As many of us find comfort in books during the tumultuous times of a worldwide pandemic, I have found it important to veer away from my usual reading material of dystopian fiction that is feeling closer to fact than fiction. Uplit (Uplifiting Literature) is a genre where the reader can escape into a world where there is always a happy ending. The genre is mostly written by women, for women and about women but it is an inclusive genre as exhibited in Queenie Malone’s Paradise Hotel by Ruth Hogan.
A story that includes depression, death, dementia, secrets and the ability of some to talk to the dead doesn’t initially scream uplit but I was assured by the recommender (my mother) and I wish to reassure you that it is indeed uplifting as well as down to earth, funny, full of surprises and quite magical.
It becomes clear to the reader that the protagonist, Tilda, feels that she doesn’t fit in – she chose a job that she could undertake from home before it became popular and leads a hermit-like life. She introduces herself as an orphan, stating that her mother killed her father and that her mother had just died leaving her a flat in Brighton which she is now tasked with sorting through and deciding whether to move in herself.
The chapters are set out as ‘Tilda’, who narrates her own story and also ‘Tilly’, her seven-year-old self, who we read in the third person narrative. The book is split into three parts where both Tilda and Tilly’s stories intertwine. Part One lays out a mystery which needs to be solved to explain why Tilda and her mother have ‘never been close’. Tilda is unable to explain the reasoning behind events in her life, such as why her father died mysteriously and her mother, Gracie, sent her to boarding school after her release from hospital which left her feeling unloved by her remaining parent. She questions it more closely after meeting Penelope, a friend and neighbour of Gracie’s, who tells Tilda that her mother loved her much more than she could ever have known.
We are given insight into how the new information is taken and processed by Tilda as she narrates her own story, explaining the reasoning behind her matchstick burning and the support she receives from Eli, her black dog that no one else can see. It is not lost on me that the term ‘black dog’ is used as a euphemism for depression, but as a fellow sufferer I spotted the signs in Tilda before the introduction of Eli.
There is a passing mention of the titular Paradise Hotel in Part One, but it is not until Part Two that we are introduced to the glamorous Queenie, her ‘mad as a hatter’ mother and a staff of similarly misplaced individuals, as Tilly and Gracie settle into living and working in the extravagant Brighton hotel. The interactions between the characters are funny and flowing, with hints towards each of their ‘differences’. Some of the humour is lost on Tilly due to her age, and some of the funnier aspects of the story are how Tilly interprets the world around her.
Hogan acknowledges that the theme throughout the book is that of the complicated relationship that can occur between a mother and her daughter, this is true, not only the biological but also the forged relationships which are shown in the maternal bond of Queenie and Gracie. I find that the other strong theme is that of inclusion and the setting of Brighton is so important to illustrate this.
Brighton is known for its tolerance, particularly within and for the LGBTQ+ community. But at The Paradise Hotel, this tolerance encompasses all differences, difficulties and struggles faced and welcomes them all into the ‘family’. It is no wonder that Tilly had such a happy childhood there; I wish it were a real place!
Available at Bookshop for £8.36.