Title: The Paragon Hotel.
Writer(s): Lyndsay Faye.
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons.
Release Date: January 8th 2019.
Genre(s): Historical Fiction, Mystery.
My Overall Rating: ★★★★☆.
Sometimes we read stories to escape the gruesome reality that is perpetually mediatized and sometimes we visit these stories to remind us of the lessons learned—or not—during the darker days of the past. While the events in themselves are tragic, it is the similarities that we are able to draw between an era that seems so long ago that is the most appalling. Whether it is only a decade or a century ago, mankind loves to revisit those mistakes and find ways to do worse, but even in pitch-black darkness there is light, and even in the ugly, there is beauty. One phenomenon that unfortunately continues to pervade many societies around the world turns out to be the main attraction in this novel and it is none other than racism. And so, leave it to Lyndsay Faye, author of the Edgar-nominated novels Jane Steele and The Gods of Gotham, to deliver a stunning historical fiction blended with a healthy dose of mystery with her latest stand-alone novel The Paragon Hotel that tackles a timely subject still relevant today.
What is The Paragon Hotel about? Set in 1921, the story follows Alice “Nobody” James on her journey from a Prohibition-era Harlem to Portland’s The Paragon Hotel. Inflicted with a bullet-wound, looking for a safe haven to hide from a drug deal gone wrong, she rides a train heading towards Portland, Oregan. Struck with serendipity, she meets a black Pullman porter whose unselfishness brings him to offer her a home to rest at. Putting himself and others at risk, Nobody finds refuge in the only all-black hotel where her being white installs tension in the occupants’ lives. Resting, she comes to acquaint herself with some memorable figures, including club chanteuse Blossom Fontaine and understands that there is more going on in Portland than meets the eye. In fact, the arrival of the Ku Klux Klan is the ultimate catalyst for the danger to come.
When it comes down to historical fiction, its ability to be immersive will always be primordial and Lyndsay Faye nails it with the era, setting and characters in The Paragon Hotel. Not only is it obvious that she put in some solid work to get the research right for this story, but she also draws upon her unbelievable skills to create authentic characters that are not only easy to imagine but who also fit perfectly within the time period. The Paragon Hotel is particularly heavier in dialogues and offers readers the opportunity to look closely at the interactions between characters, but also the language used by everyone in their daily lives. Shocking at times, they are all genuine and easily sets the conflict-filled atmosphere that still exists within today’s society. The story is also told with two interlocking narratives (past and present), where the past explores Alice “Nobody” James’ life within the criminal underworld and the present explores her life among the Paragon Hotel’s community. While intriguing, the constant change from one timeline to another was, unfortunately, a little less fluid than expected.
What was a bit more of a surprise was how the story starts off as a pure historical fiction only to later find the mystery groove that you would usually see coming from Lyndsay Faye. The distinction between both genres was a bit too raw for my taste and a would’ve been even better if it was seamless, but it didn’t completely take away from the tone set for this story. In fact, Lyndsay Faye delivers some wonderful plot twists as the story reaches its end and does a remarkable job in exploring the history of racism that plagued Portland. With themes of race and identity at the heart of this story, she also does a remarkable job of creating incredible characters that serve as excellent vessels to convey this tale. As much as you’d expect some people to be much more open-minded and considerate about others around them without filtering them based on their race, this story does a great job in portraying the issues through the eye of a character who can take on any personality to blend in with the mass. Her unique position offers us a truly eye-opening perspective into Portland’s Prohibition-era crime romp and racial tension.
The Paragon Hotel is an exquisite exploration of race and identity in a Prohibition-era Portland city with unforgettable characters and their deeply-rooted struggles.
Thank you to Penguin Random House Canada and G.P. Putnam’s Sons for sending me a copy for review!