Skip to content

Non 1001 Book Review: The Lonely Hearts Hotel Heather O’Neill


After a few weeks focused on wrapping up our winter challenge and setting up the spring challenge, we have finally got back in the groove of reviewing books again. Book Worm and I have been consumed by both challenges and reading through Infinite Jest which is tons of fun but impacting all our other reading. Book Worm is leading us off with a review of The Lonely Hearts Hotel, a book that others either seem to love or hate. Which side do you think you will fall into? Check out BW’s review. 

The Lonely Hearts Hotel by Heather O’Neill
Published in: 2017
Reviewed by: Book Worm
Rating: ★★★★
Find it here: The Lonely Hearts Hotel

This ARC was provided by Quercus Books (via NetGalley) in exchange for an honest review.

Synopsis from Goodreads: With echoes of The Night Circus, a spellbinding story about two gifted orphans in love with each other since they can remember whose childhood talents allow them to rewrite their future.

The Lonely Hearts Hotel is a love story with the power of legend. An unparalleled tale of charismatic pianos, invisible dance partners, radicalized chorus girls, drug-addicted musicians, brooding clowns, and an underworld whose economy hinges on the price of a kiss. In a landscape like this, it takes great creative gifts to thwart one’s origins. It might also take true love.

Two babies are abandoned in a Montreal orphanage in the winter of 1910. Before long, their talents emerge: Pierrot is a piano prodigy; Rose lights up even the dreariest room with her dancing and comedy. As they travel around the city performing clown routines, the children fall in love with each other and dream up a plan for the most extraordinary and seductive circus show the world has ever seen.

Separated as teenagers, sent off to work as servants during the Great Depression, both descend into the city’s underworld, dabbling in sex, drugs and theft in order to survive. But when Rose and Pierrot finally reunite beneath the snowflakes after years of searching and desperate poverty the possibilities of their childhood dreams are renewed, and they’ll go to extreme lengths to make them come true. Soon, Rose, Pierrot and their troupe of clowns and chorus girls have hit New York, commanding the stage as well as the alleys, and neither the theater nor the underworld will ever look the same.

Book Worm’s Thoughts: I am going to start this review with the things I didn’t like. So here goes:

1. If you are thinking of reading this because you liked The Night Circus, don’t. This is a great book in its own right, but it is nothing like Night Circus. In my opinion that comparison was made by someone who decided that orphans and clowns equals a circus. It doesn’t.

2. The “musical language.” Yes, there are musical, poetical descriptions and some of them work really well and add to the story. But, the author seems to have decided that everything needed to be musical and I was left feeling that she was using similes to batter me to death. In fact I ended up making my similes for mundane things around the house. Just for fun here is a comparison:

O’Neill “There was a fishbowl by the window with two fancy goldfish that swam in circles, like tassels on a burlesque dancer’s nipples” Really what does this even mean?

Me “The washing machine rumbled, like the ominous roll of thunder just before the storm hits.”

O’Neill “The noodles on her plate looked like a ball of yarn thoroughly messed up by a cat”

Me “The opened oven door spewed out heat like a volcano ready to burst its sides”

3. Child abuse, rape, and sex. Looking at Goodreads ratings, this appears to be a love it or hate it book as most reviewers are either  4/5 or 1/2 stars and it seems like the reason for this is how people are reacting to the amount of abuse and difficult topics in this book. Some of this is necessary for the story in order to understand why the characters act as they do. However,  some of it does come across as being purely gratuitous and there is a lot of repetition, especially when it comes to women being degraded.

4. Some of the phrases/words used seemed to be outside of the book’s era, they were too modern.

So those were the things I didn’t like about the book and the reason I  knocked my rating down from a 5 star to a 4 star. Now onto the good points.  When the musical language is used in what I consider a meaningful way, it is great. Here are a few examples:

“The thought of her climbed and twisted around each of his thoughts like a rosebush”

“The lack of closure bothered him a little bit more every day, until it somehow became a part of the fabric of his self”

There are more I would love to share but they could be spoilers so I am refraining from posting them. Bottom line is that there are moments of sheer beauty in the writing.

The story itself has its own kind of magic. It does pull you in, and for the time I was reading the book, I was held spellbound in the prohibition era. This is not a happy book. It is looking at the dark side of life, is centered on the underworld that exists in big cities, and it describes how each person has to fight to maintain their place in that world. It is not for the faint hearted. It also packed a huge emotional punch for me. During the  last 30 minutes of the book, I couldn’t stop crying, and that has not happened with a book in a long time.

Who would like this book? If you can get past the bad points I have mentioned above and are interested in a love story with a difference then read this book. You will either love it or hate it, but I don’t think you will find average.

Want to try it for yourself? You can find a copy here: The Lonely Hearts Hotel

We want to hear from you! Have you read this book? What did you think? 

8 Comments Post a comment
  1. Tracy S #

    Definitely on the TBR. How can I turn down a book that compares goldfish to tassels? It does sound a lot darker than The Night Garden, but dark doesn’t bother me too much. Thanks for the great review.

    Liked by 1 person

    March 21, 2017
    • Book Worm #

      Can’t wait to hear what you think of it. Hope you are in the love it camp 🙂


      March 21, 2017
  2. Sylvie Marie Héroux #

    I agree with the language issues… I read The Girl That Was Saturday Night and I was thinking “meh…”. I tried the subsequent collection of short stories but put it down before getting far into it. I have been reluctant to dig into Lullabies for Little Criminals which I have on my ereader. I would like to love this author, but it’s definitely mixed feelings.

    My reviews:


    March 22, 2017
  3. Clowns and an underworld you say`. Both no-go areas for me in books so to answer your question, this is one I can say with certainly I won’t be reading


    March 22, 2017
  4. I think I’ll add this to my tbr. Have you read her Lullabies for Little Criminals? I really liked it.


    March 22, 2017
    • Book Worm #

      I haven’t read anything else by her but I do intend to now


      March 23, 2017
  5. I still haven’t read any of her books because of hearing so much about her over-use of similes. BUT I think I might start with this one – it’s already on hold at the library. It sounds like the story will make up for the similes. I also own her first book Lullabies for Little Children – I just haven’t gotten around to it yet. But a lot of people have loved it.

    Liked by 1 person

    March 23, 2017
  6. Great review!! 🙂 I also reviewed this book a few hours ago on my blog 😀 And I loveeed it

    Liked by 1 person

    March 26, 2017

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: