How well do we really know other people — or ourselves? That’s the provocative question that drives Anna Stothard’s astonishing American debut, long-listed for the Orange Prize.
“The Pink Hotel” starts with the reek “of cigarette ash and stale perfume,” introducing an unnamed teenage girl who has jumped a plane to Los Angeles from her UK home to attend the funeral of Lily, the mother who abandoned her soon after her birth. Dead at 32 from a motorcycle crash, Lily is a shadowy figure her daughter is desperate to understand. The girl quickly visits the eponymous pink hotel, which was owned by Lily and her husband, Richard, a red-haired man in a nasty mood. Impulsively, she steals Lily’s suitcase — filled with clothes, letters, and photographs — much to Richard’s ire, and spends one long, hot, swampy summer following the clues in the letters and photographs, and tracking down the men in Lily’s life, all in a determined attempt to know her.