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Hotel Paradiso

by Gregor Robinson

A scene in Hotel Paradiso pits two characters against each other in a game of literary allusions. One makes a subtle literary reference and the other guesses its author and/or the book in which it appeared. Graham Greene, Malcolm Lowry, and Hemingway put in appearances as answers, all authors who have written books about uprooted, literary men in exile.
Gregor Robinson’s debut novel covers several years in the life of another fictional expat, Canadian banker and wannabe writer David Rennison. Exiled on the seedy Bahamian outport of Pigeon Cay, the aloof Rennison witnesses the island’s voodoo rituals, poisonings, and love affairs, all the while planning his literary opus. Yet in spite of the internal referencing of model fictions, Robinson’s style owes more to the hard-boiled noir of Raymond Chandler. Decidedly Chandlerian syntax slips into the narrative – “‘Hello’, she said. Breathy. Trouble.” – promising a clipped, semi-ironic narrative stance that, unfortunately, is never actually delivered.
Robinson doesn’t allow his narrator to fully engage with the novel’s often sensational subject matter, a narrative strategy often employed in successful detective fiction. But the author’s frequent attempts to raise the novel’s intellectual calibre grate against the noir tone. Allusions to Lowry et al only spotlight how Hotel Paradiso has not struck the mark set by these great writers. In the final section, where a crowd of illegal immigrants meet their death in a shipwreck, Robinson’s writing shows the control and focus of a fine storyteller, but it comes far too late in the day to save this book.