Lindsay Faye’s novel The Paragon Hotel is a book about a lot, which is probably why I enjoyed it so much. Without giving too much away, this is an atmospheric read set in the 1920’s (cue the flappers and liquid contraband). The story is told by a character who mentally refers to herself as “Nobody.” Her story oscillates from tales of her scrappy past living in the heart of mafia territory in New York City, to her present fleeing an unknown threat, all the way to Portland, Oregon. There, a desperate Nobody finds precarious refuge at The Paragon Hotel, the only all-black hotel in the city. The staff and residents are on edge because the Ku Klux Klan is gaining power and influence among Portland’s elite. Nobody’s past has prepared her to ferret out people’s secrets and it seems there is an abundance of them to unearth at The Paragon Hotel.
For me, the strengths of Faye’s novel lie in her lyrical writing and richly drawn characters. There have been numerous books that I have given up on, simply because I did not care about any of the characters. Nobody is not an angel by any stretch of the imagination, but she has a moral compass and is made more human by her flaws. Faye manages to portray numerous characters who have made questionable choices, but unlike other books, I was not tempted to write them off. Instead I was drawn further into the story to discover their motivations.
Another reason why I enjoyed Faye’s book is it is not a story I’ve read before. The characters and their trials were unique and I was given a look at a part of history I knew nothing about. The author clearly did thorough research on her settings. With that in mind, I highly recommend reading her historical notes at the end of the book to learn more about the inspiration she took from actual historical events.
Finally, even though The Paragon Hotel is historically set, I found its many themes surrounding race, gender, addiction, and mental illness reflect today’s struggles – a fact I found both illuminating and depressing at the same time.
– Stephanie, WFPL Reference Librarian