The Electric Hotel

The Electric Hotel

From the New York Times bestselling author Dominic Smith, a radiant novel tracing the intertwined fates of a silent-film director and his museDominic Smith’s The Electric Hotel winds through the nascent days of cinema in Paris and Fort Lee, New Jersey—America’s first movie town—and on the battlefields of Belgium during World War I. A sweeping work of historical fiction, it...

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Title:The Electric Hotel
Author:Dominic Smith
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The Electric Hotel Reviews

  • Sue

    The Electric Hotel is a love letter to an earlier time, not necessarily an easier time, but the early years of film, a time of adventure, excitement, exploration, wild success and horrible failure. Also a time of new techniques, new materials and much thinking on one’s feet. It is also a love letter to the friends, partners and lovers who were part of that glorious, difficult, wondrous time, the people who shared the victories and defeats of the early film era.

    The novel centers on Claude Ballard

    The Electric Hotel is a love letter to an earlier time, not necessarily an easier time, but the early years of film, a time of adventure, excitement, exploration, wild success and horrible failure. Also a time of new techniques, new materials and much thinking on one’s feet. It is also a love letter to the friends, partners and lovers who were part of that glorious, difficult, wondrous time, the people who shared the victories and defeats of the early film era.

    The novel centers on Claude Ballard who has been living in the same Los Angeles hotel for some 50 years, a man who never leaves his room without a camera, a man who has been filming life since he met the Lumiere Brothers in Paris in the late 19th century. One day, in 1962, he agrees to meet with a film student who would like to learn about his life. The result is what unspools here before us as a history of film, the world and Claude in both.

    From having read Smith’s prior book, The Last Painting of Sara de Vos, I was very aware of his skill in dealing with artistic techniques, matters of lighting, etc. That skill and sensitivity comes to the fore again here. The descriptions of the early forms of film, both how they are created and how they are received by unsuspecting audiences completely new to the phenomenon, are very well done. I felt as if I was in the room, seeing the early images.

    The personal side gets equal attention, the friendships, love affairs, hatred, business dealings that become personal. This novel fits the history of film into the world around it. It shows us the early film industry of New Jersey, the overbearing influence of Thomas Edison. There is a world here populated with living, breathing filmmakers, directors, actresses and actors, daring stuntmen, wild animals. And there is introspection, thoughtful consideration of film and life.

    In short, this is a book for most readers I know and another success from Dominic Smith. 4.5 rounded to 5

    A copy of this book was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest review.

  • Carolyn

    Dominic Smith has written a fascinating account of the early days of film, borrowing his title from that of a recently rediscovered and restored silent film from 1908. Through his main character, French photographer Claude Ballard, he recalls Claude's early life making very short moving image strips for the Lumiere brothers, travelling around the world showing these to packed theatres. Popular strips were one of a falling cat, a stuntman on fire diving into the sea at a Sydney beach and later a

    Dominic Smith has written a fascinating account of the early days of film, borrowing his title from that of a recently rediscovered and restored silent film from 1908. Through his main character, French photographer Claude Ballard, he recalls Claude's early life making very short moving image strips for the Lumiere brothers, travelling around the world showing these to packed theatres. Popular strips were one of a falling cat, a stuntman on fire diving into the sea at a Sydney beach and later a beautiful actress, Sabine Montrose, taking a bath. Now an elderly resident of a shabby Hollywood hotel with a roomful of canisters containing ancient decaying silent films, he tells his story to a young student of film, in particular his life long love for Sabine and what happened to his lost cinematographic masterpiece 'The Electric Hotel'.

    The author has clearly carried out extensive research into silent films and I really enjoyed learning about the detail about the techniques and people involved in the early days of silent film, however some may find this slows down the narrative and be impatient for the plot to unfold. Rest assured that the plot will become consuming once all the main characters are in place and the filming of the 'Electric Hotel' is underway. And this is not the only highlight of the novel as Claude goes on to film and produce propaganda films in WWI.

    Overall I found this a very rewarding read - I learnt a lot about silent films and how urgent it is to restore those that are left before they succumb to 'vinegar syndrome', I gained a new perspective into the filming of WWI and I enjoyed the story of Claude's life and his turbulent love for the somewhat cold but beautiful Sabine Montrose. 4.5★

  • Kasa Cotugno

    When I ask a man what he's reading, usually the answer is "history." I know this sounds sexist, but men gravitate more in that direction and feel a deeper interest in history, and Dominic Smith is a prime example. His works are evidence of dedicated research, and his books bring the past to life that gives his tales contemporary immediacy whether they're set the 17th century Amsterdam of Sara deVos or here in The Electric Hotel, set in the early cinematic days of the Lumiere Brothers and in turn

    When I ask a man what he's reading, usually the answer is "history." I know this sounds sexist, but men gravitate more in that direction and feel a deeper interest in history, and Dominic Smith is a prime example. His works are evidence of dedicated research, and his books bring the past to life that gives his tales contemporary immediacy whether they're set the 17th century Amsterdam of Sara deVos or here in The Electric Hotel, set in the early cinematic days of the Lumiere Brothers and in turn of the century New York. Although these are the only two books of his that I have read, it seems that many of his novels concern the creative process, whether it's painting, daguerreotypes, and in this case, the moving image. His characters both factual and representative, inhabit the pages, making for an exciting, immersive read. When his focus shifts to the German invasion of Belgium during WWI, I was reminded of the magnificent War and Turpentine by Stefan Hertmans, another example of fine writing that also included elements of the creative process.

    As a professor of creative writing, Smith's book contains some truly beautiful passages: ("Edison might have showed up late to the motion picture party, but now he was swaggering through a crowded house like vaudville's hooligan younger brother." "He'd carried want for so long that he wasn't prepared for loss." "Despite its hold on the city, the war now felt like an abstraction..., a series of parabolas and probabilities.") There were several lines that made me smile, such as "For God's sake, I just chased you through a labyrinth. Do you also need a violinist?" And, finally, one quote that sums up the enduring effect of the past which may be the theme of many of his works: "...the past never stops banging at the doors of the present. We pack it into tattered suitcases, lock it into rusting metal trunks beneath our beds, press it between yellowed pages of newsprint, but it hangs over us at night like a poisonous cloud, seeps into our shirt collars and bedclothes."

  • Andrea

    Claude Ballard has been living in the Hollywood Knickerbocker Hotel for almost half a century. His suite is crammed with rapidly deteriorating film reels and other memorabilia from his days as a lauded silent film director and cameraman. When a PhD candidate in film history comes to interview Claude about his lost masterpiece

    , Claude reflects on his twin obsessions; moving pictures and the actress, Sabine Montrose.

    Moving from Paris in 1895, when the Lumière brothers first reve

    Claude Ballard has been living in the Hollywood Knickerbocker Hotel for almost half a century. His suite is crammed with rapidly deteriorating film reels and other memorabilia from his days as a lauded silent film director and cameraman. When a PhD candidate in film history comes to interview Claude about his lost masterpiece

    , Claude reflects on his twin obsessions; moving pictures and the actress, Sabine Montrose.

    Moving from Paris in 1895, when the Lumière brothers first revealed their cinematic invention, to Fort Lee NJ, the epicentre of America's burgeoning film industry in the early 1900s, and then on to Belgium and Andorra during the Great War, Claude's story reveals the highs and lows of both his professional and personal life.

    I loved Dominic Smith's last novel, and was excited to read

    , despite having reservations about the subject matter. My concern was that a story about movie-making in the silent era might be too technical, and thus rather dry. While Smith does give us some film history and enough technical information to appreciate Claude's skill, it was anything but dry. I found it fascinating. Surprisingly the part of the story that dragged a little for me was towards the end when Claude was drawn into the Great War, but even that had some freshness, giving me a new perspective by setting the action in Belgium. And I must say, Claude's deliverance was quite thrilling.

    In regard to Claude's personal life, I felt like I really

    his feelings for Sabine, the beautiful but aloof older woman. I wanted a happy ending for him, whether it was with her or not. No spoilers here, other than to say Smith's resolution of this storyline was perfect, in my opinion.

    Overall I enjoyed this story even more than I expected to, and am already looking forward to whatever Dominic Smith produces next.

  • Marianne

    The Electric Hotel is the fifth novel by award-winning Australian-born author, Dominic Smith. For over thirty years, semi-reclusive French cinematic genius, Claude Ballard has kept a suite at Hollywood’s Knickerbocker Hotel, a suite filled with film and memorabilia, but it’s not until 1962 that he consents a request by aspiring film historian, Martin Embry to discuss his life.

    When Martin is invited into Claude’s suite, he is assaulted by the vinegar smell and demonstrates to Claude how his prec

    The Electric Hotel is the fifth novel by award-winning Australian-born author, Dominic Smith. For over thirty years, semi-reclusive French cinematic genius, Claude Ballard has kept a suite at Hollywood’s Knickerbocker Hotel, a suite filled with film and memorabilia, but it’s not until 1962 that he consents a request by aspiring film historian, Martin Embry to discuss his life.

    When Martin is invited into Claude’s suite, he is assaulted by the vinegar smell and demonstrates to Claude how his precious archive of celluloid is deteriorating. Claude eventually consents to allow a selection of the canisters to be restored and copied. At their regular meetings, he describes for Martin how he first became enthralled in the world of moving pictures.

    When he shows Martin his copy of the movie thought to be forever lost, The Electric Hotel, he explains how the key players in the making of that movie came together. The various problems and setbacks that besieged the filming process are explained in much detail, as is the grand premiere and the legal stoush that follows it. The sight of Sabine Montrose’s old valise under his bed takes Claude back to Belgium during the Great War, and this is definitely much more interesting than what has preceded.

    The pace is quite slow, the narrative, wordy, and Smith’s attempt to bring this era to life falls short as his characters are initially a little distant and not easy to connect with. The behaviour of the characters meant to evoke sympathy in the reader is such that it is difficult to muster any. But perhaps fans of film history will be fascinated. It’s clear that Smith has done a lot of research into the subject, but trying to include it all is a mistake. The read would be greatly improved if much of the tedious first three quarters was relegated to the cutting room floor.

    While some of the prose is gorgeous, this novel is not a patch on Smith’s previous novel, The Last Painting of Sara De Vos. And unfortunately, Smith's latest historical fiction loses half a star because he has succumbed to the irritating editorial affectation of omitting quote marks for speech. He almost redeems it by indicating the start of dialogue with a dash - but not quite. This is not Smith’s best work.

    This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by Allen & Unwin.

  • Faith

    The Electric Hotel was the title of a very ambitious silent movie made by the director Claude Ballard, his muse and actress Sabine Montrose, stuntman Chip Spaulding and the producer and impresario Hal Bender. It was longer than any previous movie and included a tiger and dangerous special effects. Unfortunately, it encountered legal problems that prevented its circulation.

    Most of this book is a flashback describing Claude’s experiences in the early days of the movie business, including the maki

    The Electric Hotel was the title of a very ambitious silent movie made by the director Claude Ballard, his muse and actress Sabine Montrose, stuntman Chip Spaulding and the producer and impresario Hal Bender. It was longer than any previous movie and included a tiger and dangerous special effects. Unfortunately, it encountered legal problems that prevented its circulation.

    Most of this book is a flashback describing Claude’s experiences in the early days of the movie business, including the making of The Electric Hotel. I thought that this book started off very slowly and I was tempted to abandon it because I wasn’t really interested in Claude’s obsession with the disinterested, much older and very difficult Sabine. However, the book did provide a glimpse of how the early snippets of film were made and received by the public. Once Claude connected with Hal I became more interested in the descriptions of the business. Unfortunately, the book lost me again during the post-Electric Hotel period when it shifted the characters to Europe during WWI. Other than the movie-making itself, there wasn’t much depth to this story, in the characters, setting or history, but it was a pleasant read and I did manage to finish it.

    I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

  • Dale Harcombe

    Claude Ballard, is an eighty five year old man at the beginning of this story. He is waiting for Martin Embry, a film buff and historian who wants to learn about Claude’s career as one of the early exponents of the silent film industry. From this meeting between the two men in 1962, the story retraces the scenes to show how Claude came to start off in the film profession and the influences along the way. It also tells the story of his love for the actress Sabine Montrose, who became his muse. Bu

    Claude Ballard, is an eighty five year old man at the beginning of this story. He is waiting for Martin Embry, a film buff and historian who wants to learn about Claude’s career as one of the early exponents of the silent film industry. From this meeting between the two men in 1962, the story retraces the scenes to show how Claude came to start off in the film profession and the influences along the way. It also tells the story of his love for the actress Sabine Montrose, who became his muse. But Martin also wants to know what happened to Claude’s last film The Electric Hotel?

    I had really been looking forward to this book after reading Dominic Smith’s earlier book, The Last Painting of Sara de Vos. I expected this one to be an interesting read and in many ways it is, filled with a lot of fascinating information about the early silent film industry. There is no doubt it has entailed a great deal of research and that shows. Sadly though, at times the research and penchant for detail slows things down. Among all that research the story can tend to get a bit lost. While I found it mesmerising at times, at other times I found the whole film making exercise rather tawdry.

    Part of the problem was that of feeling removed from the action, rather like watching a silent film. Maybe that was the point? But I never connected with the characters, which meant it did not have a great emotional impact on me. For this reason it took me longer than it would normally take me to a book. Overall, I enjoyed aspects of it, just not the whole. Also if you are a person who dislikes books without quotation marks, be warned this has none. Instead it employs the use of – to indicate speech. That didn’t worry me as it does feel in keeping with the whole film idea.

    I was thrilled to receive an uncorrected proof from Allen & Unwin and was glad I read it. But in the end it just didn’t captivate me the way I expected it to.

  • Magdalena aka A Bookaholic Swede

    To be reviewed over at Fresh Fiction!

  • Erin

    Goodreads giveaway win!

  • karen

    my SECOND goodreads win of the year! after a very disappointing first six months, maybe my luck is finally turning!!!

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