Nov/Dec 1999 Book Reviews

Ladies' Night at Finbar's Hotel

Dermot Bolger (ed)
Authors: Maeve Binchy, Clare Boylan,
Emma Donoghue, Anne Haverty, Eilis Ni Dhuibhne,
Kate O'Riordan, Diedre Purcell
Picador, Pan Macmillan, 1999 257pp
ISBN: 0 330 37304 8

reviewed by Ann Skea

Dermot Bolger must be one of the few people who can organise a committee so well that they create a beautiful elegant beast instead of a camel (not that camels aren't sometimes magnificently ugly). _Finbar's Hotel_, his first committee's creation was superb. And now that the old Dublin hotel has been completely refurbished in ultra modern "chrome chic and splendour", Bolger has organised a new (all female) committee to equal effect.

Ladies' Night at Finbar's Hotel is, like the first book, written by seven well-known Irish writers, each responsible for the occupants in one of rooms 101-106, plus The Penthouse. We are never told which writer has written each story, but there they all are in the back-cover photograph enjoying a Finbar spa-bath together. It is, says the note opposite the title page, up to "the discerning reader to identify them". The cover illustrations, too, are by seven different artists and each represents an un-named room occupant.

Luckily, the puzzles end there. The occupants of each room turn out to be understandable individuals and as odd a bunch as you are likely to get in any hotel, even if they are not the literati, glitterati and "cliterati" the hotel's new owner, Fiona Mcnally/Mrs Van Eyck, hoped to attract.

This book is both old-fashioned and modern. It is a good old-fashioned collection of well crafted, well written, lively short stories linked by time and place, but the characters and situations are distinctly modern.

In Room 101, Padraic, a happily married father of two, is gallantly preparing to help his wife's best friend with her do-it-yourself IVF plans. The situation is at once sad, disaster-prone and wonderfully funny. Meanwhile, further along the corridor, Poppy, a successful businesswoman with a sales-presentation imminent, copes with a mad father. Patsy, alias "Julie Murphy" from room 104, finds mystic sex which re-confirms her religious faith; Chester Stone, debt-collector and wife-abuser, gets his come-upance; and the efficient woman with the laptop computer (who is noticed by almost every guest as they pass through the hotel foyer) discovers her husband's exotic guilty secret.

The subtle story-telling skills of all the writers were wonderfully demonstrated for me by Detta's story (room 105). This tale struck me initially as a rather conventional romance but I ended up in tears. Sentimental tears, perhaps, but proof that despite my early scepticism the author had manipulated my emotions very effectively.

And the unexpected and highly unlikely occurrences in The Penthouse are a glorious example of riotous Irish storytelling.

Like Dublin itself, Finbar's Hotel and its occupants are very much part of the modern world, but they have not shaken off Irish history and traditions. This adds complications but also richness to their lives, just as it does to this book.

I, for one, hope that Dermot Bolger will have another committee of writers creeping about Finbar's Hotel and spying on its patrons again in the near future and that he will let us see their latest reports.


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