This post is part of a blog tour organised by Random Things Blog Tours. I received a free copy of the book in return for an honest review.
‘Noelle is a model employee. Or so she’d have you think.
‘The trouble is that she can’t help taking a little “souvenir” as she cleans the hotels where she works. Nothing of value, just tokens of happy, normal lives: a lipstick, a hair clip, some tweezers. And by the time the guest has noticed, she’s long gone.
‘As she starts at her 21st hotel, she’s determined to beat her record of one month in a five-star hotel before suspicion falls on her. But when she meets her new colleagues, her plans are complicated.
‘These women aren’t just hands pushing carts down lonely hotel corridors: they are women with lives full of happiness and worry, pain and joy. The kind of lives Noelle has never known how to live. They make her wonder what it might be like to have real friends, people to stick around for…
‘Will the women at Hotel 21 give her the courage to claim the life she deserves?’
In Hotel 21, by Senta Rich, we meet 26-year-old Noelle, who’s starting a new cleaning job at The Magnolia, a five-star establishment in London.
This is the 21st hotel she’s worked in. Her modus operandi is to take a job; steal various small, insignificant items from guests’ rooms; then move on, citing a sick or recently-deceased relative, when it seems likely she might be discovered.
Over the past few years Noelle’s cleaned all over Britain, and occasionally beyond, staying from anything to less than a day (if the vibes seem off the moment she walks in) to several months. Behind her kleptomania and peripatetic, sparse existence lies a highly traumatic childhood.
Noelle is usually careful to gather no moss, but the distinctive women on her team at The Magnolia – Mali, Gaby, Rose and Phil – get under her skin, and for the first time, she finds herself struggling to leave.
Hotel 21 is really lovely, without being at all saccharine.
There’s darkness and gritty realism throughout the book, as it unsparingly details the abuse Noelle suffered at the hands of her cruel mother, and we learn about the problems her fellow cleaners are facing in their everyday lives.
However, this is more than offset by the unaccustomed warmth Noelle receives from her new colleagues, as well as the abundant humour to be found in the characters’ interactions and Noelle’s unique voice. I came away feeling uplifted.
It’s clear that the author has thoroughly researched what it’s like to work behind the scenes at all sorts of hotels. Noelle has a whole range of stories about the places she’s worked previously, covering items stolen, near misses, and nightmare co-workers quite unlike the ones on floor seven at The Magnolia.
Noelle’s accounts of what a typical cleaning shift involves and what hotel cleaners commonly encounter not only ring true, but make for a highly interesting read. I’ve always found hotels fascinating, and therefore very much enjoyed finding out what goes on behind the scenes.
What’s more, Noelle’s an inveterate observer. She had to be permanently on her guard as a child to avoid what harm she could; has learned the types of item that are unlikely to be missed, and how to take them undetected; models her behaviour on that of other people in order to appear “normal”; and has a range of personas at her disposal for whatever situation she finds herself in.
Through her incisive deductions, we’re introduced to quite a few hotel guests without ever actually coming face-to-face with any of them.
While it may sound like Noelle is a horrible character – a thief, and manipulative to boot – she’s actually very likeable.
As you’re privy to her thought processes, you know she doesn’t steal or keep her distance out of malice, but as a reaction to trauma; she’s trying to keep herself safe and balanced. I felt so tense when she was stealing things, as I was so worried about what would happen to her if she got caught!
She genuinely cares for her colleagues, but fights her own feelings because she believes she’s not good enough for anyone, and that they’ll only hurt her if she sticks around too long.
I also appreciated how Noelle is queer (possibly even somewhere on the asexuality spectrum, which you don’t often see in fiction), as is Phil, who particularly draws Noelle’s attention because she’s audacious, unusually challenging to figure out, and makes Noelle feel things she’s never felt before.
Hotel 21 is a lovely story with a unique main character you can’t help but root for.