Open thread on the first two chapters

What do you think about the opening two chapters of this novel? How does the author introduce us to the Count and the hotel?

What has made this book, in your opinion, so compelling to a lot of readers?

(I ask the third question because I want to keep this conversation positive and appreciative. This isn't meant to be a critique session; the book is already successful, and thus we don't need to point out its errors unless we have a really useful craft point to make.)

  • Cathy Counts says:

    It is Easter morning and I have much to do. I’ve read the prologue and the first chapter, and part of the second. So, though I’m not fully prepared to answer your questions, I will attempt to do so, anyway, because already I love this book and the indomitable spirit of the Count.

    The first chapter and what I’ve read of the second chapter show, through deep breaths he takes of life, sun and air, by the dignified and charming way he treats those in the serving class who have been respectful of him, and by his careful planning for all eventualities, that he is likely to survive, if not forever, then at least well and with a dapper honor one cannot help but admire and enjoy. I feel his growing understanding of the scope of his loss, yet I trust him to prevail in spirit and joy because he has so much of each embedded within him, these are lifelong powers which will likely keep him essentially whole.
    I hope so. I want him to surpass this terrible test with panache.

    • I totally agree with you, Cathy. Happy Easter!

  • To answer the third question first, the aspect of craft that makes this novel most compelling to me is voice. This is a story about a gentleman told by a gentleman, a casual acquaintance who lives in the same world but can be objective. As a reader, I don’t feel manipulated.

    We’re introduced to the count and the Metropol with strong themes of space, time, and memory. The most bittersweet section for me was the winnowing—parting with people and possessions. There is much to admire about the count because he says and does everything with good grace. He serves those who serve him—the best aspect of a true gentleman. The opening of chapter two says so much about the count’s character. He would postpone his meeting at the bank to eat pastries and listen to the chatter of young ladies comparing mille feuille to the 1000 layered complications of their hearts (this is when I fell in love with the count).

    At a time when class is eschewed by the establishment, it is the gentleman count who treats everyone with the same curtesy and appreciation. The lessons he has learned from his grandmother and the grand duke have prepared him for this unlikely future. Don’t give them the satisfaction and don’t let your circumstances master you. In other words, do not become embittered with what life hands you. The count and his friends have had to sacrifice much that made the Metropol an elite hotel, yet they all seem to be finding work-arounds to keep up the dignity of the hotel.

    Also, at the end of chapter one, I appreciated that the author answers a large concern with the hidden compartments in the desk legs. Definitely look up the Serov paintings and where can I buy a case of 26 pairs of drinking glasses?

  • robhwhite says:

    Hi Everyone,

    I’m excited about this book. Already I care about the count and his world. I like that he talks to pigeons. I’m happy that he notices the temperaments of the hotel’s staff members. I want to know him because he doesn’t bemoan his change of fortunes. His loss of social status doesn’t prompt him to disassociate but rather it seems to sharpen his eye. He cares deeply for his surroundings even though he’s living in the same time and place but in exile from the power dynamics and privileges that once allowed him to maneuver through his life with ease. His vulnerability and sense of loss in contrast with his noble character and sense of being an artist allow me to feel for him. He’s got zest and it feels good to read on and get to know him better.

    I like that I feel a world being limited and expanded simultaneously. The hotel’s attic rooms, the former aristocrat now in cramped quarters, all in view of the mighty Kremlin. These contradictions remind me of William Faulkner’s writing but without the oppressive sense of doom and anguish that haunts Faulkner’s characters. I don’t know if the contrast with Faulkner will last for me, but I’m enjoying the comparison because it locates the count in a world I know and has been formative in my understanding of fiction. All of what’s not being said intrigues me to want to know more about the world changing events of this time in history. But sort of not also. I just want to sit there with the count and drink tea and watch the moody cat, too.

    I’m feeling a building sense of pathos. Why did the count stop writing poetry? Is his good spirited approach to life going to crack and crumble? Will poetry aid and help bring him through his impending hardships? What sort of stage has the hotel Metropole become?

  • goodmintonmuse says:

    The Count. Other stories of fictional nobility portray the noble class as overly focused on money, power, and status. This story is refreshingly different. He’s a noble who wrote a poem in support of the revolution. He was a rich kid abroad when things heated up for his family, and he went right into the middle of it when he didn’t have to. He’s courteous and respectful to everyone regardless of class, and everyone seems to like and respect him back. The count had almost everything taken away from him — he will never see his family or home again, and he had to leave behind most of his possessions. He handles the transition with grace and resilience. We don’t know a lot about what he was like before, but we know that when stripped of most of his money, status, and, power, a strong and interesting human remains.

  • I don’t think I’ve read enough of the book yet to make a judgement as to whether or not I’m going to like it. It does leave some curiosity about how the Count will live / survive his current circumstances.

    I felt like how the Count is sorting away his possessions in his new accommodations the author was also sorting away the primary characters that will be common at the hotel. Most anyone will know (or can Google) this period in history but the author did a good job in setting up the hotel as the backdrop against which all future events will take place. How the characters will act and behave around these pivot points (history period & hotel) remains to be seen.

  • To add to my last I Googled when Catherine the Greats coronation was. It was 22 September 1762. So to the book’s present day of 21 June 1922, the hidden coins in the desk legs has been there for nearly 160 years. This is a bit of assumption since we don’t really know when the Rostov family procured them and placed them there. But that a long time to maintain a ‘go bag’ and suggests a level of pragmatism vis à vis life in Russia event for a Count.

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