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two’s company

the two hotel francforts

two’s company
alex johnston

The Two Hotel Francforts, by David Leavitt; Published by Bloomsbury Group, Available in Hardcover (2013)

The year is 1940, and narrator Pete and his wife Julia have just arrived in Lisbon, part of a wave of American expatriates fleeing Paris just days ahead of the Nazis. It is in this pressure-cooker environment that they befriend fellow ex-pats Edward and Iris. While they spend their savings and wait for news about the war and their trip home, Edward and Pete find themselves thrown together. But what starts as a distraction from the stresses and strains of wartime Lisbon turns into an affair that will change both their lives.

It is slow to start and, despite an interesting atmosphere and powerful sense of place, it’s hard to quite get hold of the style: at times it feels very natural and realist, while at other times Julia seems like a Gothic heroine in a much more melodramatic story. This tendency to flirt with genre lines comes to a head in the final chapters of the book, when the narrator’s perception shifts around and begins to allow some other voices – a shift that might have helped contextualize the loose genre conventions better, had it come earlier. The narrative voice and characters are compelling and the story and setting are intriguing, but ironically it suffers from ending with a glimpse of a style that might have made the whole book much more challenging and interesting.

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Authoralex johnston

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