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The Hotel New Hampshire

The Hotel New Hampshire

4.2 27
by John Irving

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"The first of my father's illusions was that bears could survive the life lived by human beings, and the second was that human beings could survive a life led in hotels."

So says John Berry, son of a hapless dreamer, brother to a cadre of eccentric siblings, and chronicler of the lives lived, the loves experienced, the deaths met, and the


"The first of my father's illusions was that bears could survive the life lived by human beings, and the second was that human beings could survive a life led in hotels."

So says John Berry, son of a hapless dreamer, brother to a cadre of eccentric siblings, and chronicler of the lives lived, the loves experienced, the deaths met, and the myriad strange and wonderful times encountered by the family Berry. Hoteliers, pet-bear owners, friends of Freud (the animal trainer and vaudevillian, that is), and playthings of mad fate, they "dream on" in a funny, sad, outrageous, and moving novel by the remarkable author of A Widow for One Year and The Cider House Rules.

Editorial Reviews

James Atlas
. . .Irving has decided to charm and entertain his readers -- with a vengeance. The Hotel New Hampshire, the story of an eccentric family that sets up house in various unlikely hotels here and abroad, is a hectic gaudy saga with the verve of a Marx Brothers movie. . . .Irving has always been inventive, and [the novel] is crammed with the exotic characters and fantastic events that spill from the pages of his other novels.
The New York Times
From the Publisher

"Like Garp...a startlingly original family saga that combines macabre humor with a Dickensian sentiment and outrage at cruelty, dogmatism and injustice." Time

"Rejoice! John Irving has written another book according to your world…. You must read this book." Los Angeles Times

"Spellbinding…. Intensely human…. A high-wire act of dazzling virtuosity." Cosmopolitan

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
Reader's Circle Series
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.90(d)
Age Range:
16 - 18 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One — The Bear Called State O’Maine

The summer my father bought the bear, none of us was born — we weren’t even conceived: not Frank, the oldest; not Franny, the loudest; not me, the next; and not the youngest of us, Lilly and Egg. My father and mother were hometown kids who knew each other all their lives, but their “union,” as Frank always called it, hadn’t taken place when Father bought the bear.

“Their ‘union,’ Frank?” Franny used to tease him; although Frank was the oldest, he seemed younger than Franny, to me, and Franny always treated him as if he were a baby. “What you mean, Frank,” Franny said, “is that they hadn’t started screwing.”

“They hadn’t consummated their relationship,” said Lilly, one time; although she was younger than any of us, except Egg, Lilly behaved as if she were everyone’s older sister—a habit Franny found irritating.

“ ‘ Consummated’?” Franny said. I don’t remember how old Franny was at the time, but Egg was not old enough to hear talk like this: “Mother and Father simply didn’t discover sex until after the old man got that bear,” Franny said. “That bear gave them the idea — he was such a gross, horny animal, humping trees and playing with himself and trying to rape dogs.”

“He mauled an occasional dog,” Frank said, with disgust. “He didn’t rape dogs.”

“He tried to,” Franny said. “You know the story.”

“Father’s story,” Lilly would thensay, with a disgust slightly different from Frank’s disgust; it was Franny Frank was disgusted with, but Lilly was disgusted with Father.

And so it’s up to me — the middle child, and the least opinionated — to set the record straight, or nearly straight. We were a family whose favorite story was the story of my mother and father’s romance: how Father bought the bear, how Mother and Father fell in love and had, in rapid succession, Frank, Franny, and me (“Bang, Bang, Bang!” as Franny would say); and, after a brief rest, how they then had Lilly and Egg (“Pop and Fizzle,” Franny says). The story we were told as children, and retold to each other when we were growing up, tends to focus on those years we couldn’t have known about and can see now only in those years more clearly than I see them in the years I actually can remember, because those times I was present, of course, are colored by the fact that they were up-and-down times — about which I have up-and-down opinions. Toward the infamous summer of the bear, and the magic of my mother and father’s courtship, I can allow myself a more consistent point of view.

When Father would stumble in telling us the story — when he would contradict an earlier version, or leave out our favorite parts of the tale — we would shriek at him like violent birds.
“Either you’re lying now or you lied the last time,” Franny (always the harshest of us) would tell him, but Father would shake his head, innocently.

“Don’t you understand?” he would ask us. “You imagine the story better than I remember it.”

“Go get Mother,” Franny would order me, shoving me off the couch. Or else Frank would lift Lilly off his lap and whisper to her, “Go get Mother.” And our mother would be summoned as witness to the story we suspected Father of fabricating.

“Or else you’re leaving out the juicy parts on purpose,” Franny would accuse him, “just because you think Lilly and Egg are too young to hear about all the screwing around.”

“There was no screwing around,” Mother would say. “There was not the promiscuity and freedom there is today. If a girl went off and spent the night or weekend with someone, even her peers thought her a tramp or worse; we really didn’t pay much attention to a girl after that. ‘Her kind sticks together,’ we used to say. And ‘Water seeks its own level.’” And Franny, whether she was eight or ten or fifteen or twenty-five, would always roll her eyes and elbow me, or tickle me, and whenever I tickled her back she’d holler, “Pervert! Feeling up his own sister!” And whether he was nine or eleven or twenty-one or forty-one, Frank always hated sexual conversations and demonstrations of Franny’s kind; he would say quickly to Father, “Never mind that. What about the motorcycle?”

“No, go on about the sex,” Lilly would tell Mother, very humorlessly, and Franny would stick her tongue in my ear or make a farting noise against my neck.

“Well,” Mother said, “we did not talk freely of sex in mixed company. “There was necking and petting, light or heavy; it was usually carried on in cars. There were always secluded areas to park. Lots more dirt roads, of course, fewer people and fewer cars — and cars weren’t compact, then.”

“So you could stretch out,” Franny said.

Mother would frown at Franny and persevere with her version of the times. She was a truthful but boring storyteller — no match for my father — and whenever we called Mother on to verify a version of a story, we regretted it.

“Better to let the old man go on and on,” Franny would say. “Mother’s so serious.” Frank would frown. “Oh, go play with yourself, Frank, you’ll feel better,” Franny would tell him.

But Frank would only frown harder. Then he’d say, “If you’d begin by asking Father about the motorcycle, or something concrete, you’d get a better answer than when you bring up such general things: the clothes, the customs, the sexual habits.”

“Frank, tell us what sex is, Franny would say, but Father would rescue us all by saying in his dreamy voice, “I can tell you: it couldn’t have happened today. You may think you have more freedom, but you also have more laws. That bear could not have happened today. He would not have been allowed.” And in that moment we would be silenced, our bickering suddenly over. When Father talked, even Frank and Franny could be sitting together close enough to touch each other and they wouldn’t fight; I could even be sitting close enough to Franny to feel her hair against my face or her leg against mine, and if Father was talking I wouldn’t think about Franny at all. Lilly would sit deathly still (as only Lilly could) on Frank’s lap. Egg was usually too young to listen, much less understand, but he was a quiet baby. Even Franny could hold him on her lap and he’d be still; whenever I held him on my lap, he fell asleep.

“He was a black bear,” Father said; “he weighed four hundred pounds and was a trifle surly.”

“Ursus americanus,” Frank would murmur. “And he was unpredictable.”

“Yes,” Father said, “but good-natured enough, most of the time.”

“He was too old to be a bear anymore,” Franny said, religiously.

That was the line Father usually began with — the line he began with the first time I remember being told the story. “He was too old to be a bear anymore.” I was in my mother’s lap for this version, and I remember how I felt fixed forever to this time and place: Mother’s lap, Franny in Father’s lap beside me, Frank erect and by himself — sitting cross-legged on the shabby oriental with our first family dog, Sorrow (who would one day be put to sleep for his terrible farting). “He was too old to be a bear anymore.” Father began. I looked at Sorrow, a witless and loving Labrador, and he grew on the floor to the size of a bear and then aged, sagging beside Frank in smelly dishevelment, until he was merely a dog again (but Sorrow would never be “merely a dog”).

That first time I don’t remember Lilly or Egg — they must have been such babies that they were not present, in a conscious way. “He was too old to be a bear anymore,” Father said. “He was on his last legs.”

“But they were the only legs he had!” we would chant, our ritual response — learned by heart — Frank, Franny, and I all together. And when they got the story down pat, eventually Lilly and even Egg would join in.

“The bear did not enjoy his role as an entertainer anymore,” Father said. “He was just going through the motions. And the only person or animal or thing he loved was that motorcycle. That’s why I had to buy the motorcycle when I bought the bear. That’s why it was relatively easy for the bear to leave his trainer and come with me; the motorcycle meant more to that bear than any trainer.”

And later, Frank would prod Lilly, who was trained to ask, “What was the bear’s name?”
And Frank and Franny and Father and I would shout, in unison, “State o’ Maine!” That dumb bear was named State o’ Maine, and my father bought him in the summer of 1939 — together with a 1937 Indian motorcycle with a homemade sidecar — for 200 dollars and the best clothes in his summer footlocker.

From the Paperback edition.

Copyright 1997 by John Irving

Meet the Author

JOHN IRVING was born in Exeter, New Hampshire, in 1942. His first novel, Setting Free the Bears, was published in 1968, when he was twenty-six. He competed as a wrestler for twenty years, and coached wrestling until he was forty-seven. Mr. Irving has been nominated for a National Book Award three times--winning once, in 1980, for his novel The World According to Garp. He received an O. Henry Award in 1981 for his short story "Interior Space." In 2000, Mr. Irving won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for The Cider House Rules. In 2013, he won a Lambda Literary Award for his novel In One Person. An international writer--his novels have been translated into more than thirty-five languages--John Irving lives in Toronto. His all-time best-selling novel, in every language, is A Prayer for Owen Meany. Avenue of Mysteries is his fourteenth novel.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Brief Biography

Date of Birth:
March 2, 1942
Place of Birth:
Exeter, New Hampshire
B.A., University of New Hampshire, 1965; also studied at University of Vienna; M.F.A., Iowa Writers' Workshop, 1967

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The Hotel New Hampshire 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 27 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I've read several Irving works, including THE WOLRD ACCORDING TO GARP and A PRAYER FOR OWEN MEANY, but this, for me is his truly great work. I think it goes without saying that Irving is one of the most talented writers to date his narratives are strong and his work is almost always character drive, something I find in the novels of Jackson McCrae and Saul Bellow. Also, he somehow manages to show us the underside of humanity without us feeling violated. He manages this perfectly in HOTEL. With a little of everything from adolescent angst, to a bear, to the family's travails in various places, HOTEL is a myriad of fun, sadness, and a family saga that is like no other. As I said before, Irving's works are character driven, and of course you're going to find odd characters, just as you would in McCrae's BARK OF THE DOGWOOD (which is outstanding, by the way), or in the works of Palahniuk. But Irving gives his characters something no one else does, and it's a 'can't quite put my finger on it' something that makes them so real, so alive, that when you finish the book, you're sad to have to close the pages. Now, there are some parts of the book that are REALLY going to turn some people off, such as the brother-sister thing that goes on. Frankly, I'm shocked more people haven't written about this, but somehow Irving pulls even this taboo topic off. One of the things I like about his books, and this one in particular, is the fact that he gives us the story, then steps back and lets us decide about the characters and what's happened. A sort of Ibsen approach to the text. In this way he takes the element of himself out of the story and all that's left is the narrative. While this is certainly not a new book, I highly recommend it, along with the novels BARK OF THE DOGWOOD and the ever popular THE HEART IS A LONELY HUNTER, both which are very good and will keep you flipping the pages. Also anything else by Irving.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Wow. This book is amazing. There are so many 'little stories' contained in the main plot. The characters are all so unique... and FUNNY. They had me laughing everytime I picked up the book. Parts of the book are slightly disgusting, but hey, it keeps it pretty interesting, too. If you can get past the few sex scenes, it's a FABULOUS book. There are unexpected twists and turns through out the entire book, keeping your attention. John Irving is an amazing writer.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read The Hotel New Hampshire a few years ago and truly did not care for it. It's well written, but I think it appeals to a narrow audience. It's also a strange book, but not interesting enough for me to recommend.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The Hotel New Hampshire by John Irving is an interesting novel to say the least. There is a lot going on in the story, for me it was too much, but nonetheless I did enjoy parts of it. I enjoyed the beginning more than the end because it wasn't as unusual, the characters seem normal and don't posses nearly as many strange quirks. My main issue with the novel is the strange-ness and how unreal it seemed; the things in the novel may be possible but not necessarily all in the same story. From the perspective of the middle child, this novel depicts the life of a family that starts off seemingly normal. Then the father becomes obsessed with a certain lifestyle involving bears and living in hotels and that's the start of the unusual sense of the novel. There are a lot of interesting/different events that occur, especially towards the end, and the end, although strange, is a good end to the novel. Throughout the entire novel, the characters just have too much going on and the novel in general does too. Death, rape, sorrow, and dreams are oddly enough what I thought to be the main ideas/themes and I'm not sure that a novel really needs all of them together. John Irving intended this for an older audience, and I think that's part of why I didn't enjoy it as much. I think if I would have had more experiences in life maybe it wouldn't have seemed so strange and unusual to me. The novel was also vulgar. Offensive language, sexuality, and bad natured ideas have a common occurrence. In addition, some of the ideas and characters just don't appeal to a younger audience.
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ReaderRG More than 1 year ago
Have read most of Irving's work, but missed this one! Truly HUMAN! Funny, disrespectful, sad, outrageous at times; a truly good read!
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Guest More than 1 year ago
I absolutely loved this book. The Hotel New Hampshire truly is one of the best books I have ever read if it's not already my favorite. With all the exciting characters and the dangerous scenes, I found it hard to put the book down. All of the characters seem real and that is hard for me to imagine. They went through so much devastation that it was hard not to think of them not being real. Ultimately, I love this book and I would reccommend it to anyone because it holds your attention ant John Irving's writing style is easy to follow.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Garp has been a favorite story (as book and movie) of mine for years! Then I read Cider House Rules, which was also very good. I love John Irving's writing style...he is Terrific!! While I enjoyed both of those titles, and plan on continue my mission to read all of Irving's work, Hotel N.H. is perhaps my favorite. So many emotions, great characters, everything you'd expect from the tremendously talented Mr. Irving.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Read it!!!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book will hold attention, you'll never want to put it down. This book is WONDERFUl!
Guest More than 1 year ago
The first John Irving book i read was 'A Widow for One year'. Having been the first of his books that i chose to read (on the advice of a friend) i was a critical reader (as i am with all books written by authors who are new to me) and found that i enjoyed the book. After finishing the book, i took a journey to the closest Barnes&Nobles and found that he had many more titles that i would be interesting in reading...I chose 'The Hotel New Hampshire' (again on the advice of a friend) and found that the book held my interest through the late hours of the night. John Irving has become my favorite author and will probably stay on my 'good' list for a long time to come.