In June 1940, two couples meet in Lisbon, “waiting for the ship that was coming to rescue us and take us to New York. By us I mean, of course, us Americans, expatriates of long standing mostly for whom the prospect of returning home was a bitter one. Now it seems churlish to speak of our plight, which was as nothing compared with that of the real refugees – the Europeans, the Jews, the European Jews. Yet at the time we were too worried about what we were losing to care about those who were losing more.”
And so we are drawn into the world of “The Two Hotel Francforts,” David Leavitt’s spooky gem of a novel which recounts a week in the lives of two couples – Julia and Pete Winters, and Edward and Iris Freleng, staying in different hotels both named Francfort. They meet when Edward accidentally steps on Pete’s glasses. Pete, our narrator, in a nice bit of symbolism, remains shaky of vision as he relates the story of what happened that week, in that city, in a tragic unfolding which seems inevitable.
That story follows these four characters through various kinds of blindness: cultural, willful and oblivious, of lies, betrayal and sudden death, of lust, languor, and anxiety. With its faint echo of Ford Madox Ford’s “The Good Soldier,” it also brings to mind the self-involved expats of “Tender is the Night” and “The Sun Also Rises,” with a dose of the vague menace of Patricia Highsmith. “I often wonder why they don’t make glasses for people who see too well,” muses one character. “I mean, to see so clearly that it hurts – isn’t that a kind of impairment?”
Densely atmospheric with a pacing that increases in urgency and dread, “The Two Hotel Francforts” will stay with you long after you have put it down (which you will find it hard to do.)
The Two Hotel Francforts
Novel, Bloomsbury USA, 2013