The Hotel New Hampshire is narrated by John Berry, even though he and his brothers and sisters have not been born, not “even conceived,” when the story begins with the meeting of their parents. Consequently, the events in the first part of the book are retold by John from his parents’ accounts. In fact, John’s own account is more imaginative and titillating than the stories told by his idealistic father and more practical, even prosaic, mother. The events that led to his parents’ union shape their children’s lives and explain why and how they grow or fail to grow. Even though the novel is about three generations and spans some sixty years, it is a novel about the passage from childhood to adulthood; it does not extend into the children’s adult lives.
The title, The Hotel New Hampshire, provides structure for John Irving’s novel, since there are in fact three Hotel New Hampshires, each corresponding to a particular stage in the development of the Berry children. John’s parents meet at the Hotel Arbuthnot, what will become the third and most idealized Hotel New Hampshire. The Maine summer resort hotel where both work is also where they meet Freud (“our Freud,” not the “other Freud,” the psychiatrist) and his performing bear, State o’ Maine; where they encounter Arbuthnot, the hotel’s owner, whose appearance in a white dinner jacket serves as a premonition of death (he warns the couple that the world is not safe for bears or Jews); and where they fall in love.
After their marriage, they teach at the Dairy School in New Hampshire, but John’s father buys an old school for girls and converts it into the first official Hotel New Hampshire. The first hotel is initially a womblike, protected haven for the children, but death and sorrow (Irving has symbolically named the family dog “Sorrow”) threaten. Frank is beaten by the football team, Franny is raped, and Sorrow is put to...
(The entire section is 793 words.)