Updated on May 19, 2015
37. ‘Hotel Alpha’ by Mark Watson
I must admit that I did not know Mark Watson is also a novelist until I found out about the book launch for his latest book, Hotel Alpha, in Bristol. I knew him for his brilliant stand up comedy, of course, and I spent a very pleasant evening at the launch listening to this often erratic, always hilarious man talk about the idea behind this novel.
[As a side note, today I have learned that quickly typing ‘Hotel Alpha’ and using keyboard shortcuts to switch in and out of italics, can result in you accidentally highlighting everything you’ve just written and then typing over it. I have now done this three times, and have had to rewrite the beginning of this post each time. Consider this a PSA: beware of fast typing.]
Hotel Alpha is more than just a book. As well as the (rather gorgeous) hardback novel, you can also visit Hotel Alpha Stories to discover 100 extra stories written by Watson, related to the novel. Watson said that he thinks the internet is a fantastic tool that isn’t made use of enough by modern writers, thus he uses the internet to supply Hotel Alpha with some ‘DVD extras’, as it were.
I think that’s a brilliant idea; I’m all for anything that brings the literary and online worlds closer together.
Unsurprisingly, this book is set in the titular Hotel Alpha. It is told from the perspective of two main characters: Graham, the concierge who works at the hotel for more than 20 years and finds it difficult to adapt to modernity and technological changes; and Chas, a blind, orphaned boy who is taken in by boisterous hotel owner Howard, and is raised in the hotel.
There are a plethora of other interesting characters, including fleeting glimpses of the many guests that pass through the hotel, and Watson does a fantastic job of depicting the busy atmosphere, creeping change and the experiences of a blind person. All the characters, no matter how outlandish they may seem at first, are very well drawn and believable. This could be to do with the 100 extra stories, which provide back story for many of the minor characters in the book.
I really enjoyed reading Hotel Alpha – it moves along at a good pace and I liked both Graham and Chas’ voices, so I didn’t feel disappointed when I began any of the chapters. My only criticism is to do with the ending: a complex network of lies and betrayals is uncovered during the story, all supposedly kept secret because it will mean the end of the hotel. But the dénouement is somewhat disappointing – we are expecting catastrophe and don’t really get anything of the kind.
All in all a very enjoyable read, and I would encourage you to follow up the novel with some of the extra short stories. (Mark Watson made a bet that the only person who would ever read all 100 would be his mum.)
“It struck me powerfully that new people would come here, every day, that laughter would ring out in the bar and events would take place in the rooms quite as if I had never been there at all.”
If you liked my review, why not read the book and let me know what you think?