The Electric Hotel: Book summary and reviews of The Electric Hotel by Dominic Smith

The Electric Hotel

A Novel

by Dominic Smith

The Electric Hotel by Dominic Smith X
The Electric Hotel by Dominic Smith
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  • Published in USA  Jun 2019
    352 pages
    Genre: Novels

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Book Summary

From the New York Times bestselling author Dominic Smith, a radiant novel tracing the intertwined fates of a silent-film director and his muse.

Dominic Smith's The Electric Hotel winds through the nascent days of cinema in Paris and Fort Lee, New Jersey―America's first movie town―and on the battlefields of Belgium during World War I. A sweeping work of historical fiction, it shimmers between past and present as it tells the story of the rise and fall of a prodigious film studio and one man's doomed obsession with all that passes in front of the viewfinder.

For nearly half a century, Claude Ballard has been living at the Hollywood Knickerbocker Hotel. A French pioneer of silent films, who started out as a concession agent for the Lumière brothers, the inventors of cinema, Claude now spends his days foraging mushrooms in the hills of Los Angeles and taking photographs of runaways and the striplings along Sunset Boulevard. But when a film-history student comes to interview Claude about The Electric Hotel―the lost masterpiece that bankrupted him and ended the career of his muse, Sabine Montrose―the past comes surging back. In his run-down hotel suite, the ravages of the past are waiting to be excavated: celluloid fragments and reels in desperate need of restoration, and Claude's memories of the woman who inspired and beguiled him.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Smith's tale is luminous ... Highly recommended for historical fiction fans and readers who love old Hollywood novels." - Booklist (starred review)

"A compelling plot, robust characters, and finely crafted prose richly evoke a bygone age and art." - Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"Smith tries to cover too much territory, but Ballard is finely rendered, and there are quite a few edge-of-your-seat moments." - Library Journal

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Cloggie Downunder

not Smith’s best work.
The Electric Hotel is the fifth novel by award-winning Australian-born author, Dominic Smith. For over thirty years, semi-reclusive French cinematic genius, Claude Ballard has kept a suite at Hollywood’s Knickerbocker Hotel, a suite filled with film and memorabilia, but it’s not until 1962 that he consents a request by aspiring film historian, Martin Embry to discuss his life.

When Martin is invited into Claude’s suite, he is assaulted by the vinegar smell and demonstrates to Claude how his precious archive of celluloid is deteriorating. Claude eventually consents to allow a selection of the canisters to be restored and copied. At their regular meetings, he describes for Martin how he first became enthralled in the world of moving pictures.

When he shows Martin his copy of the movie thought to be forever lost, The Electric Hotel, he explains how the key players in the making of that movie came together. The various problems and setbacks that besieged the filming process are explained in much detail, as is the grand premiere and the legal stoush that follows it. The sight of Sabine Montrose’s old valise under his bed takes Claude back to Belgium during the Great War, and this is definitely much more interesting than what has preceded.

The pace is quite slow, the narrative, wordy, and Smith’s attempt to bring this era to life falls short as his characters are initially a little distant and not easy to connect with. The behaviour of the characters meant to evoke sympathy in the reader is such that it is difficult to muster any. But perhaps fans of film history will be fascinated. It’s clear that Smith has done a lot of research into the subject, but trying to include it all is a mistake. The read would be greatly improved if much of the tedious first three quarters was relegated to the cutting room floor.

While some of the prose is gorgeous, this novel is not a patch on Smith’s previous novel, The Last Painting of Sara De Vos. And unfortunately, Smith's latest historical fiction loses half a star because he has succumbed to the irritating editorial affectation of omitting quote marks for speech. He almost redeems it by indicating the start of dialogue with a dash - but not quite. This is not Smith’s best work.
This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by Allen & Unwin.

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Author Information

Dominic Smith Author Biography

Photo: Stacy Sodolak

Dominic grew up in Sydney, Australia and now lives in Austin, Texas. He is the author, most recently, of The Last Painting of Sara de Vos, a New York Times Bestseller, a New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice, and an Amazon Editors' Top Pick.

His writing has appeared in numerous publications, including The Atlantic Monthly, Texas Monthly, the Chicago Tribune, and The New York Times. His other novels are: The Mercury Visions of Louis Daguerre, The Beautiful Miscellaneous, and Bright and Distant Shores. Dominic's awards include the Dobie Paisano Fellowship from the Texas Institute of Letters, the Sherwood Anderson Fiction Prize, the Gulf Coast Fiction Prize, and a new works grant from the Australia Council for the Arts. His fiction has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and been...

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