Book Review: Hotel Girls by Nicole O'Connor
October 13, 2014
If there is one thing that Nicole O’Connor’s Hotel Girls aims to show us it’s this: treasure your loved ones. It’s a hard pill to swallow for the person that lies in bed one night, awake, sad, and angry because of the knowledge that a loved one will never be seen again. It’s an even harder pill to swallow when a person loses not just one cherished individual in their lives, but an entire family. When you’re barely an adult girl living in South Africa during a decade in which it was difficult for a woman to be successful on her own, it certainly can be no easy thing to carry on with life after experiencing something as heartrending and unchangeable as that.
There is a day in 1976 that Leopard Lair Hotel receptionist Sandra Robertson will never forget: the day her entire family died. Originally from Rhodesia, Sandy came to live with her grandmother in Durban, South Africa. Later in her life while working at the hotel, Sandy learns first-hand about the dangers of having unprotected sex as well as the true definition of certain adult parties that could end up giving a devoted nun a heart attack if she were to see the things that Sandy has. Navigating her days at the hotel, she hopes that she will meet the perfect man. With the men she’s met lately, however, she’s not so sure that she ever will.
Reading this book, there was no doubt in my mind in which country the protagonist was. The word “apartheid”, which doesn’t even appear in this book, has nothing to do with me feeling this way at all. The author does allude to apartheid in some small ways. For instance, the author writes of Durban Beach being divided into two zones and the high likelihood of Sandy getting arrested if she were to marry someone who was of a different race. What gets me thinking of South Africa is that the author writes of local sweets and fruits that are popular in my country and also makes some space for the Afrikaans language to make it into the book.
It shows readers how strong friendships in the workplace are made, what people are generally like when no one is looking, as well as how one can find love in the most dire of circumstances.
Although Sandy looks into a mirror at one point and sees only “a plain girl with stringy hair and pimples”, she is obviously attractive, considering all the men that show an interest in her throughout the book. She can get herself out of sticky situations with that smart mind of hers, but her cleverness can seem limited when it comes to how easily she is tricked. As Fay, and older woman who Sandy tends to gossip with at the hotel over cups of tea, points out, Sandy can be a bit naïve, but the fact that she’s learning about the darker sides of humanity is apparent and at least she is not one to make the same mistake twice.
After a small mistake, Sandy feared for her job. The man who runs the hotel, one Phil Ambrose, is not an easy man to please. He tends to snap in unusual ways and will fire someone on the spot if they do something wrong. Sandy has nothing to worry about though. She is the hardest worker and although Phil doesn’t want to admit it, he is lucky to have her as a receptionist. Sandy’s days at Leopard Lair Hotel, filled with comedic moments that will have you laughing out loud and emergency situations where Sandy’s love interest constantly gets to play doctor, is anything but tediously uneventful.
The author strives to keep readers turning the pages instead of allowing readers to connect with Sandy on a personal level. While Sandy’s experiences at the hotel could be described as interesting, I found myself wishing for a better exploration of what her parents and her little brother had been like before they died. The short length of the book cannot be seen as the main reason for the author shedding so little light on Sandy’s family as the storyline could’ve done without some of the events that took place. The insight into who Sandy’s parents were at a later part in the book answered a few questions, but I didn’t feel that it was enough.
If someone asked me to recommend a book that is both funny and entertaining, I would absolutely pick this one. There is more to it than the usual story of a young woman meeting a hot guy and then the two of them falling head over heels in love with each other. It shows readers how strong friendships in the workplace are made, what people are generally like when no one is looking, as well as how one can find love in the most dire of circumstances. Bad things happen to everybody, but so do good things.
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