Follow TV Tropes


Literature / The Hotel New Hampshire

Go To

The Hotel New Hampshire is a 1981 novel by John Irving.

The lives of the Berry children—John, Franny, Frank, Lilly, and Egg—are forever marked by their scheming but ever-optimistic father Win as he drags them along through a series of hotels he attempts to run. The ventures never quite fail, exactly, but none of the hotels ever work out as intended. Due to their clientele, the growing children are exposed to an ever-rotating catalog of eccentric characters, including sex workers who entertain their clients right above the children's heads, a group of anarcho-communists preparing an ill-fated explosive demonstration, and a woman who has decided to live her life as a bear.

Needless to say, their strange upbringing leaves its mark on the family, including narrator son John, whose sexual passion for his own sister Franny soon takes over his entire adulthood. But the lesson the Berry family takes away is that there's no wrong way to live a life, as long as you really live it.

It could be said to be Irving's most typical novel; That Other Wiki had a chart of all the recurring motifs in Irving's fiction (bears, prostitution, the city of Vienna, and so on) and The Hotel New Hampshire was the only one of his books to contain all of them.

Adapted into a 1984 film directed by Tony Richardson and starring Jodie Foster, Beau Bridges, Rob Lowe, and Nastassja Kinski.

Tropes featured include:

  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: Franny with Ernst (and Chipper to some extent)
  • Animal Motifs: Bears. Two main characters of the novel are bears (sort of). The first is State o'Maine, an old trained bear that is part of the reason why the Berry parents married and had children, and became the family's first pet. The second is Susie, a woman that lives with the Berry family in Vienna and that dresses up and acts as a bear. But beyond these two major cases, the novel has several other references to bear more or less hidden: for example when John gets fat, he is compared to a "panda" and a "teddy bear" by his siblings and friends ; two characters of the novel (John's mother and an elderly Viennese prostitute) have collections of china bears ; and the bomb prepared by the terrorists in Vienna has a shape that reminds the Berry children of a bear.
    • The family's dog Sorrow is also a recurring motif throughout the novel. The Berry family members keep using Sorrow's name as a metaphor and allegory for true sorrow while the dog's taxidermized body keeps being involved in key events of the family's life (see Meaningful Name below) and reappearing in the strangest of places (causing the Arc Words "Sorrow floats" and "You can't kill Sorrow"). The dog's importance grows to a point that the Berry children start seeing him in all sorts of inanimate objects, from Susie's bear costume to Frank's dressing mannequin, and it haunts the dreams of the Berry family (first Iowa Bob's then Frank's).
  • Anorgasmia: Subverted with "Screaming Annie" the hooker who fakes very loud orgasms. It later turns out they were not fake.
  • Arc Words: "Sorrow floats", "We're screwed down for life", You've got to get obsessed and stay obsessed", "Keep passing the open windows"... Honestly there are too many arc words to count. It is a habit of the Berry family to pick up a specific sentence or expression and keep reusing it throughout the years, as both a form of inside joke and poetic metaphor.
  • As Herself: In-universe, with a side-order of Dawson Casting. When Lily's first book, an autobiography of the Berry family, is turned into a movie, Franny ends up playing her sixteen-year-old self in the movie, despite being twenty-four at the time. John describes Franny's performance as the only authentic one in the movie.
  • Bears Are Bad News: Bears real (State o'Maine), costumed (Susie) and metaphorical pervade the book.
  • Because You Were Nice to Me: Miss Miscarriage, a radical communist, becomes fond of John and warns him to get the family out of Vienna before her group sets off a bomb.
  • Berserk Button: For John, every time a boy or man gets sexually close or active with Franny.
  • The Big Guy: What John becomes in the family after he picked up weight-lifting as his obsession and got more and more muscular throughout the years - in fact every time someone needs to move something heavy John is the one called to help. Takes a darker turn during the Hostage Situation in Vienna where his great strength allows him to strangle a terrorist to death.
  • Black Comedy: This novel is full of it, the life of the Berry family continuously switching between tragic, awful, disastrous events and funny, hilarious, extravagant situations.
  • Broken Bird: Both Franny and Susie.
  • Brother–Sister Incest: John and Franny, in a rare case where it doesn't end badly.
  • Chekhov's Skill: John starts weight-lifting and obsessing over becoming strong and muscular, after his sister Franny gets raped by Chipper Dove and he is too weak to defend or help her. Weight-lifting stays his main passion and hobby throughout the novel and seems to have no ultimate consequence than becoming his personal quirk and turning him into The Big Guy of the family. However, when his family is taken hostage by a group of terrorists, his incredibly strong muscles and years-long training, coupled with the rage caused by the situation, allows him to strangle to death one of the terrorists.
  • Coming of Age Story: For John and his siblings.
  • Decapitated Army: What the terrorists-radicals in Vienna end up as. While taking the Berry family hostage, their leader Ernst makes the mistake of revealing he slept with Franny while simultaneously mocking her, in front of her father. After one taunt too much, Win Berry smacks Ernst with a baseball bat: one hit is enough to kill him, and immediately the terrorist group starts to break down, everyone arguing with each other while trying to blindly follow the original plan. This confusion ultimately helps to bring their brutal downfall.
  • Driven to Suicide: Lilly.
  • Formerly Fat: Played with alongside Formerly Fit. John, after being unable to help Franny when she was raped, decides to become stronger and follows his grandfather's muscle-building regimen, which includes a heavy diet of bananas, milk, oranges, bananas, pasta, rice, fish, bananas, hot cereal, ice cream, and bananas. Such a brutal diet change makes him gain twenty pounds in two months, all fat, making him stand at 170 pounds and 5 feet 6 inches for a fourteen years old. Despite his family's teasing and incomprehension, he followed his grandfather's advice that one must "beef up before stripping down". After a long, hard work he ends up dropping his extra twenty pounds by fifteen, before growing of two inches at seventeen, and staying in this toned, fit and muscular 150 pounds shape for the rest of his life.
  • Hell Hotel: What each "Hotel New Hampshire" Win Berry runs ends up as. The first one was a former dreadful all-girl school with too-small furniture, located in a dirty backward little town, and several people died in it (of natural causes, mind you). The second one was in a post-WWII Vienna, a home to low-class prostitutes and the headquarters of political radicals that turned out to be dangerous terrorists. The third one was the only one that actually went "right", but that is because it was never truly opened and stayed empty for years, the Berry children tricking their blind and aging father into believing the customers just happened to be very quiet. Later it was turned into a helping center for rape victims, and Win continued to believe it was a regular hotel, treating the rape victims as ordinary "customers".
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Averted with the prostitutes of the second New Hampshire Hotel in Vienna. They seem at first extravagant, comical or friendly, but the Berry children quickly realize that, while not villainous, they are definitively flawed and unhelpful characters - greedy or violent, forceful or lying, stubborn or mistrustful... Only one is truly friendly and kind, and this is because she is a child. As John says, at the end of the day they are still "just whores".
  • Hostage Situation: What the Berry family finds themselves involved in. The radicals of Vienna plan to make a bomb explode at the Opera of Vienna and take the American Berry family as hostages to obtain an "audience". However the situation is made even horrifying when the Berrys realize the terrorists do not want to use the hostages to spread any message - because their true goal is merely to gain an audience, nothing more. However, unfortunately for the radicals, we are talking about the Berry family here...
  • The Immodest Orgasm: Screaming Annie earned that name for a reason.
  • Known Only by Their Nickname: A surprisingly high percentage of the cast. Most notable is youngest Berry sibling Egg, who earned his nickname before he was even born, when his siblings asked their mother where babies came from. Mary Berry explained that the baby started as "a tiny egg," and the name stuck. The radicals in Vienna are also only known by their code names.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: The Berry parents told several times to their children the "magical summer" during which they fell in love and where they met the mysterious owner of the hotel they worked in, the Arbuthnot-By-the-Sea. He is described as a man in a white dinner jacket, and this description struck deeply the Berry children. Throughout the novel John sees several times a man with a white dinner jacket, often before some important events change the life of the Berrys, and so John interprets it as an omen (though an ominous one - as it would announce things such as the Berrys disliked departure for Vienna or the night the Berrys are taken hostage).
    • Similarly, John dreamt of his mother's death as her being taken away into the sea on the boat of the man in the white jacket, and that right before she died when her plane crashed into the sea.
  • Meaningful Name: Invoked in-universe. The Berry family's dog is named Sorrow, and he ends up tied up and involved in so many sorrowful and disastrous events in the life of the Berrys that the protagonists start using his name as a metaphor for grief and despair: his death occurs right as Franny needs him the most, after her rape ; his return to the house as a Taxidermy Terror causes the death of Iowa Bob, the family's grandfater, and ultimately he was with Egg and the Berry mother on the plane that killed them.
    • Similarly, the last child of the Berry family is called "Egg" (see Known Only by Their Nickname) and he ends up being the "least formed" one of the five children, staying as an "egg" of a child due to dying at a very young age.
    • In general, this trope is true for a good part of the cast. For example the two group of regulars at the Viennese Hotel New Hampshire (the prostitutes and the radicals) are Known Only by Their Nickname - be it "Screaming Annie", the prostitue who has extremely loud orgasms, Wrench the radical who keeps working all day long on a car, or Miss Pregnancy, another radical who wrote a popular book about her pregnancy (and an even more popular and controversial one about her abortion). John notes that as a result two members of each group share a same name: Old Billig, who is both the oldest of the prostitutes and the oldest of the radicals, their only difference being in gender.
    • Averted however with several other characters, such as the first bear encountered in the novel, called State O'Maine simply because it is a "good name" ; or Chipper Dove who turns out to be one of the worst Jerkass of the entire book, both a bully and a rapist.
  • Misaimed Fandom: In-universe, Lilly's second book has one.
  • Most Writers Are Writers: Lilly is the author of the family and her family, as it turns out, provides her best material.
  • The Pollyanna: Win is always convinced everything will turn out right this time.
  • Radish Cure: John and Franny's incestuous sex marathon.
  • Rape and Switch: In the movie Franny and Susie are 'turned gay' by rape and eventually turned back again by the love of a good man. Frank is, however, gay in his own right, leaving the impression that the creator thinks male homosexuality is real but lesbianism is nothing more than a neurotic (and curable) fear of men.
  • Rape as Drama: Franny is sexually assaulted. Backed up by the college football team, her brothers spring into action to track down and punish her assailants.
  • Running Gag: Several of them run through the novel, though they are subtle and often morbid. For example, the several accidental heart attacks at the first Hotel New Hampshire caused by the Berry children, or how Franny when confronted with a male assailant always goes for a very efficient Groin Attack.
  • Schemer: Father Win always has a back-up plan.
  • Single Mom Stripper / Son of a Whore: Here single-mom prostitute and daughter of a whore, with the duo of Screaming Annie (a prostitute known for her very loud orgasms) and her daughter Dark Inge (called that because she is a metis). It is a very disturbing example as note only is Screaming Annie forced to prostitute herself to offer her daughter a better future, but she also is forced to make her daughter do the same - though she, and her colleagues, are extremely protective of Dark Inge. For example people can only watch her, not touch her, and her clients cannot force her to watch or do anything she doesn't want to. Screaming Annie explains that she will give a proper life to her daughter when she is old enough, however upon leaving Vienna, John ends up realizing that Screaming Annie seems to either lie or delude herself, as she has no real desire or hope that her daughter will either escape the fate of a prostitute.
  • Sir Swearsalot: John and Franny Berry (and also their elder brother Frank sometimes), until their mother has enough and scolds them for using such bad language in front of their younger siblings. Due to her death soon after this order, John makes the vow to stop using swear words and foul language, even feeling ashamed the only time he does so. Franny however freely continues to swear like a sailor.
  • Straight Gay: Frank. One of the criticisms Irving has of the in-universe movie adaptation of Lilly's autobiographical novel is that the movie turned Frank into a Camp Gay stereotype.
  • Taxidermy Terror: The preserved body of the Berry's dead dog Sorrow frightens quite a few people before sinking into the icy waters of the North Atlantic; among other things, it prevents John from losing his virginity and literally frightens his grandfather to death.
  • Terrorists Without a Cause: The Symposium on the East-West Relationships ultimately turns out to be this. Initially described as left-wing radicals between the Dirty Communists and the Bomb Throwing Anarchist, writing pamphlets and making threatening phone calls all the time, their ideology is never clearly named and their own ideas are very vague, involving a lot of words like "decadence" and "revolution" while not going beyond a desire to change entirely and fundamentaly society. It is later revealed that the radicals plan a terrorist attack on the opera of Vienna during a fully-booked night: when asked about it, their leader Ernst explains they want to gain an audience with this massacre, but when asked about what message they want to spread he refuses - or rather cannot - answer. A horrified John realizes that Ernst and his fellow terrorists are in truth only interested in having an audience, not giving any message. Whatever ideology they use, it is all just abstract and blurry excuses for causing massacres. They are completely insane.
    • Played with in that after the failure of their terrorist attack, the journalists, authorities and politics of Vienna spent a lot of time debating and discussing what the radicals were trying to say, express or mean with their actions, without ever finding any true answer - because there aren't any in the first place.
  • Unproblematic Prostitution: The Berry children initially believe this is what goes on in Vienna, due to how the fin de siècle Vienna is described as a very sexual city and they heard that prostitution was legal there. However upon arriving they discover all of the darkness, grimness and repulsive things associated with prostitution, from miscarriages and abortions to violence and pedophilia - and before leaving they end up discovering to their surprise that prostitution isn't actually legal at the time, simply tolerated by the authorities.
    • A more straightforward example with Ronda Ray, the maid from the first Hotel New Hampshire. She freely and frequently has sexual relationships with men for money, she seems perfectly used and happy with it, she even seduces and agrees to have a relationship with the underage John Berry (merely fourteen at the time) for money... However it is later revealed that Ronda ignored that prostitution was illegal in the United-States. When she learns it is, she is immediately ashamed of herself and refuses to continue her relationship with John.