Ruth Hogan begins her third novel, “Queenie Malone’s Paradise Hotel,” by stating two facts: The protagonist Tilda’s parents are dead, and Tilda’s mother, Gracie, killed Tilda’s father when she was seven years old. Although the story begins with grim death, the plot that follows is unpredictable and full of life, as Tilda unearths the secrets of her clouded childhood with equal parts delight, befuddlement and sorrow. She then embarks on a quest to investigate what truly happened to her father and decipher the mysterious relationship she shared with her mother.
Hogan’s utilization of a unique narrative structure allows the uniqueness of Tilda’s character to shine through, making for a well-rounded, endearing protagonist. Each chapter alternates between her perspective as an adult, denoted as “Tilda” in the chapter title, and her perspective as a child, or “Tilly.” As Tilda goes through her mother’s old belongings, including her old journal, fragments of her perspective also interlace the narrative, shedding light onto the other side of Tilda’s childhood. In each case, the narrator Hogan provides is unreliable because of age and personal limitations, further complicating the story. For the most part, this strategy works exceedingly well and adds intrigue to the plot, with each chapter trailing smoothly from one perspective to another. Tilda’s adult chapters, however, often feel expository, relying on explanation rather than description as Hogan uses these segments to fill in the gaps of Tilly’s chapters and Gracie’s diary.
Nevertheless, Hogan’s diction throughout the novel is wonderfully refreshing and creative, with innovative, tongue-in-cheek metaphors. British turns of phrase and cultural specificity color the narrative with a quaint yet snarky tone, while the dialogue is somewhat cheesy but fun and exciting to read. Hogan’s humor is also a treat for readers. Hilarious caricatures of the eccentric yet lovable cast of characters — such as Marlene, Queenie’s elderly mother with multiple identities, and young Tilly’s outlandish explanations for the phenomena in her daily life — are both among the novel’s most charming elements.
The novel’s seaside setting in Brighton, England highlights the atmospheric beauty of the pier. The carousel horses and mom-and-pop shops of Tilda’s childhood may be specific to southern Britain, but they also act as universal sources of nostalgia, recalling beach outings and ice cream cones. Through her diction and artful descriptions, Hogan paints a beautiful image of the days on the boardwalk that defined Tilly’s childhood.
Although a variety of confusions arise at the beginning of the story, Hogan is successful at tying all the loose ends together, revealing the hidden purpose behind each small detail laid out beforehand. Initially, the vague cloudiness of the novel’s beginning seems poorly done and lazy, but as the plot develops, it becomes clear that this ambiguity is necessary for Hogan to sustain the reader’s suspense, mirroring Tilda’s understanding of her own situation. Hogan reveals each new discovery to Tilda at the same time as she reveals it to her readers, creating a parallel between the world of the reader and the character.
Thematically, Hogan’s work touches on a lot of sensitive and relevant topics with masterful subtlety. For both Tilda and Gracie, mental health is a constant struggle, and although they deal with their mental health in different ways, the pain and suffering Gracie describes in her diary becomes a point of connection between her and Tilda. Thus, the enormous discrepancies that gaped between them are reconciled, and they can finally see the world through each other’s perspectives.
Above all, Hogan creates a heartwarming yet sobering tale in which characters explore and expand old bonds, creating new relationships in the process. Throughout the narrative, readers see amazing development in Tilda’s character as she rediscovers her past and realizes how deeply love was ingrained into her family, despite the betrayal and hurt she had to face. With “Queenie Malone’s Paradise Hotel,” Hogan communicates a message of finding hope and reconciliation in one’s chosen family.