Emma Tennant Harriet Waugh - Essay

Harriet Waugh

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

In Emma Tennant's new novel, Hotel de Dream, the forces of reality and imagination are let loose on each other, and intermingle destructively; but then, just as the real world appears to be engulfed by the chaos of the over spilling dream world they are suddenly, and to my mind sadly, separated again into their component parts.

The centre of the action is a run-down boarding house, The Westringham, presided over by a mean, decaying widow called Mrs Routledge who has fantasies of grandeur (she and the house could be said to represent England in her present parlous state). The house is inhabited by a collection of seedy, unhappy people who spend their nights and days in escaping reality by sleeping and dreaming….

The skill of Miss Tennant's very enjoyable book, both in weaving … complex and different dimensional threads into one cohesive whole and in successfully making the reader part of this strange comic world, is enormous. My only niggling criticism, and that might well have more to do with my own rather prosaic and muddled mind than with the book, is that I failed to work out the different metaphysical interactions within the novel satisfactorily. The end seemed to imply a more simple structure than the middle and that I thought a pity. (p. 24)

Harriet Waugh, in The Spectator (© 1976 by The Spectator; reprinted by permission of The Spectator), July 24, 1976.