cover image Hotel Silence

Hotel Silence

Auður Ava Olafsdottir, trans. from the Icelandic by Brian FitzGibbon. Black Cat, $16 trade paper (224p) ISBN 978-0-8021-2750-1

Olafsdottir’s charming novel of second chances and fateful journeys is filled with quiet hope. Icelandic handyman Jonas has decided to commit suicide after learning he is not his daughter’s biological father. To avoid his daughter discovering his body, he travels to Hotel Silence, a recently reopened hotel in an unnamed war-ravaged country, to hang himself. His skimpy luggage, with only the clothes on his back and a handful of tools draws the suspicion of the siblings, May and Fifi, who run the hotel, and the two other guests, an aging movie star and a shifty man with opaque but nefarious intentions. Jonas almost passively starts minor repairs on the hotel and wanders the city with blank nonchalance, disregarding warnings about hidden land mines. Jonas’s stoic implacability endears him to May as she recounts her gruesome traumas and he shows kindness to her young son. Soon, other city residents are calling on him for repairs, and Jonas’s suicidal intentions lift, even if he retains the same cool disconnection. Olafsdottir (Butterflies in November) captures the aimlessness of survivors and the long shadow of war in spare prose. The story moves at a consistently engaging pace, and Olafsdottir’s blend of sly humor and bleak realities makes for a life-affirming tale without any treacle. (Feb.)