Review: ‘The Pink Hotel’ by Liska Jacobs

The Pink Hotel

The Pink Hotel, with its texturized sense of innocence and confinement, is a gaping rabbit hole, at the end of which lurks grit, horror and a contorted sense of self. The story is centered on newlyweds Keith and Kit, who check in to the Pink Hotel to spend their honeymoon savoring its anxiety-inducing splendor.

But as fires start ravaging the city and people beyond its walls, the monstrosities hidden within start to come out. With simple, disciplined language, Jacobs manages to weave a thick plot, interspersed with a myriad of faces that never quite lose their pained sense of individuality.

Through them, Jacobs introduces the opulence, greed, gluttony, arrogance and ennui of the rich clientele visiting the hotel, then forces this reality to clash with the outside world in the form of a teasingly encroaching reckoning.

Understandably, this small-scale apocalypse is both deliciously wicked and horrifying, but it’s the way the story works its way to this resolution, opening up the narrative to swallow and nurture the unimaginable, that creates the final hook that ensnares.

This sense of doom, introduced by the first passing mention of the voracious fires around the Pink Hotel, brings to mind Pompeii, the customs and hierarchy of which were devoured within days by ash and toxic gasses.

What’s interesting about the novel is not its cast of characters, apathetic and cruel to those they perceive as inferior, but its atmosphere. It’s through the guests’ detestable behavior that the novel’s sense of vanity and alienation become stifling. Thus, The Pink Hotel operates on a bone-deep level.

It’s because we hope to see the wealthy humanized that we persevere. It’s because Keith’s treatment of Kit ignites outrage that we hope to see her flee. And so, the novel prioritizes emotion over geniality. We could even say that it succeeds because it’s not afraid to be brassy or alienating itself.

Since emotion and senses often go hand in hand, Jacobs makes sure that a heady aroma accompanies her descriptions of dripping opulence. Interestingly, it’s not the fragrance of pricey perfume that comes to mind, but the sickly sweet scent of decay.

It’s made sharper by the oppressive heat that leaves tracks of sweat along skin, bloating the central claustrophobia to envelop the body, which in itself becomes a cell.

The novel is also highly reminiscent of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, both in terms of its seemingly untouchable world of extravagance and the scheming of an outsider to penetrate its core, no matter the emotional cost. But the external calamity, the rage waiting to engulf the nucleus that is the Pink Hotel, is an appealing nuance.

Because of this, the story inhales you, much like the Pink Hotel manages to suck its employees in, distorting time and the ambitions they abandon in its name. In this respect, it operates very much like a cult. Similarly, the things that go on within its walls, the seductions, orgies, slayings and degrading cruelties, only reinforce this impression.

The repulsive behavior we witness begs to be clobbered by reality, or at least defaced in some way, much like Daisy’s supposed happiness in The Great Gatsby. The observation that arrogance and brutality often serve to conceal loneliness and heartache is far from revolutionary, but the way it’s used to examine and test the bond between Keith and Kit is undeniably engaging.

There are also many ways to interpret The Pink Hotel. There’s the excess of the First World versus the deprivation of poorer regions. There’s also the polarity of wealth boosted by the current pandemic, seeing as Jacobs references masks on numerous occasions. Namely, the way they serve as a fashionable accessory to some and a denied necessity to others. 

Above all, The Pink Hotel stands out for its multitude of themes. At the forefront is the grappling with one’s identity, the search for it, the itch to recast it, to fuse it with another’s. Kit herself notes that she’s nothing more than an extension of her husband, whose proprietary decisions keep stripping her of her name and ideals.

Slowly, we witness Kit sinking into Keith, the way she’s diminished by the perceived enhancement. It could be argued that Kit’s struggle to regain her identity is the most compelling element of the story. Jacobs presents this wrangle through different screens, which include marriage, love, servitude, wealth, and inferiority.

Reading The Pink Hotel is not always a pleasant experience. In fact, it’s quite painful, suffocating even. Then again, that seems to be the desired effect, and there’s no denying that it’s accomplished beautifully.

The process is a lot like deciding not to stop at one slice of cake, but gorge on the whole thing. The resulting disgust is only magnified by each new mouthful of the sickly sweetness, pushing you further and further away from that once discernible line of decency.

In much the same fashion, what starts off as a winding introduction to the setting and its various residents descends into madness and atrocity, startling and delighting those who have persisted. A little too much space is dedicated to the routine running of the hotel, true, but even if the subject matter isn’t very riveting at first, the faces Jacobs sketches, then warps, soon prove ghastly enough to convince you to stay and watch it all burn.

Publication date: July 19, 2022 (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

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