At the beginning of this novel by Australian writer Dominic Smith, ageing film-maker Claude Ballard is living at the Hollywood Knickerbocker Hotel. It’s 1962 and more than fifty years since Frenchman Claude made his last film, The Electric Hotel, now lost. Claude’s quiet life taking photographs is interrupted when film student Martin Emprey comes to interview him about his life in the early days of film-making.
This leads Claude to look back on his life, in particular the story of his relationship with actress and muse Sabine Montrose, and how The Electric Hotel in which she starred disappeared from the public arena after a short but well-received showing.
Telling this story involves a lot about the development of film-making from its genesis as very short action scenes, and Claude’s involvement in it. This was, to me, one of the weaknesses of the book. Although the mystery of The Electric Hotel and Claude’s relationship with Sabine kept me reading, I found that there was just too much detail about the early days of film-making, interesting as it is. Sometimes it was difficult to know whether this was fiction or non-fiction.
The book did become more involving as it went but I would have given up on it I hadn’t been reviewing it. I’m glad I didn’t as the ending is moving and beautifully written. On the whole, however, there were so many diversions and facts inserted into the main story that, overall, I found it an unsatisfactory read.
Sue Glynn 3/3
The Electric Hotel by Dominic Smith
Allen & Unwin 9781911630289 hbk Aug 2019