate, Minneapolis Star Tribune
" In evocative, lucid prose, van den Berg conjures the psyche of a woman unmoored, and examines how marriage and solitude, travel and domesticity, and other forces create and stabilize our identities. The Third Hotel is dense with everything that makes a novel memorable: psychological complexity, sensory vividness, narrative tension and ideas about humanity and art." --Claire Fallon, Huffington Post
"The Third Hotel is both a meditation on sorrow and longing—for answers, insight, closure—and a haunted and haunting quest narrative whose slimness belies an ocean of eerie power . . . An utterly transfixing, dreamlike descent into the depths of a psyche stricken by grief and confusion, The Third Hotel is miniature marvel and the most unsettling book you’ll read all year." —Dan Sheehan, LitHub
"Laura van den Berg’s brilliant new novel, The Third Hotel, is a quasi-supernatural tale of loss and grief, told with an exquisite flair for language . . . The Third Hotel is van den Berg’s second novel and fourth book of fiction, and with it, she has firmly established herself as one of this country’s premier stylists. A dreamy otherworldliness haunts these pages, and will, I wager, haunt you, as it did me, long after you finish this slim and masterful mood piece." —Nick White, Chicago Review of Books
"Gorgeously eerie . . . Dense and uncompromisingly intelligent, The Third Hotel is uninterested in leading the reader to a simple answer. Buoyed by van den Berg’s sinuous, marvelous sentences, the novel is instead a deep dive into memory, love, and loss as filtered through film theory, metaphysics, and the humid, sunstroked cityscape of Havana. A lesser writer might have lost themself in this byzantine world of maybe-doppelgangers and maybe-zombies and maybe-madness, but Laura van den Berg is one of our most accomplished storytellers—it is no surprise that she has elevated the uncannily horrifying into something achingly human." —Chase Burke, Ploughshares
"It's a quicksilver novel — just when you think you have a possible grip on its plot and meaning, it slithers out of grasp. The Third Hotel works its magic at the level of the subconscious, where nightmares are made." —Jenny Shank, The Dallas Morning News
"The Third Hotel amounts to more than thrills and chills. Van den Berg has swapped out the stages of grief for an alternative recovery process, one that refreshes old notions of female power and identity . . . This story, adapting horror tropes to new ends, releases “the widow thrashing within.” By catching and seducing her zombie—and then finally letting him go—Clare’s stages of grief deliver her not to Zen-like acceptance, but to a place of potent new monsters. " —John Dimini, The Sewanee Review
"Enter The Third Hotel like a portal, and surrender to a surreal, vivid, impossible yet clearly realistic adventure . . . Van Den Berg uses cinematic language, imagery and structure in this impressionistic portrait of a marriage that has come undone, a woman whose reality is skewed and a sea swept island filled with seductive art, strange vistas and unexpected danger." —Jane Ciabattari, BBC Culture
"The Third Hotel will play tricks on you—and that’s the point . . . The Third Hotel is a meditation on the thin fault line between imagination and reality, on grief, and on marriage. It's Twin Peaks meets literary fiction." —Elena Nicolaou, Refinery29
"Van den Berg's clean, descriptive prose brings full images and sensory detail to life without drawing attention to the writing. The shapeshifting city of Havana is a riveting character in itself, and contributes greatly to the atmosphere. The Third Hotel explores the oddities of travel and relationships; silence and noise; and the effects of past trauma. Like Clare, it is an engrossing, thought-provoking enigma." —Julia Kastner, Shelf Awareness
"A reality-blurring rumination on the power of grief and alienation . . . Lush in description and psychology alike, The Third Hotel is a literary horror novel that will haunt you long past its final page." —Emily Nordling, tor.com
"Laura van den Berg’s new novel, The Third Hotel, covers a thematically sprawling range of subjects, from zombie films to the secret flaws of a marriage to the process of grieving someone who may not be as dead as initially expected. The result is a haunting, ambiguous novel, cerebral and tactile in equal measure." —Vol. 1 Brooklyn
"Laced through with sharp insights—not just on marriage and grief, but also on the pull of travel and the dynamics of horror movies—the layers of [The Third Hotel] fit together so seamlessly they're almost Escher-esque. The line between the real and the imagined is forever blurry, and the result of all that ambiguity is both moving and unsettling. Gorgeously haunting and wholly original; a novel that rewards patience." —Kirkus
"Mysterious and engrossing . . . Toying with horror tropes and conventions, and displaying shades of authors such as Julio Cortázar, van den Berg turns Clare’s journey into a dreamlike exploration of grief. This is a potent novel about life, death, and the afterlife." —Publishers Weekly
"The Third Hotel luxuriates in the fertile narrative ground of the uncanny, the phantasmagoric and the depths of grief. Van den Berg explores the contours of the most intimate human relationships: between married couples and between parents and children. This is heavy stuff, but Van den Berg also delights in her fluency with film culture and Latin American modes of expression. She evokes the colors, sounds and tastes of Cuba without exoticizing the island and winks repeatedly at Latin American culture without appropriating it." —Ryne Clos, Spectrum Culture
"Brooding, often-surreal, funerally bemusing . . . van den Berg's entrancing, gorgeously enigmatic tale dramatizes the narcosis of grief." —Booklist
“I love Laura van den Berg for her eeriness and her elegance, the way the fabric of her stories is woven on a slightly warped loom so that you read her work always a bit perturbed. The Third Hotel is artfully fractured, slim and singular; it’s a book that sings, but always with a strange pressure more felt than heard beneath the song.” —Lauren Groff, author of Fates and Furies
“In this gorgeous, frighteningly smart novel, a woman deranged by grief becomes an imposter in her own life. As inventive and inexorable as a dream, The Third Hotel is a devastating excavation of the unconscionable demands we place on those we love, and a profound portrait of the uncanny composite creature that is a marriage. Laura van den Berg is one of our best writers, an absolute marvel.” —Garth Greenwell, author of What Belongs to You
“I love the way Laura van den Berg writes. The Third Hotel is another of her beguiling little masterpieces. One that, with ruminative grace and sublime wit, answers and elucidates the question of what it means to be human.” —Miriam Toews, author of All My Puny Sorrows
“I've always been a huge fan of Laura van den Berg's work, but this novel took my breath away. The Third Hotel is a ghost story for grownups—when the search for clarity becomes obscure and reality is increasingly blurred. There is so much confidence and daring in her writing, but at the same time her slanted view of the world holds a kind of humility and clarity that makes it all feel so achingly human. Elegant, twisted, and propulsive, I loved it." —Claire Cameron, author of The Last Neanderthal
“After finishing The Third Hotel I found myself reeling for days. What a triumph of a book! Such a gorgeous, intelligent excavation of marriage, loss, art, flânerie. Simply spending time inside Laura van den Berg's elegant, muscular sentences has made me a better writer.” —Kristen Iskandrian, author of Motherest
"Dazzling . . . Van Den Berg gives loveliness to the gruesome while opening up the novel’s world to all kinds of ghosts. The real emotional power of the novel, however, beyond the elegance of its language and the precision and momentum of its telling, builds from what ends up being a brutal moment of confrontation. The scene brought tears to my eyes when I read it." —Chaya Bhuvansewar, Michigan Quarterly Review