Third Hotel (van den Berg) - Discussion Questions

Discussion Questions
We'll add publisher questions if and when they're available; in the meantime, use our LitLovers Talking Points to help start a discussion for THE THIRD HOTEL … than take off on your own:

1. In the first sentence of the novel, Clare wonders: "what was she doing in Havana?" She considers telling anyone who might recognize her, " I am not who you think I am." Or even, "I am experiencing a dislocation of reality." Why is she experiencing such uncertainty about her identity as well as her purpose for visiting Cuba? What do you think she means by "a dislocation of reality"? And, finally, what do you think all of this suggests about Clare's sense of herself?

2. Follow-up to Question 1: Does your initial perception of Clare change during the course of the novel?

3. What were your initial thoughts when Clare sees and follows her husband. Did you consider it/him a ghost, an impostor, or a hallucinatory vision?

4. As the novel progresses, what do we learn about the state of Richard and Clare's marriage? How would you describe their relationship?

5. Do you find yourself impatient with Clare's negation of herself and her surroundings: she wishes to "be free of past and future, of memory and feeling." What about her penchant, for example, of turning off all light and sound in hotel rooms; the fact that she never enters the theater for the movie screening, or that she doesn't correct the person who mistakes her for someone else? Is this Clare's way of expressing grief. If so, do you find her sympathetic?

6. Follow-up to Question 5: One character tells Clare she is deranged. Another says that the grieving are dangerous, like "injured animals with fearsome claws, bloodied and pushed into a corner." What do you think of Clare's mental/emotional state?

7. Why might the author withhold so much information from readers: the unopened white box found by her husband's body; what her father said to her, which left her unable to speak in full sentences; the red notebook, which she slams shut; the unopened envelope from her father; phone calls that are silent on the other end or filled with static? Recall, Clare's quip to a new friend, "Americans like straight answers" and "simple stories."

8. Follow-up to Question 7: Do the author's revelations at the end satisfy your questions?

9. How would you describe this book: a police procedural, a ghost story, a thriller, a philosophical query into self-identity and death? All, or none, of the above?

10. The professor of quantum physics tells Clare that "We are all erasing ourselves a tiny bit at a time." He goes on to say, "Drinking, fantasies, secrets, denial, hysteria, double lives, suicide, ennui, schemes. Those are just a few of the ways we disappear." Why do we want to erase ourselves? And what does these observation suggest about the thematic concerns of The Third Hotel?

11. What was your experience reading Laura van den Berg's novel? Were you intrigued or mystified? Enthralled or irritated? J. Robert Lennon, the New York Times reviewer, while somewhat critical, predicted The Third Hotel will become a "cult classic." What do you think?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online and off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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