THE LONELY HEARTS HOTEL by Heather O’Neill, Hachette.
Rose and Pierrot are two children growing up in an early 20th-century Dickensian orphanage in Montreal. Rose is a delightful dancer with a steely core. Pierrot plays the piano like a dream, but is so lacking in guile he’ll be lucky to survive his childhood and the cruelties of the Depression era that await. The Lonely Hearts Hotel is reminiscent of Water for Elephants, the 2006 bestseller by Sara Gruen. Both tell a love story set in desperate times, and feature a cast of oddballs, villains and victims. But The Lonely Hearts Hotel has a little extra, a puckish charm, and an optimism that shines all the more brightly against the background of poverty, drug abuse and organised crime. Heather O’Neill’s writing is spare and brisk but the story she creates is as lush and magical as a fable.