Today is publication day for a novel I’ve been looking forward to since I first heard about it: Hotel Alpha by Mark Watson. Although best known as a comedian, Watson has also been written some very smart novels (I reviewed his Eleven a few years ago). Hotel Alpha is his fifth, and chronicles forty years in the life of a central London hotel. What’s particularly intriguing, though, is that Watson has written a hundred short stories (from the length of a tweet to a thousand words or more) to go with it – stories that exist within and fill some of the gaps in the novel.
I’ll be reviewing Hotel Alpha for the October issue of Shiny New Books; for now, though, I’m hosting one of the hundred stories here. It’s only a couple of paragraphs, but I love the emotions that it evokes. You’ll find the rest of the stories at http://www.hotelalphastories.com.
Story 48: Room 76, 1970
Every time someone knocks on any of the bloody doors in this place, it sounds like it’s yours. This is the third time he’s sprung to his feet, gone to jerk open the door, and not found herthere. Once it was a visitor for the person the other side of the wall: a visitor who ought not, from the look on her face, to be there. Once it was a housekeeper in a uniform so white it looked brand new; she glanced wryly at him before being admitted two doors down. And this time there is nobody there at all. Whoever made the knock has been noiselessly admitted to a room, or was the product of his imagination. Or a ghost.
It’s not as if it could be her, anyhow. She isn’t coming back. He has lost her. She is with somebody else; or she’s with nobody else, but happy; she’s happy without him, that’s the point. And that’s how it has to be. He doesn’t deserve another chance, probably. It’s just that a hotel promises everything, or at least rules nothing out. Anything, in its neutrality, can be imagined. Nobody made of the ordinary human stuff can hear a knock on a door, even the wrong door, without believing for a few seconds that the impossible has happened, and the person they have longed for is here after all.