I was fortunate enough to win a signed proof copy of Mark Watson’s novel Hotel Alpha just before it was published by Picador in 2014. For one reason or another, the book languished on a TBR pile (although my husband read and enjoyed it), then we moved house and it got filed on a shelf, and with one thing and another, I never got round to reading it. But the other day I was having a “what shall I read?!” crisis, and the book came back to mind and finally got read.
Three decades ago, the charismatic Howard York built the empire of his dreams: the Hotel Alpha. It was once the finest in London, but over the years, as the world around it has moved on at an ever more dizzying rate, the hotel has struggled to keep pace.
Graham, the Alpha’s concierge, has been behind the front desk since the day the hotel opened and has witnessed every stage of its history. Chas, Howard’s blind adopted son, has almost never ventured outside its walls. Both of them view the Alpha as their sanctuary, the place that gives them everything they need. But both of them must now accept that the Alpha no longer offers them the life they most want, and that Howard’s vision has been built on secrets as well as dreams . . .
The novel is narrated in alternating chapters by Graham and Chas, and their stories are interwoven with those of the hotel itself and other characters in and around it over the years. It offers moments of comedy and of tragedy, and I found it engaging and moving. I also enjoyed the contrast between the two voices and their differing perspectives on the same events. There is also a website, Hotel Apha Stories, which tells more stories of the hotel, further fleshing out some of the characters and events – warning though, there are some spoilers!
I think part of why it appealed to me is that Chas and I are pretty much the same age, and so his experiences of politics and changing technology throughout the novel pretty much match my own. Obviously this little trip down memory lane helps build a connection with a character.
Mark Watson is a great story-teller and now I will look out for more of his writing.