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I was going to buy myself a Kindle, but then realised that I have at least 30 unread books on my shelf, and I keep buying 'bargains'. I was attracted to "The Weeping Women Hotel" primarily because it cost 10p, and I seem to remember my brother raving about Alexei Sayle, although I don't have any opinions on him myself.
Published in 2006, it's only 257 pages, split into 12 chapters - sounds ok enough. However, I found that unless I dog-eared the pages sufficiently it was bloody difficult to find where I'd left off. And this is a big downside as I found that I could read 3 or 4 pages without realising that I'd already read them - such is the repetitive (and perhaps non-engaging) nature of the story.
As the blurb on the back of the book says "A woman gets off a night train at Crewe station...she is drawn to a hotel not far from the station. Despite having almost no luggage, torn clothes and hair matted with blood, to her surprise she is given a room without question."
And this is how the story begins.
Being a frequent train traveller, especially on the line from Euston up to Scotland via Crewe and Carlisle, I liked this. I love it in books where I can relate to the places, and the (mostly fictional) references to places/events in Cumbria (sometimes pretty weird) was definitely a hit for me, and the odd laugh out loud (LOL!) moment.
With the woman ending up in this weird hotel where she makes the transition from guest to worker, I was eager to read on and find out what lead her to this place. Initially I was enthralled and expected to finish reading the book in a couple of days...but that isn't what happened.
The story is essentially based around Harriet, an overweight and unattractive seamstress. Harriet's quest to lose weight leads her to the somewhat strange (that's an understatement) Patrick, and his very bizarre world of martial arts - there's definitely some funny moments with jumping from trees and the like. As Harriet becomes thin and beautiful, her life changes. From the reader's perspective Harriet is a very likeable and 'real' character (despite the odd situations which she ends up getting into), and possibly one which many women can relate to (despite being created by Sayle, a middle-aged man!)
Then there's her sister Helen and Helen's husband Toby. Helen has an 'imaginary' friend Julio, who isn't so imaginary as she finally meets him, but that he isn't how she'd imagined him to be - does that make sense?! It's complicated, you'd have to read it to find out!
---Soup Swoop Loop de Loop---
The story is pretty repetitive, and if one thing sticks with you it'll probably be Toby's phrase "Soup, swoop, loop de loop" - it's repetitive and it sticks with you (ooops, think I've said that already!). I ALMOST said it to my parents when I served them my homemade soup this weekend. ALMOST...
Don't get me wrong, there are funny parts...and much is a take on modern British life and the way of society and the way things are going - you'll almost certainly find yourself saying "Oh Yes!" - and Alexei Sayle is clearly a very clever man. And it's certainly an unusual story.
That said, it's not Ben Elton standard (and if you don't like Ben Elton I wouldn't even bother giving this a go - he's also been compared to Nick Hornby and Tony Parsons - both of whose books I've loved reading). And the ending of the book is somewhat abrupt and disappointing....and to be honest it wasn't much of a surprise having bourn the first chapter of the book in mind.
This is worth a read, it's quirky, unusual and funny at times. If you like dry British humour then go for it. BUT don't expect too much. I'm really torn, as I absolutely loved the book at the start, but then I think I got sidetracked. 7 out of 10 is being generous, so I will have to go for 3 out of 5 stars.
If I see Alexei Sayles' other books on sale for between 10p and £1 then I'll give them a go. But otherwise, don't go out of your way, unless you're passing the local library!
It's currently available on Amazon for £6.99.
And a final final note, since writing this review several weeks ago, I actually had a dream the other night where someone served me soup saying "soup swoop loop de loop" - I think I need help...